Like everywhere else on the Internet, a thinspiration community has popped up on Instagram. A quick search for "thinspo" -- the shorthand term used for these glorifications of the super-skinny -- on Hashgram, a site that aggregates tags on Instagram photos, pulls up a bunch of disturbing images. Though, not all the images or mantras are unhealthy, a lot of them are. Also, that they are tagged "thinspo" signals the poster wants to indicates a certain acceptance of the thinspo mind-set. (Unless they're using the tag to make a point, like this homegirl.)
It's totally completely unsurprising that the popular photo sharing app has been used to present of these photos that glorify super-skinny body images and the unhealthy behaviors associated with attaining this "ideal." Wherever there's a platform, especially a visual one, these communities seem to pop up. We saw it on Tumblr and Pinterest earlier. And we already know this stuff has existed since the beginning of the Internet.
This thinspo crowd has likely existed since the beginning of Instagram, only getting more popular as the app has gotten more users. Instagram just opened up to Android users, for example, giving more thinspo posters access to the app. But a recent controversy involving the thin (and beautiful) fashion muse Alexa Chung brought this particular platform to our attention. Chung posted the photo at right of herself and her mom on the platform. And, though she did not tag it "thinspo," the image, which showcases Chung's slender legs and her jutting out collar bone, drew both thinspo participants as well as critics. The Daily Mail has a screenshot of some of the comments, which range from "nice legs ;)" to more critical, like, "alexa knows exactly what she's doing, u don't get this way without trying, it's not 'nature' - lol." Since, Chung has made her account private, denying she has an eating disorder. "Ok everyone thanks for the teen angst discussions. People are different sizes. I'm not trying to be thinspo for anyone. I am now making this acct private. Byyyyyeeee," she wrote.
We learn two lessons from this Chung ordeal. First, even as the National Eating Disorder Association works with these sites to enforce a total ban of this content, this movement isn't going away. Tumblr has an official policy and Pinterest is working on one to eradicate thinspirational stuff completely. But, it seems a bit futile. Wherever there's Internet, there's thinspo -- banned from one photo sharing site, these people move to another. Just today The N ew York Daily News had an article about the dissemination of these images on YouTube, now that Pinterest has announced its counter-attack.
But, beyond bringing light to yet another digital space where we find this troubling movement, we now see another problematic aspect of the war on thinspo. While many thinspo posters tag photos of themselves, others user public figures like Chung, or Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter, or even fashion and clothing models to detail their skinny ideal. Chung has said she doesn't want to act as thinspiration. "I don't want to be a pin-up for young girls just for being thin. I don't want to be admired for being thin, as opposed for being dressed well, and I don't want the two to get confused," she recently told OK! But on the Internet, where images get shared willy-nilly, she doesn't really have the choice. Does that mean Chung has to act as an advocate? It's probably not her responsibility to fix our country's body-image issues. But, it seems like until the fashion world and Hollywood and whoever glorifies those with impossible-to-attain bodies stop praising the ultra-thin, literally giving them digital pedestals, thinspo will live.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.