Eating disorders have always been a concerning issue. In your mind, you may hear eating disorder and just think of girls not eating. And, yes, this can be a part of it. But if you come across or search ‘thinspiration’ and ‘thinspo’, you will discover the dark side to how social media can be used to promoting this.
This once private and secret mental illness is now being shared and promoted via social media. Words such as ‘Thinspo’, ‘Ana’ and ‘Mia’ form the vocabulary of the ‘thinspiration’ movement, influencing how people should look and weigh. Thinspiration/thinspo is a term formed from ‘thin’ and ‘inspiration’ and incorporates pictures and sayings that are supposedly encouraging for people in their weight loss pursuits.
“I believe there is a good and bad side to ‘thinspo’ blogs,” says Erika Klatt, co-president of Project Heal. “For some people the sort of motivation these types of blog provide really help, but for many others it is unrealistic standards that they try to obtain.” Being a part of this life-saving organisation, she still feels there isn’t enough awareness of this illness.
“Eating disorders are always shunned and not talked about like it’s a shameful thing and that’s not right. People need to not be afraid to talk about it, share their stories and admit that help is needed sometimes and that is okay.”
Hospital admission for eating disorders between 2011 and 2014, increased by almost 25% and, horrifically, children and teens aged 10-19 account for over half the admissions. A young child, still growing into themselves, believing they are fat and punishing themselves to lose weight – imagine that.
Living with an Eating Disorder
Staring in the mirror each day, Brian Cuban used to look at his reflection after denying himself food, desperate to see a change. Day in. Day out. Brian explains, “Because of the BDD, I consistently saw a fat, ugly child in the mirror, no matter what I did to my body.”
His eating disorder, Body-Dysmorphic-Disorder (BDD), exaggerates ‘defects’ of physical appearance, making people detest how they look and feel. This mental and emotional illness can be twisted further through thinspiration sites and the media. “Thinspiration sites are definitely harmful. Someone who wants to lose weight should not do it because they feel the psychological need to look a certain way or sees something in the mirror that is false.”The media as a whole has always come under scrutiny for promoting ‘unrealistic’ portrayals of male and female bodies. Brian explains how he feels that “The media has the potential to be a positive tool and there are those who try to use it that way, but there is no doubt that many companies profit off putting out the thought of obtaining unobtainable body types.”
Fighting back against media manipulation
A recent example of this is the company ‘Protein World’, who sparked outrage over their ‘beach body ready’ campaign. The advert, showing a toned woman in a bikini asking ‘are you beach body ready?’, received a backlash of comments, such as ‘Do you have a body? Then you are beach body ready’ and other phrases written over the adverts in public areas. The Advertising Standards Authority said it’s launched an investigation, stating “Due to our concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims made in the ad, it can’t appear again in its current form.”
Change.org received a petition request from a girl called Charlotte Baring to remove the advert, which went on to receive over 70 thousand supporters and claiming victory. She started the petition because she felt Protein World is “directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior order to sell their product.” She further scrutinizes the ad, saying “The question I would like to pose would be ‘what is beach body ready? and who would not be?’” – the question on a lot of people’s minds.
This advert may not be full on ‘thinspiration’ promotion, but it doesn’t stop the message that you have to look a certain way to be accepted and look good, which for someone with an Eating Disorder only furthers their insecurities. It’s the simple things to majority of people, like eating in public, which can be an uncomfortable and scary issue for someone with an eating disorder to do. The ‘helpful’ sayings and images on thinspo blogs further this fear, such as
‘Keep Calm and Don’t Eat’
– the twisted version of the originally supportive phrase ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.
The issue of body image always has been an issue, no matter what age, gender or race anyone is and although these thinspo blogs may not all be harmful, they aren’t solving the problem either.