Thinspiration (a clever combination of “thin” and “inspiration”) is a new internet phenomenon. Thousands of women and young girls pore over their computers every day following their favorite thinspiration, or “thinspo,” bloggers for the latest advice on how to get skinny. Many of these websites and blogs claim not to promote anorexia (a.k.a “pro-ana”), however, the evidence suggest otherwise.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health and National Eating Disorders Association, Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by:
Extreme thinness (emaciation)
A relentless pursuit of thinness and an unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
Intense fear of gaining weight
Distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight
Lack of menstruation among girls and women
Extremely restricted eating
Many of the young women photographed on thinspo sites, though skinny, do not appear to be severely underweight, do not promote starving one’s self, nor do they advocate throwing up… outright. Here are a few “inspirational quotes” from thinspiration-pictures.blogspot.com:
Remeasure, reweight, try harder.
Fat lasts longer than flavor.
I'd rather skinny dip than chunky dip.
You will regret that cookie but you will not regret running that mile!
Chew eat [sic] bite of food thoroughly and then take a sip of water between bites. You will feel full quicker and will not eat as much.
Say you are going to eat at afriends house and instead go for a walk. you will be burning calories instead of taking them in.
Drink one glass every hour. It will make you feel full.
Drink 3 cups of green tea daily. It will help boost your metabolism, plus its anti-oxidants [sic] make youe skin look great.
Eat in front of a mirror naked, See how much you want to eat then!
According to helpguide.org, there are clear lines in the sand as to what separates anorexia from dieting.
Healthy dieting is an attempt to control weight.
Anorexia is an attempt to control your life and emotions.
Your self-esteem is based on more than just weight and body image.
Your self-esteem is based entirely on how much you weigh and how thin you are.
You view weight loss as a way to improve your health and appearance.
You view weight loss as a way to achieve happiness.
Your goal is to lose weight in a healthy way.
Becoming thin is all that matters; health is not a concern
Furthermore, the site categorizes anorexics as individuals who, among other things, feel powerful when abstaining from food, compulsively exercise and/or diet, and who base their self worth on weight and body size. Consider these quotes from two different thinspo bloggers (for discreet purposes the names and blogs of both women have been withheld):
"Most days I feel like what I'm doing could be way too much…I know that if I stay on a very dangerous path, that it could kill me within a year easily, if not sooner. But at the same time, I feel like if I set a goal, I have to reach it. I'm pretty torn about it most days, but I've never really felt bad enough that I wanted to stop."
“I think 'pro ana' and 'thinspiration' are two different things….Thinspiration is just photos of girls that I used to motivate myself to lose weight. People need to realise I'm 60 kilos [approx 132 lbs], I once weighed 108 kilos [approx 238 lbs]. I had high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, was always lethargic and was at risk of getting type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovaries. I made this site for girls who were like me that needed something to motivate them to lose weight. At 108 kilos I never felt like who I was in the mirror. I thought I was curvy and looked like any other 'healthy girl'. Looking at girls who are super skinny girl [sic] in fashionable clothes was the only thing that motivated me. If I didn't have them I could still be on the pathway to an early death.”
Of these two women, the first blogger, who stands at 5'10", had a starting weight of 151 lbs. Her current weight is 127 lbs and ultimate goal weight 115. According to the USDA, her goal weight is that of someone 4’10”. The woman’s starting weight was in fact a perfectly healthy weight for her height. The second blogger is 5’9”. Her starting weight was 238 lbs; her current weight is 132 lbs. In this case, she moved from a state teetering on morbid obesity to a healthy weight for her height.
These two different women are a metaphor for the thinspiration movement. The two women are the difference between the (somewhat) healthy extremes we humans sometimes feel the need to do in order to succeed, and the first step into a black hole. Thinspiration sites are in damning ways like the pro-ana websites of yesteryear that bloomed and faded with the “Heroin Chic” fashion craze. But whether or not thinspiration is here to stay or destined to fade is not as important as the big question: how many people it is going to take along the way?