The threat of #thinspiration

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This week my Tumblr dash was abuzz with complaints over a brief tweet posted by actress Angie Harmon (Rizzoli & Isles, Women’s Murder Club).

angie harmon thinspiration

The aspect of contention among viewers was the hashtag “thinspiration.” I hadn’t heard of this hashtag before, so I decided to do some research to figure out what exactly people were so upset about.

It turns out #thinspiration tracks its origins to a series of diet and exercise tips from the “pro-ana” (also referred to as “my friend Ana”) movement. The tips include extreme weight loss measures like excessive exercise and drastic reductions in food intake – because “pro-ana” is derived from “pro-anorexia.”

There are a huge number of websites and blogs devoted to pro-ana, in addition to regular posts on social media sites using hashtags like #thinspiration. One such blog offers tips like “dance after every meal until you feel absolutely fatigued,” “exercise until you feel completely exhausted,” and “pick up additional workloads” to help keep yourself too busy to eat. The same blog additionally recommends attitude and lifestyle changes like “think only of thin people” and “make thin friends.”

Another pro-ana blog offers up a series of diet plans, including the “Paris Hilton” diet (consuming a daily total of 81 calories) as well as the “Five Bite” diet (consuming five bites of food at each meal) – which the blogger suggested reducing to three bites.

Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders, explained:

“Instead of looking at eating disorder habits as a pathology, thinspiration treats them as a lifestyle choice.”

These sites use #thinspiration to share pro-ana diet and exercise tips, as well as photos of women they consider to be ideally thin. I won’t post the pictures that accompanied many of these sites and blogs, but suffice it to say many of the “ideal” bodies being portrayed looked more like skeletons than human women.

Eating disorders have been around for a long time, but the internet has made perpetuating them an easier task than ever.

As Dr. Maine puts it,

“Eating disorders have always been a competitive sport, but social media just increases the number of people you are competing with.”

Young girls who used to only be able to compare their bodies to their peers now have easy access to millions of too-thin and otherwise unhealthy body images online – millions of images they “fail” to compare to, and will strive to emulate no matter the cost.

Furthermore, #thinspiration and pro-ana blogs create greater challenges for people trying to overcome eating disorders – not only do they have to modify their personal health habits and overcome the mentality of the disease, but they have to modify their internet usage habits as well.

I doubt Angie Harmon meant to be offensive when she tweeted using #thinspiration. (It was a picture of a BBQ restaurant, and I’m left assuming she meant it as a joke.) Still, the #thinspiration culture has brought young girls to the edge of death before, and probably will continue to do so in the future. #Thinspiration is a reminder of the dangers of eating disorders and the power of internet communications in our world – so remember to tweet responsibly.

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