By Megan Cahill
There is a black and white picture in the middle of the Tumblr page. It is of a girl lifting up her baggy t-shirt, revealing her skeletal body underneath. Her hip bones stick out like pointy daggers and her ribs protrude from her chest, every bone visible. Her stomach is concave, a stretch of skin over the gap between her bones. A living skeleton.
Underneath this image, 15 year old Nicola from Melbourne, Australia comments, “I think I’m going to cry. She’s so lovely…why do I have to be so ugly?”
The picture isn’t hers. It has been “reblogged” onto her Tumblr, a social media site where members each have their own blog, a place where they can upload pictures, quotes, videos, songs and posts. Members can interact with one another by commenting, liking and “reblogging” posts, which allow members to add pictures they like from other blogs to their own page.
Nicola is one of millions of Tumblr users. Her blog is called “A hope for the future” dedicated to what she considers weight loss. Others identify her goals as anorexia.
And she is not alone.
Thousands of girls, and even boys, use Tumblr and other social media sites such as Pintrest, Twitter and Facebook as platforms to share and spread what is commonly known as “thinspiration.”
A combination of thin and inspiration, thinspiration is a term that hangs like an umbrella over a variety of ways media – such as photos, blog posts, inspirational quotes, videos, and tips and tricks – are used to inspire people to become thin.
Though thinspiration can be beneficial to promoting healthy lifestyles and food choices as well a daily fitness, its dangers are a more prominent and controversial issue.
And it is girls like Nicola, and some boys as well, who make thinspiration so controversial. Their use of images of deathly thin girls, comments against food, and cries of self-hated create a pro-anorexic and eating disorder inducing environment that makes thinspiration a weapon against the body instead of a source of inspiration for general good health.
When talking to Holliston High School (HHS) sophomore Nina Sparre about where the pressure to be thin and to follow thinspiration comes from she said, “I would say mostly the media and other girls. But I think in high school guys are a huge source of pressure for girls because [girls] are constantly looking to impress them and [because of this girls] constantly compare themselves to other girls.”
Zeke Bickford, a senior at HHS admitted he could see how girls might feel pressured to be thin from guys and said, “I think a lot of it is indirect influence like thinking thinner is hotter and such.”
On the other hand, when asked why she thought thinspiration was so popular for girls, sophomore Brooke Battersby said, “because they want to fit society’s image of beauty, they think that people that are in magazines and are models…[are] the only way to look.”
Battersby is not far from the truth. According to anad.org, the official website for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures and 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.”
Ashley Halpern, a sophomore at HHS said “people have to remember that not everyone can be a 5’11’’ and a size 0.”
Sparre admitted that she used thinspiration to, “see different workouts and maybe get inspired,” but she made sure to clarify that her intentions were “definitely to be fit” and healthy.
Halpern also adds that thinspiration can be “good motivation.”
When asked if she thought thinspiration was good or bad Sparre said, “I think people look at [it] to try to get inspired or they could use it as a motivating factor because maybe they’re lazy and they see pictures and they get excited to try to be skinny or healthy…So good if it’s healthy….but bad because I guess it could make kids feel bad about themselves.”
And users feeling bad about themselves is exactly what leading social networking sites such as Tumblr and Pintrest feared would come from the excessive use of thinspiration on their sites.
The rise of eating disorder promotion through the use of thinspiration escalated to a point where major media sites felt the need to take action, Tumblr being the first in February 2012.
In a draft statement for an addition to their content policy on their website, Tumblr said, “Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide…this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.”
Pintrest followed suit, updating their Terms of Service March 23rd 2012 to include the banning of self-harm inducing content.
Instagram also released an addition to their community policy April 2012, and said, “Don’t promote or glorify self-harm: While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning. We believe that communication regarding these behaviors in order to create awareness, come together for support and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm.”
In a follow-up post to their updated policy draft, Tumblr said, “The post itself provoked more than 25,000 likes, reblogs, and replies; and more than 2,500 of [users] sent in comments by email.”
Many of the comments were positive such as one by umhi-im-alixis who said, “This is a great idea. I know some people will get upset about it and accuse tumblr of violating their freedom of… blogging, I guess, but the reality is that there really is nothing good about promoting any sort of self-harm. Considering how many pro-self-harm blogs/posts I have seen on Tumblr and how much they actually influence some people, I think the Tumblr staff is making a smart decision.”
Others did not feel as optimistic to the change. User coldbeans said, “Sorry Tumblr but this is the stupidest idea you have ever come up with and I’m so disappointed. Tumblr is the only place for a huge number of people to come for comfort and release and to know they’re not alone, if you take that away.. *sigh* It’s not like any of us encourage anyone to self harm in any form, we need somewhere to talk about it and that’s here. [I am] Completely and wholeheartedly against the new policy.”
Weighing in on both sides, user Promisestotheeastcoast said, “After reading over this new policy I myself have mixed feelings…Don’t get me wrong, I fully support getting rid of blogs that solely encourage these dangerous behaviors. But where does Tumblr plan to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not? I am fully supportive of banning blogs that solely promote self-injury and eating disorders, but don’t take this out on all those who use this website to deal with these behaviors and to ask for help. I suggest that that Tumblr Staff go over this policy again and clarify the specifics for users. Honest and open communication are vital parts of recovery and I’d truly hate to see this policy censor that. ”
As for HHS students on the issue, Sparre said, “I feel like [banning thinspiration] is a wicked good idea because there are so many girls who hate their bodies because they look at thinspiration and go …nuts over it.”
When posed with the question as to whether the social networking sites were taking away “rights” from their users to post what they wanted, Sparre said, “I think that those websites, if they let all the anorexia and bulimia people [do as they like] are just enabling these people to hurt themselves even more, so I think that its still good that they take away that ‘right’ I guess.”
Sophomore Maggie Naughton of HHS also said, “I think thinspiration on its own can be a good thing if it’s positive images of healthy people and a healthy goal for yourself but it gets dicey when it’s public because you never know the mindset of the people looking at your stuff so it’s probably better to keep it to yourself.”
In a last comment to anyone thinking about using thinspiration Bickford said, “Although I’ve never pressured anyone to be thinner, I do try to offer advice and support when in comes to fitness. Being more fit and probably thinner as well can make your life inexpressibly better in so many ways.”
One can only hope that with the efforts made from the public and social media networks alike, that the impact of thinspiration will slowly grow towards a universal positive outlook on health and fitness instead of motivation for self-harm.
No matter how one chooses to use thinspiration, at the end of the day, sacrificing your health for an image of someone you will never be cannot compete with the powerful feeling of loving your body and most importantly, loving yourself.