Open Access

The Culture of Narcissism: A Philosophical Analysis of “Fitspiration” and the Objectified Self


This article is a philosophical examination of the social media culture of fitness and the behavior which most distinctly characterizes it. Of the numerous and varied digital subcultures emerging with the rise of photo-based social media during the 2010s, the culture surrounding fitness, or “fitspiration,” stands out as one of the more notable. Research has identified the phenomenon as consisting to a large extent of users engaging in behaviors of self-sexualization and self-objectification, following, not unexpectedly, the inherent focus within fitness on the body, its maintenance and ultimately its appearance. Research also demonstrates that, for many, viewing and engaging in this behavior is linked to a deterioration of body-image, general self-perception and mental well-being. In this article, I analyze the phenomenon within a philosophical framework in which I combine the philosophical theory of Jean Baudrillard on media and the consumption of signs and the psychoanalytic perspective of Jacques Lacan on subjectivity, narcissism and desire. Using this framework, I discuss the body assuming the properties of a commodified object deriving its cultural value and meaning from the signs which adorn it, resulting in the “fitspiration” user imperative becoming the identification with an artificial object alien to the self, necessitating a narcissistically oriented, yet pernicious self-objectification. I argue that “fitspiration,” as well as the photo-based social media which both enables and defines it, indulges narcissism, detrimentally exaggerating the narcissistic inclinations lying at the center of subjectivity.