It’s 2021 and eating disorders are still portrayed as ‘teenage, white cis female’ problems. The only eating disorder that is accepted by society is ‘underweight anorexia’. Movies glamorize deadly illnesses, and some platforms fuel them. This sucks. And then there’s thinspiration and it’s role in eating disorders and society.
‘Thinspiration’ is Harmful
Social media can be a great place for people in recovery to connect with others. And it can be a big support. It can provide a space for people seeking recovery where they can draw energy from those further along.
However, it can lend itself to ‘thinspo, thinspiration’ (short for thin inspiration). These are idealized depictions of thin/emaciated bodies, promotion of extreme eating disorder behaviors and or glamorizing them.
Thinspiration, thinspo, fitspo has been around a long time. It started from social media and sadly these images remain rife across social media platforms. This content is becoming increasingly available and preys on those most vulnerable. They often masquerade as advocating for or raising awareness for recovery, which makes them even more dangerous.
Thinsporation in Disguise
Most western magazines are full of it, anything that encourages the pursuit of thinness or glorifies the thin ideal falls under those headings. This expands to wellness, fitness influencers and in extreme cases pro eating disorder platforms. I’m glad I am of the generation where tumblr was the only social media platform where this was blatant. I worry about my nieces
and nephews who are exposed to far more of these platforms. I’m grateful Tik Tok didn’t exist when I was a kid.
These protagonists sharing thinspo content can excite our eating disorders and encourage dangerous behaviors, intended or not. Therefore, it needs to be called out.
One of the biggest problems is the common “acceptable” posts on social media from people amid an eating disorder sharing pictures of their emaciated bodies. Or the before and after pictures and my absolute bug bear: the infamous nasogastric tube (NGT) posts.
Unfortunately, these posts can reinforce the narrative that to be “sick enough’, valid or recognized as struggling with an eating disorder you need to be in a stereotypical emaciated body. With respect to improving eating disorder awareness and education this poses a big problem.
The population of people who need their voices heard are not being recognized because we are fueling the preconceived imagery society holds on to.
Instagram and Tik Tok are not great at challenging this. Yes, you can report pretty much anything, but there are loopholes and content creeps in.
Almost daily I come across pictures in recovery spaces, of either very thin females posting pictures of themselves with a NGT insitu or a picture of them entering/leaving inpatient treatment.
Let me be clear, this may help a small group of people. However, I think in the wider population it’s regressive to the education and awareness of eating disorders at minimum and harmful to many in the throes of one.
The Truth About Eating Disorders
Underweight anorexia accounts for only 6% of eating disorder diagnosis.
Most people experiencing an eating disorder are not underweight by society’s crappy definition.
Yet it’s the picture a member of the public holds if you ask them what eating disorders are.
Eating disorders are ridiculously competitive beasts. If we continue the notion that to be ‘sick enough’ for help you have to be emaciated or require NGT feeding we are not helping anyone. Least of all the majority of sufferers who are not “underweight” quote unquote.
Is it Thinspiration?
Please, before you share a picture of you in an emaciated body with or without an NGT, think about it first. Ask yourself these questions, “What are you wanting to gain from this? “
If it’s support or validation you can get this without a picture. Eating disorder treatment is stigmatizing and biased enough already. We don’t need to fuel it by adding to society’s stereotypes.
Before you got to this point in time, ‘what would seeing someone else with an NGT have made you feel, what would your ED voice have told you? I have to have an NGT to deserve help, or I need to get to that point’?
If it is yes to this, then you know posting this is harmful.
I’m not ashamed to say this now, I used to seek out ‘pro-eating disorder content’ when I was in the absolute depths of my eating disorder. My eating disorder was all over it, like a bee to pollen. It is what an ill mind does. I also used to see these pictures of NGT fed people and believe “I don’t have a problem, because I don’t need a tube, yet”.
The word “yet” is the important word here. Because my eating disorder lied to me and thrived off these thinspo posts and used them against me. I was ‘not as good at anorexia’ or ‘I didn’t deserve help because I wasn’t that picture’ or ‘I needed to get to that point’
None of these were true, but viewing these posts gave my ED free reign.
Any content that focuses on numbers, appearance, or aesthetic rather than health as a motivating factor for change falls under thinspiration.
This is always a red flag when instructors or influencers talk about “fitness” over thinness but still share before and after pictures.
Let’s bring comparison to the table here.
These kinds of posts lend themselves to comparisons. Comparison we already know is detrimental to one’s growth and healing. It really is the thief of joy.
What exactly does this have to do with “thinspo” etc? Well, these posts can also serve as a source of torture and self-sabotaging. The all or nothing mindset that’s common to many with eating disorders means that these posts have the potential to set a cascade of eating disorder thoughts in motion by viewing such content and drawing comparison.
Recovery spaces are supposed to feel safe. Yet these posts remain a constant feature.
I cannot imagine how crushing these posts are for people who are sick, inhabiting a larger and or marginalized body type. We need to do better by the underrepresented sufferers and protect younger generations from following in our footsteps.