Physiotherapists are well known for confident physicality. A friend of mine used to say that you could always tell the physiotherapy students at university because they’d be the ones walking around with hardly any clothes on. Happy are we it seems, to betray our confidence in our understanding of the body and how to ‘work’ it, taking every opportunity to thrust our bodily ideals on others.
Often, physiotherapists’ projections of the idealised normal and able body cause little offense, but their approach can also cause a great deal of hurt and frustration in the very people they claim to be helping.
It would be nice to think that physiotherapists would be united in their opposition to such trends as Fitspo – or fitspiration – ‘a growing online phenomenon with the goal of motivating individuals to pursue a fit and healthy lifestyle’ (link).
It certainly sounds benign enough. Who could complain about a trend that encourages people to be fitter, stronger, more beautiful?
In many ways, fitspo almost seems like a formula for creating the perfect physiotherapy practitioner. Female, toned, strong, athletic and confident. But look beneath the surface and it becomes clear that this could easily present just another unattainable, highly sexualised and degrading male marketing fantasy.
Part of the reason why this might appeal to some physiotherapists may lie in the long history of the profession’s association with the normalisation of impairment and disability, the nurturing of ‘strong’ women who resisted the caring characterisation adopted by nursing, and the profession’s association with eugenics, and what Brian Pronger called ‘body fascism’ (Pronger, 2002).
So it will be interesting to see whether physiotherapists embrace this ideal of the strong, physically fit female form, and see it as a harmless, perhaps even admirable goal for their peers and patients, or whether practitioners position themselves with the 99% of the population who will never achieve such purity of form.
Pronger, B. (2002). Body fascism: Salvation in the technology of physical fitness. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.