The #Thinspo Controversy Continues on Social Media…Who’s at Fault?

Chances are if you are under 25, a model, a celebrity, a TV broadcast journalist or someone who makes his or her living before a camera, you understand and embrace the power, beauty and grace prized in a slender, uber thin appearance. Your sleek, beautiful body offers confidence and sex appeal. But what you have to do to achieve and maintain the uber skinny image that dominates visual media land is problematic. Certainly you curtail your food intake, you workout routinely and throw up if you have to eat. Just joking. Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia) and drug use (including prescription drugs) flourish in celebrity land even amongst men; and not even their agents know for sure how they are staying THAT trim once they are beyond the age of 45-55.

If you’re a non-celebrity and a young woman concerned about your physical appearance, you may turn to a community of like-minded females who inspire you and spur you on to lose that extra 20 pounds or continue with that extraordinarily rigorous exercise plan. And why not seek their help? There’s a mega reward at the end of the rainbow of grueling effort and continual hunger pangs. You look fabulous. You fit in. You look rich. It is then when you turn to your friends who have inspired your efforts with their #thinspo pictures and you post your own. And you make sure to post photos that are enviable and will make guys drool all over themselves with as much flesh showing as is decent. And where may we find you my beauty? Any social media site which allows the hashtag #Thin spo, #thinspo or #thinspiration.The only problem is that the eating disordered populate these #thinspo sites and use them as their visual mantra of legitimacy, though in many instances, their postings are cries for help on the downhill slide of self-harm.

With the exception of two sites which have supposedly instituted bans to discourage self-destructive behaviors, Pinterest and Tumblr, young women use Facebook, Flickr, Twitter to post their pro-anorexic, ana (for anorexic) pictures. They usually post themselves neck down, but sometimes post an entire body shot, and they post celebrities or models in bikinis or flesh showing outfits. As a continued inspiration toward what can happen if “one lets themselves go,” they post pictures of women neck down whose bodies are boiling over with rolls of fat accompanied with snarky commentary. And they post photos of delicious looking highly caloric foods. One Pinterest section has 3 photos of a beautifully decorated cake which probably would be more appropriate on a food or recipe page. But the reminder is if you eat it, fat will come.

Of В late Instagram has apparently become a new home for the #thinspo ana community after the Tumblr and Pinterest banning. Pictures can be privately uploaded via phone apps and sent out without any intrusive or pesky, parental watching or eyeball glossing by administrators of sites intimidated by anti-anorexia advocacy groups looking to pull down particularly egregious photos of bags of bones with skin stretched like thin rubber over hard protrusions.

Why have the bony ones floated light as a feather to Instagram? Unlike Pinterest’s and Tumblr’s user agreements, Instagram’s community guidelines indicate that such self-harm photos are technically OK with these statements: “Remember that our community is a diverse one, and that your photos are visible to people as young as 13 years old. While we respect the artistic integrity of photos, we have to keep our product and the photos within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind.”There is no ban; just a reminder of what they deem respectable and decent for the PG 13 crowd.

Pinterest and Tumblr have gone much farther in their user guidelines and address photos which could be construed as glorifying self-destructive behaviors like anorexia, bulimia, cutting, suicide, and encouraging mental, physical, emotional distress or disability, sadism and/or other forms of torture and violence. So if their ana (anorexic) #thinspiration, business is flying elsewhere, Instagram appears to be the convenient place to pick up any #thinspo slack at the moment.

However, have you checked the Pinterest and Tumblr links above? You will notice that the sites still have #thinspiration pictures pinned and posted to them. Even if some of the pins were taken down, others will be put up just as quickly. In fact the ban announcement may have worked in the reverse; a controversy of pro and con advocacy is now brewing on Pinterest with pins of posters with commentary both supportive and critical of the ban. But that is to be expected, is it not? This movement is deeply entrenched and though the announcement may have the effect of reverse psychology, Pinterest and Tumblr are covering themselves to mitigate liability with their updated user agreements. If anyone attempts litigation, administrators will surely point out that such social media sites are nearly impossible to monitor; joining user numbers exceed into the thousands daily and such pins continue unabated because they proliferate and some are hard to locate.

In browsing through various social media pages using the #thinspo hashtag, I noticed the pictures are loaded from around the world. The thinspiration movement, like digital images and films of scrawny celebrities and models, spans cultural differences and even is inspiring art trends. An artist in his 2009 exhibit in Medellin, Columbia entitledВ Expo ThinspirationВ hawked his work there and posted it on Flickr. His work is characteristically thinpiration; there are no faces, just skin-stretched protuberant-boned skeletons scantily dressed. Ironic how times have changed: the vogue has morphed from the voluptuousВ Venus of BotticelliВ (1486) and downright overweightВ lovelies of Peter Paul RubensВ (1600s) to the emaciated headless bodies of Expo Thinspiration. The current endeavor involves just bodies in a complete objectification of the female as having no identify to speak of except the ideal body image she must be: iconic, uber slender, androgynous.

The females you won’t see in Expo Thinspiration and in the #thinspo pins and posts are pictures of women who have given birth, hit menopause and aged to the over 50 crowd. But I could be mistaken. I promise to write an article if I see any skinny bikini bodies of forty and fifty somethings who are not celebrities, media personalities, rich and famous women or former models. Such photos may be on private accounts on Instagram. Private accounts are one’s own personal business and one just must make sure that photos between friends remain private and are not outted in a fallout of revenge or career hit (Anthony Weiner).

Instagram privacy is what celebrity model and TV personality 28-year-old Instagram user Alexa Chung sought after being shredded by fans for posting a #thinspo-type photoВ of herself. Infuriated at comments about her scrawny legs, she made her account private. It was the only way that Chung could maintain her integrity, celebrity image and identity and mollify her followers. She certainly cannot internalize the views ofВ Instagram fans who thinkВ “she’s so skinny it’s gross.” Is Chung going to gain weight for them? Duh! She has to please her image consultants, her agent, her career manager and network producers. She’ll just make sure to wear something that is looser and doesn’t make her appear sooooo scrawny #thinspo when she uploads a photo to public next time.

So where should the blame for the rise of #thinsp fall? With social media? The thinspiration movement is just the end result of what is trending culturally. Who is responsible for an anorexic teenaged girl or woman? Pinterest? Flickr? Facebook? Parents? The woman herself and the online community she seeks for validation? Surely, in many instances, allowing the dissemination of such pins and posts may promote eating disorders by sanctioning the skeletal appearance produced by the disorder.

But how is this different from what has been going on in our culture since the studio system promoted Hollywood legends who had to fit a certain type of glamor? Were there any overweight glamor stars? Perhaps Marilyn Monroe could be considered plump by today’s standards or Mae West. (1930s) Today, both have been supplanted by Angelina Jolie et. al. Obviously, standards for glamor and beauty have slimmed down. Can you name one overweight or obese young woman in celebrity land who is considered star-quality beautiful and/or has not lost weight? InВ Vanessa Redgrave’sВ autobiography, the actress mentions that her father brought in a nutritionist to help her lose weight to make it in Hollywood. She was over 5’10” and she went from a weight in the 150s (BMI normal range) to that of 119 (BMI underweight range). But if she was very thin and underweight, her beauty appeared remarkable in filmsВ CamelotВ andВ Isadora. In the 1960s that thin look was as normal asВ TwiggyВ was cool. Since then the undercurrents have widened. Celebrity images have become even more slender as the expanding waistlines of Americans and proliferation of processed foods and fast food restaurants have burgeoned. AndВ  then came celebrity eating disordered deaths likeВ Karen Carpenter’s.В The list has grown over the years. When will it end?

The problem is with a culture that has become intensely wrapped up in appearance and body image at the expense of the intellect, personality and soul, the latter is invisible but very real. So is it any wonder that young girls and women can become obsessed with their physical appearance, especially when everything around them validates it and they see the ostracism, torment and rejection of those who are at the opposite spectrum ofВ  thinness or a normal appearing body? Until the media, celebrities, TV personalities, models and other cultural representatives demand that the images change, uber thinness, bone skeletal thinness will be equated with beauty. It has become a goddess cult in Thinspiration and the weak souled and minded are particularly vulnerable as they see how men come to worship at the shrine..

For help with an eating disorder, contact NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) NEDA’s Live Helpline: 800-931-2237 or visit their website at

First published here:В

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a journalist, writer, poet, novelist and editor. She blogs on cultural issues related to wellness (spiritual, physical, emotional) Christian Apologetics (non political) and NYC events. She is a former high school English teacher, adjunct professor affiliated with Adelphi University’s high school program and administrator (three decades in the public schools). She received her Ph.D. from NYU School of Education, publishing about Whistleblowers in NYC.В Her researchВ was published and additionally referenced in two books, one by Margo Ely,В On Writing Qualitative Research. She presented her research at the 15th Ethnography Conference at The University of Pennsylvania. She is the author ofВ Peregrine The Ceremony of PowersВ (unpublished mystery-paranormal-conspiracy novel…first in a series).

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