Thinspiration, fitspiration and finding fault

By Rosemary | October 10 2012 | 27 Comments

In March of this year, Pinterest – y’know, that online cork board that stay-at-home moms in America use to document their must-have wallpapers – updated its acceptable use policy, moving to prohibit pins that actively encourage self-abuse and self-harm, including (but not limited to) eating disorders such as anorexia and (its lesser-known sister and butt of many overfeeding jokes) bulimia.

It was following the lead of Tumblr, a blogging platform largely used for displaying photographs, which, in March 2011, released a statement implementing a new “policy against pro self-harm blogs”. Tumblr suggested that, when a user searched for tags like “thinspiration”, “thinspo” and “proana” (pro-anorexia), a public service announcement would pop up that read: “Eating disorders can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can be life-threatening. Please contact the [resource organization] at [helpline number] or [website].” *

It brings up so many big questions – should sites such as Tumblr, Pinterest and WordPress seek to prohibit people’s expression, interests and inspirations, even if they disagree with said items? Can censoring imagery really help curb eating disorders?

I think about this a lot; eating disorders are, say psychologists, mostly to do with control – which is a handy line trotted out by the fashion media whenever they’re accused of glorifying ultra-slim female bodies. But can it be true that what we consume visually has nothing to do with how we feel about our own bodies?

Then we come to fitspiration; there are hundreds of boards on Pinterest, even a Facebook page dedicated to this fitness inspiration – imagery and mantras that encourage you to get off the couch and do some exercise! But a large number of these images aren’t of sweaty, muscular women; they are of lean women with protruding bones who wouldn’t look out of place on a thinspiration or proana board (or, yes, on the pages of Vogue). Here’s Karlie Kloss, for example, in Numero magazine, which photoshopped out her ribs in an editorial in the magazine’s October issue.

I’d love to know what readers think about it all – I know that it doesn’t take a thinspiration or fitspiration board for me to feel bad about my body. It takes a fashion magazine, maybe a movie with a very slim (and very beautiful) heroine, or, y’know, most of what gets published on Can thinspiration be blamed for bad body image, or does it go way deeper than that?

* In Ireland, incidentally, you can talk to the lovely folks over at the Eating Disorder Resource Centre of Ireland, you can call Bodywhys at 1890 200 444 and you can, and should, talk to your GP. (And if you don’t feel comfortable talking to him / her, get a new GP.)

Life, Diet & Wellbeing ,

27 Replies to "Thinspiration, fitspiration and finding fault"

  • Dawn says:

    My issue with fitspo and thinspo is that they are just another symptom of the messed up attitude women have towards their bodies. I think fitspo isn’t just about being fit, it’s about being fit within the correct parameters of being slim, toned and sexy looking. This just goes back to the whole idea of exercise being for diet reasons rather than for being healthy.

    With regards to the effect advertising, magazines and so on have on women’s self-confidence, there is a link there and every woman has probably felt bad about their body at some stage because of something in the media.

    However with regard to eating disorders, I would agree that it is a need for control directed at the person’s own body, but I guess the focus on their body is probably influenced by the messages they receive about their bodies from their childhood/ teenage years.

  • niamhy_dee says:

    This is something I think about a lot as I started exercising properly about 18 months ago in a bid to get fit. For me, losing weight is just a bonus – I love feeling fit and capable. I started playing roller derby in January and the main reason I love it is that ANYONE can play it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 8 or 18, six feet tall or five foot nothing – there is a place for everyone. It is all about being your strongest self and recognising – and being surprised by – what your body can do for you. There is no competition or pressure to be thin or particularly athletic, just a desire to be fit and strong. We don’t look at each other and think, I wish I was a size X like her. We look at each other and go, Holy crap, look at your arm muscles! I wanna do that! In a society where women are constantly fed images of starving women – sidenote, when designer women’s clothes only fit skinny men we have a MAJOR problem – any arena where women and their bodies are celebrated is a very, very good thing indeed.

  • Fairy Godmother says:

    This is a toughie. I’m a huge fan of Tumblr and Fitblrs. Have come across pro-ana blogs but immediately unfollow them. But yes I find alot of the girls that are on it are teenagers but generally have other problems than just their weight. I want to say though, the people who made me feel self-conscious about my size weren’t magazines first. When I was say 12ish, the older girls on my road, three years my senior started it. “oh I wish my legs were as skinny as yours…” in general they were about a foot taller than I was. And then my mam didn’t help either. Always telling me to suck in my stomach that I’d thank her for it when I’m older. And lycra is the reason women are out of shape because they don’t learn to suck in their stomachs because lycra does all that for them. It really is no wonder I have weight issues! I’m in the obese catagory and have been for a few years now. I don’t want to be be and a few times have lost it all only to put it back on plus more. It’s magazines now I’m older But I think the weight/size issue started at home. For me anyway

  • Gracie says:

    I am not a stay-at-home mom (quite opposite of it really) and I use Pinterest actively :D

    I am really disturbed by the amount of “thinspiration” pins and boards over there. At first they were mostly motivational quotes to get you off the couch, which is alright. It was more about having a healthy life style. Then, it evolved to full on proana with boards filled with photos such as Karlie Kloss’. (I don’t have or follow any such board, but it is all over the popular pins, etc. You can’t avoid it.) I don’t understood why the proana internet movement is suddenly OK because of Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. I am opposed to censorship but they must be a way.

    Here’s a quote from a pin that left me a bit horrified: “Do you want hip bones or pizza? …a gap between your thighs or cake? …collarbones or sweets? …a flat stomach or soda?” They don’t sound horrifying by themselves. Imagine these words over the images of thin girls. :/

  • LauraLou says:

    its horrible, all scattered over the internet. but its never giong to stop. They’ll pop them up on facebook, it seems fb dont really have guidelines as such.

    I think the fitness ones are great, with a girl who is so ripped and toned. But this, nah its horrible.

  • I don’t think banning or censoring these websites will end eating disorders, but I think it might help or even possibly make the women or men accessing them think for a moment.

    I think perhaps some young people access these sites out of curiosity? They hear about it at school, they’re not really sure what it’s about so they Google it and perhaps if a message like the one you posted above pops up it might give them pause for thought? They might not have looked at it as self harm, they may not even be anorexic themselves, they might have simply thought ‘pro ana’ was a way to look your best, or lose a few pounds, not as something potentially terribly dangerous.

    I guess – would we allow the Irish Times to print a weekly pro-ana column and say ‘If you don’t like it, don’t read it’ or that it was simply the writer expressing themselves and their interests and insipriations? I doubt we’d allow that, so why allow it on the internet?

    In general though I think body issues is such a huge complex issue. Not just about weight but about appearance and beauty and self worth. There are women and men out there, for example, who spend hours looking at pictures of different noses, wishing theirs was bigger/smaller/longer/thinner. Having complicated surgeries, spending vast amounts of money to ‘fix’ a perceived imperfection. That all comes under body issues as well, I think.

  • fififinx says:

    Do you help an alcoholic by feeding them gin? Thinspo is feeding an addiction which kills, just like alcohol. Not only should it be banned, it should be the subject of penalties. Preying on the insecurities of young (generally) women (generally) to inflate your own ego (which is what the ‘thinspo’ crowd are doing)is predatory, dangerous and just wrong wrong wrong!
    And, no, I’m not fat – I just happen to have lost a few people to this terrible disease, one of whom was encouraged to her death by a shower of bitches who didn’t know her, didn’t care about her and didn’t have to face the consequences of their actions!

  • thefrog says:

    @fififinx, the fact that felt you had to point out “I’m not fat” is very revealing of the general attitude on some sites too.
    I’ve probably spent too long reading comments on CiF, but the number of people saying “fat people are unhealthy, they’re lazy, all they have to do is get out of the couch and eat less” is scary.

    I think that one of the perverse effects of the healthy living messages public authorities have been broadcasting is that anybody now feel free to comment on what other people look like (too ‘fat’ or too ‘thin’, it goes both way), under the pretence of “helping them”.

  • ShuGal says:

    I don’t think thinspiration will cause an eating disorder but it will help to feed (sorry, NPI) it. I have to say, I rarely see things I would view as pro-ana on pinterest, I have seen the odd thing (Kate Moss quote springs to mind), but overall they seem to be more about working out & being fit & healthy which I think is a good thing.

  • fififinx says:

    @ the frog – yeah, it is. The first thing the proana girls come out with if you attempt to point out what a dangerous thing they are doing is come back with “You’re just jealous, you must be FAT”. I thought in the interests of intelligent dialogue, I’d just hit it on the head first thing.
    Regarding the healthy living message, I do think it has encouraged a bit of well meaning but ill considered commentary, but long before that people both fat and thin have had to cope with nastiness. I spent the whole of university having to tell people I was not anorexic; and my best friend (who was put on a diet at FOUR MONTHS OLD) had to explain that no, she wasn’t eating everything in sight. The both of us together (we were a bit joined at the hip-y, I must admit) made the perfect target.

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