“Thinspiration” is a phrase that has caught on within social media like wildfire and has started a world of pro-ana and pro-mia websites that promote and support eating disorder behaviors.
Images that typically come with the phrase ‘thinspiration’ are underweight men and women, or words such as ‘starving’ or ‘perfection’ and tips on how to engage and maintain eating disorder behaviors.
After an outcry from many eating disorder professionals and leaders, social media sites such as Instagram and Tumblr implemented new guidelines that prohibit content that promotes or glorifies self-harm either through eating disorder behaviors or other methods.
Advisory notifications will pop-up when someone clicks on such photos or information. The pop-up will direct them to resources to get help .
Pro-mia and pro-ana sites have been available for years within the social media world. It is immediately accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone. According to the National Association of Eating Disorders (NEDA) over 20 million women and 10 million men struggle with an eating disorder within the U.S. .
It can be almost natural for teens to turn to the Internet to look for information for help on just about anything.
Many youth searches on the Internet are for diets, specific body types, and exercise routines. If you type the word ‘diet’ into a search engine, 231,000,000 sites pop up.
Websites such as thinspiration, bonespiration, and fitspiration are available that push the idea of being underweight and working towards an extremely thin body type.
Thinspiration is a term that refers to social media which encourages a person to be thin. Images of these sites show women who are underweight, typically objectified and often wearing little clothing.
Bonespiration is similar to Thinspiration but shows images of individuals whose bones are protruding.
Fitspiration is considered the least disturbing as it shows images and websites for gaining increased fitness and body sculpting.
Typically bonespiration and thinspiration tend to show more images with thin, objectified bodies, and fitspiration has images that show people as more muscular .
These images could give the user the perception that fitspiration is more ‘healthy’ in its image content than the others as it does not show as many underweight individuals. These sites can still be dangerous as it can fall into disordered eating and eating disorder content.
Exposure to these types of websites can result in youth holding unattainable and unrealistic ideas of beauty. Past research has shown that exposure to thin-ideal images decreases body satisfaction, and unhealthy weight control practices .
Social media is separate from conventional media as it allows for the user to interact with it. It provides a personal outlet, a feeling of connection and presence with others, and a community which offers a “relationship” with peers.
Users on social media are both sources and receivers of information who can shape their interaction and enhance autonomy, self-efficacy, and personal agency.
Thinspiration tends to be all around us. Its role is for people to try to attain a body image which is often unachievable.
It can be images of bodies, quotes for weight loss, and techniques on best weight-loss exercises. These sites have spurred on the pro-ana and pro-mia websites that identify eating disorders as a lifestyle choice rather than a mental health illness.
Teenagers spend up to 9 hours per day on social media . That is an alarming amount of time that there is potential exposure to thinspiration sites.
According to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study, frequent daily log-ins onto social media feeds was linked to a higher risk of young adults developing disordered eating patterns and body concerns .
The study showed that neither age or race was an influence on the findings, and all demographic groups were equally affected. The researchers suggested that prevention efforts need to be targeting large populations.
A study that looked at 101 teenagers and their use of social media and selfies and examined their evaluation of weight and shape .
The researchers found that there were significantly higher levels of critical overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and internalization of the thin ideals.
These teens that were assessed tended to share selfies on social media regularly. The researchers concluded that the use of selfies on social media could contribute to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.
Social media can be an incredible platform for connecting with friends, to see events going on in your community, or a form of entertainment. For many youths, exposures to unhealthy body images are unavoidable.
It comes in various forms, such as images on the internet, television, billboards on the road. These images can change the way children see and perceive their bodies.
Working with your child on knowing how healthy weight and size are essential. Work on creating and cooking new meals together.
Get involved in activities that everyone enjoys and gets you moving. Helping your child to get off their phone or tablet and involved in their community is a wonderful way to avoid the pitfalls of social media.
About the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.
Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.
References: Shalby, C. (2014, March 01). Fighting social media ‘thinspiration’ with messages of self-acceptance. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/thinspiration-ban-social-media-doesnt-prevent-eating-disorders
 Talbot, C. V., Gavin, J., Steen, T. V., & Morey, Y. (2017, September 26). A content analysis of thinspiration, fitspiration, and bonespiration imagery on social media. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-017-0170-2
 Tsukayama, H. (2015, November 03). Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/11/03/teens-spend-nearly-nine-hours-every-day-consuming-media/?utm_term=.7c55058c0668
 Greater Social Media Use Tied to Higher Risk of Eating and Body Image Concerns in Young Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2018, from http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2016/Pages/sidani-eating-disorder.aspx
 McLean, S. A., Paxton, S. J., Wertheim, E. H., & Masters, J. (2015, November 23). Selfies and social media: relationships between self-image editing and photo-investment and body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint. Retrieved January 10, 2018, from https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2050-2974-3-S1-O21
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on February 2, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com