The Scary History Behind 'Thinspiration'
Adam Richman (host of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food and several other food-related programs) recently made news when his new show Man Finds Food was “indefinitely postponed” (which sounds like a REALLY nice way of saying “cancelled”) after the host made some pretty insensitive comments in an Instagram post. Richman, who has lost 70 pounds over the course of 2013 (and more weight this year), posted a picture of himself in a suit using the hashtag #thinspiration.
When the public grew incensed over what is widely agreed to be a pro-eating disorder social media tool, Richman first fired back against his detractors, then admitted he actually did not know the history behind the hashtag, which is unfortunate, but understandable. Hashtags don’t come with little mini history books that explain their origin. So let’s take the opportunity right here and now to explain the scary history behind #thinspiration.
Let’s be clear right up front, being critical of #thinspiration is NOT the same thing as being critical of being thin. Thinness is a body type, it’s the way your bones are built and the way your metabolism works. No one should be shamed for the way their body looks.
#Thinspiration (or #thinspo) is its own separate issue, and it IS an issue. It is a visual movement on social media (Instagram and Pinterest have been primary offenders, though Twitter and Facebook were never exactly innocent here) wherein people post pictures that glamorize and glorify extreme skinniness: protruding ribcages, clavicles, cheek bones, child-sized waists, wrists, and thighs. Are some people naturally built like this or does it require little effort for some people to maintain this size and weight? Yes, of course. The world is full of different shapes and sizes. But the problem is, most people are NOT naturally built like this and in order to achieve this size, a #thinspiration follower must eat in a disordered way.
Thinspiration as a word seems to have been in usage since at least 2006, which makes historical Internet sense: between 2006 and 2008 the number of pro anorexia and pro bulimia social media posts rose 470%. Originally, the term was found on these “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” websites, as well on YouTube videos—as a way to fuel disorders and promote starvation. At it’s core, it was part of a larger movement to encourage, rather than treat eating disorders.
More recently, #thinspiration morphed into a hashtag on social media, as pro ana sites have been shut down, and social media has mushroomed. The problem was grave enough that in 2012, Instagram banned “thinspiration” content. Now, when you search for the term the message “no tags found” comes up. “Thinspogram” and “thinspo” are still allowed on the site, so they’ve continued to foster the problem. Similarly, when you search Pinterest for the hashtag, a warning about eating disorders comes up, but so do a bunch of photos of skinny models and quotations like “Gonna run till I don’t jiggle.” On Twitter, the hashtags “thinspo” and “thinspiration” have a robust and extremely disturbing presence—a reminder that mass encouragement of eating disorders is still a real and dangerous movement.
One thing I often see in the comment sections of pieces about #thinspiration (and thigh gaps and just body image pieces in general) is “UGH. Shut UP about this thing already! If you don’t want this THING to be a THING anymore, why don’t you just stop TALKING about it already?” Adam Richman is proof positive that we can’t stop talking about the dangers of things like #thinspiration because so many people are familiar with these dangerous terms and concepts without understanding what makes them dangerous (or even that they’re dangerous at all). So we can’t keep talking until everyone has heard. We have to keep explaining until everyone is educated. With something like thinspiration, the more we discuss it, the less under-the-radar it becomes, and the more we can do to put a stop to it.