Searching for #thinspiration on your favorite social media site can lead to some disturbing results. Images of extremely thin women, often focused on just one particularly skinny body part, are accompanied by messages like “I want to be so thin that people whisper how skinny I’ve gotten behind my back” or “Because the pain of looking in the mirror hurts more than starving.”
A new paper from the University of California, Davis criticizes these images, saying the #thinspiration trend harms women even if they aren’t actively seeking this type of content.
Doctoral candidate Jannath Ghaznavi and associate professor Laramie Taylor in the Department of Communication are the authors of the paper “Bones, body parts, and sex appeal: An analysis of #thinspiration images on popular social media.” Their paper was recently published in Body Image: An International Journal of Research.
For their study, Ghaznavi and Taylor examined about 300 photographs from Twitter and Pinterest postings that used the terms “thinspiration” and/or “thinspo” to tag images and ideas promoting extreme thinness. Many of the images cast eating disorders in a positive light, turning serious medical illnesses into a dieting tool.
“Imagine a teenage girl or even a young woman looking for inspiration using terms such as ‘attractive,’ ‘fit,’ or ‘pretty,’” Ghaznavi said. “She will likely find images of headless, scantily clad, sexualized women and their body parts. A young woman looking at these image may think that’s what she should look like. That could prompt these girls and women to resort to extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or other harmful behaviors in order to achieve this thin ideal.”
Although censoring social media is difficult, it’s not hard to take it upon yourself to be a role model for other women. Instead of sharing #thinspiration images, why not utilize a more empowering hashtag like #independentwoman, #nobodyshame, #ownyourpretty, #superwoman, or #makeithappen?