“Starving is not pain, it is the cure.” “An imperfect body is a sign of an imperfect person.” “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”
These are a few popular quotes that decorate thousands of “thinspo” blog pages. Thinspo, short for “thinspiration,” is a title derived from clever wordplay characterizing an online micro-blogging community that glorifies beauty through a pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia lens.
The social media site Tumblr allows its users to arrange photos and content to create pages that express personal interests. Thinspo pages are created and shared among users as a type of visual diary that documents their quest to lose weight. The blogs are also used to post pictures of emaciated figures users aspire to achieve. Images of girls and models with flat stomachs, stick-like arms and legs, as well as visible ribs, hipbones and collarbones are common among the disturbing images that populate thinspo pages.
Dr. Walter Kaye, director of UC San Diego’s Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Program, said such outlets are risky for the small percentage of people who take these images to heart. It is possible for some to become obsessive and diet to extremes. This type of manifestation is confirmed by the numerous real-life before and after photos users post of themselves after losing drastic amounts of weight.
Unlike similar “fitspo” pages, short for “fit-inspiration” that encourage healthy eating and active lifestyles, thinspo blogs perpetuate and support anorexic and bulimic behaviors and other habits of self-harm. The thinspo community shares advice about ways to avoid eating and thrives on extremely thin propaganda packaged as self-control and dedication.
“I think websites like that are really dangerous for people who are either looking just to get advice or feedback, or for people who are trying to use that as some kind of tool,” clinical psychologist at San Diego State’s Counseling & Psychological Services Jada Cade said. “It really creates a false sense of reality and it skews people’s perceptions even further to really extreme directions.”
The anonymous and collaborative nature of this online community creates an open forum for people to share body image issues, weight goals and eating habits. Many users post daily calorie intakes, workout regimens and body measurements to encourage and support those with similar goals.
“When there’s a group of people who have the same views and beliefs, it becomes very dangerous because people believe they have a sense of power and they have a sense of responsibility to one another; and they are more likely to engage in more polarizing and more extremes actions than they would if you were acting by yourself,” Cade said. “This kind of website is the ideal forum where groupthink occurs.”
In response to recent media attention and public outcry, Tumblr is revising its policies regarding self-harm blogs, including the thinspo community. The new draft prohibits posting any material that promotes or glorifies any type of self-injury, anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation or suicide. Tumblr warns it will remove any blog that crosses the line. The policy states content will be evaluated on a blog by blog basis. However, Tumblr has more than 46 million sites, which leaves opportunity for self-harm blogs to continue. Health professionals and the National Eating Disorders Association still see reason for concern and warn girls against the dangerous messages this community perpetuates.
“If somebody is in a mental state where they’re unhappy with their body anyway and then they’re going to go to a website that’s so extreme, there’s really no good that can come of it,” Cade said.