Bodies of fitsporation: Singapore ‘fitspo’ bloggers spark fitness trend

Fitspo blogger Ling Lim in a push-up pose (Ruevan Tan)

At first glance, it looks like it’s about vanity. Then you realize it might also be about showing off. Eventually, you start to realize it’s about motivation, inspiration and really, just staying fit and healthy.

While thinspo or thinspiration, with its starvation methods, is widely considered as hazardous to one’s health, fitspo is a trend that has exploded online and is gaining traction here in Singapore. People are starting to work out to get in shape—and post pictures of their progress on their Tumblr, Instagram and other micro-blogging websites. Who doesn’t want to look good and feel great? Everyone does. These guys also do it to encourage and inspire each other and everyone else.

Up until a few years ago, you couldn’t really put photos of yourself up online to be judged/ogled at or judge/ogle at others when they do the same. Enter the fitspo trend, where fitness fanatics try to achieve bodies of Greek gods and goddesses and furnish it with pictures on cyberspace.

Shawn Lim selfie

What drives them? Shawn Lim, aka The Tau Huay Boy of his blog, “Want some tau huay?” said in one of his recent posts he doesn’t care how he looks—he just cares that he’s staying fit.

He shared on the phone how started posting about fitness on his blog. “I began lifting weights when I was just 16, but I didn’t start blogging about it till February this year. Before that, I blogged about socio-political issues in Singapore because I love to write. It just didn’t occur to me to combine writing and fitness.”

Now 22, Shawn, who works in advertising, is clear that his purpose for sharing pictures of chiseled abs and huge arms is not about vanity. It’s about motivation. “When you can motivate someone else, you also motivate yourself. It boils down to whether you’re trying to stay fit or look good. Often times, it’s a thin line between the two.” He added that he likes to help others not just with his fitness routines, but also with recipes and photos of nutritious food.

But Shawn, who recently started CrossFitting, says that he draws from the online community as much as he gives. “It’s also about accountability. Friends will keep me honest and help me when they see I my motivation might be flagging.”

One other popular fitspo blogger who doesn’t have a problem with motivation is Ling Lim, 27, of lingandclean fame. The architect prefers to work out alone but is extremely active online. Ever since she’s started posting her workouts and “selfies” a year ago, she’s seen her followers explode from 200 or “family and friends” to over 3,700. And it’s obvious why, with her sleek, athletic figure and long flowing hair.

Ling shows off her abs (Ruevan Tan)

But Ling didn’t actually start out by throwing herself headlong into her workouts. By her own admission, it was after a breakup three years ago that she started to feel she was “a little flabby” and that she wanted to get in shape. She actually began very gradually with running, then “running a lot”, then gym classes. Before long, Ling started to feel cardiovascular exercises weren’t enough and started to read up on weight training. Even then, she only did body weight exercise circuits at home and owned a “Daiso water bottle weight” and kettlebells.

Then 3 months ago came what she considered the most life-changing experience of her fitspo career so far: a 90-day online program with a renowned online strength and conditioning coach. Ling was one of 20 applicants selected out of 600 to participate in the program.

“I was 100% committed during this period. No cheating. We had food lists and counted every calorie. I had to prove to myself I could see it through.”

Her meal routine became like this: greens first to fill up, followed by protein—chicken, fish and other meats. Then it was time for the clean carbohydrates like sweet potato, rice cakes and white rice.

Her workouts would then include inclined power-walking on an empty stomach in the mornings for half an hour before work. Then she would hit the weights after knocking off at least four times a week for two hours at go. On the off days, when she wasn’t pumping iron, she would do sprints. But that’s when she realized she’d hit rock-bottom.

“I started to avoid social events so that I wouldn’t be tempted by food. On Mother’s Day, I just drank water while my family ate dim sum,” she said with a shy smile. “I just told my parents I can’t (eat this food). When Mum and Dad commented that “everyone ate like that”, Ling would snap back at them, “Well, that’s because everyone is unhealthy!”

Ling flexing for the cameras (Ruevan Tan)

The good thing was that she started to realise that she was getting obsessed with the “perfect fitness model” figure and that she was exhibiting signs of “mental unwellness.”

“My taste in men changed and for a while, I could only date bodybuilders. My friends would say of the guys I went out with, ‘Eeee…so much muscles—so gross!’ and I would answer, ‘Why? Nice what…’ I couldn’t accept that guys who do other sports weren’t anything but scrawny. But then I began feeling that bodybuilding was a very self-centred sport. It’s all about yourself, your diet, your workout.”

With the strict diet, intense workouts, and changes in her mood and perception of people, Ling knew that she couldn’t maintain such a lifestyle. So right at the end of her online fitness program a month and a half ago, she did a photo shoot capture the results of her hard work before letting go. (See pics above.)

“I ate everything I saw for two weeks straight. I was so disgusted by myself but I’m an all or nothing sort of person. I can’t do things half and half. But that’s the challenge for me right now—to find that happy place.”

Ling still plans her meals a day ahead on her MyFitnessPal app and tries to keep it “80-20”, meaning 80% healthy food and 20% of whatever she wanted to eat. She has also scaled down her workouts to four to five times a week down from her usual five to six times, and decided that men she dates don’t have to all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. “The guys I also look for these days must also have other interests besides counting calories and pumping themselves up. They don’t also have to be bodybuilders, but they have to at least want to keep fit and strong.”

Ling continues to inspire and motivate both others and herself on her Instagram, but she now has a new message to her followers: “It’s all about the journey. You need balance, where can you find that right mix of working out and your life outside the gym. If I can impart that message to just one person, I would have succeeded in my mission.”

On her journey (Ling Lim)