The Heavy Price of Thinspiration
“Ana fuels beauty.”
The headline sprawls across the Tumblr page in plain, black font, drawing bloggers in to pages of photos and postings meant to serve as inspiration to followers looking for that extra push.
From the United States to the Philippines, a legion of females have formed a community of bloggers, running and following postings designed to serve as an inspiration to get thin. Thinspiration, or thinspo, blogs are part of a secret, often-times anonymous community of weight-loss aficionados who use the forums to encourage drastic weight loss.
And while the blogs are not new to the dotcom world, there has recently been a proliferation of such sites. Some of the users are diagnosed anorexics and bulimics. They are pro-anorexic (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia (pro-mia) promoters who believe that eating disorders will lead to perfection.
Some are looking for fast ways to lose weight – thinspo pros recommend water, exercise and fasting – in preparation for spring break and summer vacations. The majority are looking for inspiration: posting pictures of fitness models in sports bras and spandex, proclaiming the beauty of protruding collar bones and hip bones, and longing for the gap in between their thighs.
For many, hunger pains become part of their daily lives.
Curling up in a ball is the best way to get rid of them, one blogger writes.
Thinderellafairytale: “I’ve only consumed 198 calories today and I still feel guilty for eating that much and still being hungry.
The trend of thinspo blogs began before the birth of sites like Xanga and LiveJournal in 1999. Today, thousands exist, with more popping up each day, said Claire Mysko, the head of the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) Proud2BMe site. NEDA’s site stands as a contrast to thinspo blogs, promoting self esteem and positive body image.
Thinspo blogs made a quick appearance on Tumblr when it exploded on to the scene in 2007. But Tumblr has recently announced they would put a stop to all blogs promoting self-harm, targeting pro-ana and thinspiration pages. According to Tumblr’s blog, administrators of the site said they would post messages for treatment and help when users searched specific pro-ana and pro-mia terms.
Yet despite Tumblr’s warning, blogs still appear on their site, as on others like Blogger and WordPress. Thinspiration pictures are also frequently pinned to thinspo-themed boards on the popular site Pinterest.
“[Users] are promoting the unhealthy behavior rather than getting the individuals closer to recovery and health,” Mysko said about the blogs. “Pro-ana sites are nothing new. There are many platforms for blogging and social networking; there are more spaces where these conversations are happening.”
Anonymous to amen-ana: “I am way jealous of your stomach, I wish I could weigh 104. Your legs could be thinner, but that’s all I see.”
The NEDA says more than 10 million females and one million males in the U.S. suffer from eating disorders in the United States. And more than 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance.
Pictures of models in swimsuits and lingerie are common on the sites, posted to keep users on track with their weight-loss goals. Reality television star Audrina Patridge smiles shyly in one.
“Well, this picture makes me feel really ugly,” writes thinspirationforthebeautiful.
Bloggers post statistics listing their height, starting weight, current weight, goal weights and ultimate goal weight to monitor progress.
Thejourneytopaperthin: Height: 5’9”. Start weight: 143 lbs. Current weight: 121 lbs. Goal weight: Around 110-115 lbs.
They’ll encourage followers to ask questions, call them fat to keep them motivated, and offer tips on the best way to purge and hide their starvation from family and friends.
“How many calories does gum have?” Ilookfatinthemirror asked. “Is it bad to chew a lot?”
According to an article in the journal New Media and Society, there are three types of thin-spo sites: Pro-anorexia sites, pro-recovery sites, and sites for professional organizations. Pro-ana sites are the most prevalent, with “ana” representing anorexia as a lifestyle choice, not a disease. “Ana” goes hand-in-hand with “mia,” for those of the pro-bulimia group.
iama-n-a: “Ana keeps telling me I’m a worthless failure with no self control, so I’m off to the gym later and planning on fasting tomorrow. I wish she’d leave me alone sometimes.”
An article in the Lancet World Report reports about one-third of eating disorder patients have used these sites. But though they may act as triggers for females prone to eating disorders, user-generated conduct cannot be legislated against. When pro-ana sites began appearing on Xanga, its CEO said the pages would be deleted. Tumblr’s stance on combating self-harm pages was the first among today’s social media outlets, and Mysko hopes their announcement will create a ripple effect.
“These online communities provide a sense of support and only serve to keep the sufferer entrenched,” she said.
In addition to working with Tumblr, NEDA is also partnering with Facebook in an effort to ensure unhealthy content isn’t available to users.
But while NEDA and its supporters push for the prevention and treatment of the diseases, members of the thinspo community continue to turn online for support.
“Being able to connect with people in an anonymous form is really appealing to people who are sick,” Mysko said. “Another issue with the anonymity is that they’re stuck in this mindset and don’t want to get help.”
“I am super thin now and am almost to my perfection goal..but there is a problem..and it’s not my body. It’s my skin. And my throat. I drink tons of powerade and water and green tea but i still feel SO dehydrated and i have to lather lotion on so thickly so much. I feel like i look sick like my skin is getting flaky and dry and kind of gray ish. I’ve been using fake tan creme but it fades off a lot and spots so i look spotty and streaky. Ugh. My throat feels like my esophogus is about to rip in half and bleed. And my teeth feel funny, my insides feel like they are shutting down and croaking.I need some extra support. I don’t know if i’ll live to summer to show off my perfection body. XO,” purelyperfection
For those who have become part of the world, thinspo offers relief from a constant inner struggle for perfection and confidence. Despite efforts to combat it, the thinspo community continues to act as a safety net for bloggers, providing encouragement and motivation to fall deeper into weight loss.
“Whenever I feel like giving up, I go on Tumblr and remember why I started,” fit4-life
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or need more information, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association at (800) 931-2237, or visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org