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Pinterest’s Thinspiration Problem

Pinterest is an online “pin board” where individuals (most users are women) “pin” images, quotes, and DIY tips for their followers to see.  But this seemingly innocuous inboard has a negative side of Pinterest: Thinspiration. Thinspiration are images and media that promote anorexia and other eating disorders. In this piece, Alexa Megna explores thinspiration and asks us to think about the role media and imagery play in defining beauty standards.

Ladies, we are living in a truly revolutionary time!  We have laptops and iPhones to keep us constantly connected to our loved ones, because after all, relationships are most important thing to women.   We can log onto Foodgawker.com or Foodnetwork.com to download recipes instantly to cook for our partner.  We can also watch our favorite chick flicks, like Titanic and Moulin Rouge, in an instant on Netflix.com.  In addition, we can also log onto Pinterest.com to shame not only our bodies, but also women’s bodies everywhere.

Now, for all of those who are unsure of what Pinterest is let me explain.  Pinterest is an online community where you can “pin” images, recipes, work out tips, and DIY secrets to an online corkboard that followers can see.  Pinterest, of course, does have some men that do participate, but mostly it is a female dominated community where women can share tips and secrets with other women.

One of the most interesting things I have found on Pinterest is the prevalence of “thinspiration.”  Thinspiration is a popular term to describe posting or blogging inspirational quotes, pictures, and exercise guides to inspire you to fit a desired body type of thin.  Thinspiration on Pinterest ranges from photos of stereotypically attractive women, quotes about how good it feels to work out, or a combination of both.  I found one quote that says, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”  Another one, with a picture of a thin, almost naked woman says, “What you eat in private, you wear in public.”  Finally, I saw a picture with another barely dressed, thin woman that says, “It takes 4 weeks for you to notice your body changing, 8 weeks for your friends and 12 for the rest of the world.  Don’t quit.”

You cannot log onto Pinterest with out seeing these types of thinspiration show up. Not only are these women posting thinsperation to shame their own inadequacies in their bodies but also with Pinterest, these images get repined for all of their followers to see so they know too that their bodies are inadequate. Constantly, women who log onto Pinterest are bombarded with these images of how their bodies are not good enough[1].  When I shared this insight with my friends, they too felt that these sorts of pins became internalized, even though they are perfectly satisfied with how they look. It seems that by other women wanting to share about their desires to be “fit” that it impacts all women (and men) who see these pins.  By repining these types of images and quotes, women are reproducing the inequality and body image issues but under the pretense that it is about being “fit.”

Society puts a lot of pressure on women to fit a very particular beauty standard. While many might say, “I don’t think being super skinny is beautiful”, the point is that women are constantly bombarded by images of ideal beauty and repeatedly judged for how their bodies stack up against these ideals. From magazine covers, to skincare product commercials, and now Pinterest, the message is clear, “You are not enough, your body is unacceptable, and shame on you!” To be clear, Pinterest didn’t create this problem, in fact on recently Pinterest modified it’s acceptable use policy to ban thinspiration content, the social problem is the narrow defining of beauty for women that is both unachievable and oppressive.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Write down a list of all of the beauty standards women are held to. Go from head to toe.
  2. Looking at your list of beauty standards, could any women possibly leave up to this? Discuss how many of the beauty standards contradict one another.
  3. What images of thinspiration have you seen in media?  Where do you see these messages?
  4. There is this stereotype that women need to be “sexy,” which connects sex and what is sexually desired.  Throughout history, the idea of what is sexy has changed.  What do you think of these images ( http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/03/07/exotic-dancers-in-1890-and-the-plump-body-ideal/ ) of desirable erotic dancers in the 1890s?  Would these women be deemed to large by today’s standards?  How does the ideal body size change over time?




[1] Of course, women are always subject to these types of images via television, radio, music, etc.