Fitocracy, Meet Psychology
Many of you may not have have heard of a new service/website/app called Fitocracy.
The tagline for this social media service that brings together a community (or um, democracy) of people interested in fitness is: “Making you more awesome.” And it, itself, is pretty awesome. Let me give you the perspective of both a fitness enthusiast and social psychologist before I go into the social psychology that Fitocracy co-creators Brian Wang and Richard “Dick” Talens will be facing as their baby grows up.
The website is a beautiful mix of social media at its best with some pretty amazing social psychological bits that make it an incredibly motivating fitness tool. It’s also amazing because it’s free, but you can become a “Fitocracy Hero” to get some added abilities for $4.99 a month. Some highlights are:
One of the biggest mental health boosts is a sense of social support. And when you find any group that feels like “your people” it can really motivate you to do more than they would have done alone. This goes for anything from running to knitting to eating. Fitocracy takes it to a new level because not only do you get to “meet” people that are like you in the kinds of activities you prefer, you can also “give props” to people on their activities and comment on their updates and musings. I often feel like I’ve entered a gym and I get to have conversations with people about fitness stuff, which is something I NEVER do at an actual gym. Fitocracy makes it easy to find similar people with the various groups that are user-generated (more on why this may be problematic later). Some of the biggest are “Welcome to Fitocracy,” “Weight Loss,” and “Healthy Eating.” So far most of the advice from the populous has been healthy, as I feared that some people might have pro-ana type messages or crazy weight loss fad diets to promote.
Video Game Aspect
The co-founders explain that their idea for this program came when they wondered whether people would work out more and stay on track longer if instead of seeming like work, it seemed like a game….a video game. So they incorporated a point system. Because the program was built by bodybuilders the most points are given to exercises that increase the most muscle. Squats, deadlifts, and bench presses are some of the highest. Most cardio is given few points in comparison, but enough to keep people going at it. Points accrue so that individuals can hit new levels. I’ve often been at the gym and thought, if I do 10 more minutes of ________ then I might hit the next level. They were right, making it a game is INCREDIBLY motivating. (And so far, I’m the only woman I’ve seen deadlifting at my gym.)
One of my favorite aspects of the iPhone app is that no matter what activity I track, when I submit my points to the system I press a button that says, “I’m awesome.” It reminds the user that doing something for yourself does make you more awesome. (It also has the cutest robot, Fred, that calculates your points for you. I think whoever created him deserves many, many props.)
Recently though, I caught myself watching a rather interesting conversation between one of the users (handle: Deathlift) and one of the creators, Dick Talens. In an off-topic response to one of Talens’ posts, Deathlift began to complain that Fitocracy needs a better policy about the types of pictures that can be posted, especially by the women. He proceeded to say that many of them would count as “softcore porn” disguised as “progress updates” and that he was offended. He even provided links to some of the pictures he was referring to, which were posted on the account of an 18-year-old member. Let’s just say, a lot of people had a lot of opinions, but most believed that to each his own and if you don’t like it don’t click it (or leave). Talens commented on the fact that Deathlift had to actively search for pictures to make his point: “…if someone you don’t like shows up on your feed, don’t click on their profile, don’t click on an album outside of fitocracy, and most definitely do not go through all their pictures.”
Whether or not Talens wants to deal with this right now, I think this might become a bigger problem in the future. These are a couple reasons why:
Muscle is Sexy
There are some FIT people on fitocracy. And what makes them fit – defined abs, chest, back, legs, etc. – is also what many people find sexy. This is especially true for the men, whose goals are often to lose weight and/or gain muscle. The accepted aesthetics for men are to look strong. Hence, many pictures will simultaneously promote fitness and get some people wondering why it got so hot all of a sudden.
Muscle-building women are fewer in number but still a loud minority (we have lots of groups). And to post progress pictures many women often take off their clothes. For example, to show off their chiseled back women don’t wear a bra. Some people might think this is too close to full nudity (as Deathlift seems to think). But not all women are just showing off their muscles…
Women’s Self-Esteem is Based on Sexiness
The amount of research across the academic field on the problematic beauty ideals for women in the West is overwhelming. Women are taught that they are beautiful when they are thin, young, unblemished, and virginal yet sexy. And many of the pictures on Fitocracy are by women (and some men) who are obviously not doing it just to post progress of their muscle gains or weight loss.
But I don’t necessarily look down on these women. I myself posted a picture of me in the outfit I will be wearing in a couple weeks when I vacation in Vegas. It’s a bikini with a cover up, not something I would necessarily post online but I went with the rule of “If I will be seen like this in public, I can post it on a public website.” And I won’t lie, having support from people on my body created quite the rush. I wish I could say it didn’t matter. But it did. Because it is hard to fight the tidal wave that is the social belief that women should have a good portion of their self-esteem invested in how they look. That women (and some men) are posting semi-nude or nude pictures meant solely to get responses of “you’re sexy” on a site that is meant to pay homage to the human physique is to be expected. But I fear that it will only get worse given that groups are popping up with names like “The women/men of fitocracy make me horny,” “Boobies,” and “PENIS.”
Any good product needs to evolve with the times. I think Dick Talens and Brian Wang came up with an ingenious idea and I have high hopes. But if they think they can get away from the idea that nudity and “porny” pictures won’t be a problem they should probably wake up to the psychology of today. Maybe they need to hire a female consultant (it’s a bit of a sausage fest over there). Just in case guys, I’m totally available.