If you’ve been on Tumblr for any length of time, you’ve more than likely run into something called “thinspo,” or inspiration for being thin. Sounds harmless, right? After all, if someone desires to be thin, shouldn’t they be able to look at pictures of their goals as a means to stay motivated?
No. Thinspo is part of a sub-culture on Tumblr and many other social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram. It depicts photoshopped models showing off their rib cages and thigh gaps. This sub-culture is for people with eating disorders to delve further into their disease and mentally romanticize the damage that is being done to their bodies.
Mentioned in religions such as Hinduism and Taoism, there is a practice in which the practitioner believes that there is no need for food or water. This practice is called inedia, or breatharianism. Practiced by approximately 6,000 people around the world, 5 people have died in 2017 after glorification from “leaders” that sensationalize this. These practices have crossed over into the pro-ana and pro-mia subcultures.
There are two eating disorder sub-cultures: recovery and disordered; we are currently going to discuss the disordered sub-culture, but we will revisit the recovery section another day. The disordered sub-culture is a community used for eating disorder glorification and essentially helping to develop habits that make the disorder even worse, such as choosing an “ana buddy” to help the buddies in question encourage each other to push through the ABC (ana boot camp) diet.
Who is ana? This sub-culture is part of a greater sub-culture, where there are names for each disorder. For instance, Ana anorexia, Mia bulimia, Debbie depression, Suzie schizophrenia, Sally suicide, Annie anxiety, etc. The pro-ana and pro-mia, meaning pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia, communities have different categories depending on how your eating disorder is developed.
For instance, there are five inspirations known as fitspo, thinspo, bonespo, sweetspo, and meanspo. Fitspo, or inspiration for being fit, is for those who are genuinely trying to lose weight by eating less and exercising in a healthy manner. Thinspo is the first level for eating disorders, in which images of thigh gaps and bony arms are glorified. Bonespo, or inspiration for bones, is a deeper level for eating disorders. Bonespo is for when you are so deep into your eating disorder and self-starvation that you have no desire other than to be so skinny that you see bones. Sweetspo and meanspo are different forms of inspiration; sweetspo, or sweet inspiration, is meant to be encouraging for those struggling with restricting while meanspo is the exact opposite. Meanspo, or mean inspiration, is demeaning and will say things like “I knew you couldn’t do it” or “you’ll always be fat.”
These inspirations combined with photoshopped models and a normalized desire to have a thigh gap, more and more people are turning towards unhealthy coping mechanisms to have society’s ideal body. Everybody knows that the photoshopped models on the covers of magazines look incredibly different in real life without being airbrushed, but mental illnesses can turn these models into something to be desired because that must be what they look like in real life. If the models are so beautiful with thigh gaps and being so thin that you can see their ribs, why wouldn’t a young teenager aspire to be that small in order to get their crush to like them or feel more confident in their body?
There are things that we can do to help combat the growing rates of eating disorders, such as posting positive messages across social media and stop glamorizing the need to be perfect, but the truth is that eating disorders are about a lot more than just food. Sure, that’s what an eating disorder is centralized around, but it’s about control. When you feel that you’ve lost control in most aspects of your life, restricting your food intake or working out until you collapse can give you an overwhelming sense of power. An eating disorder is something that nobody can take away from you, even if somebody were to shave off the hair on your head, your eating disorder would still be there and give you comfort in the sense that you have control over something that nobody else knows about.
Don’t get me wrong, positive messages can do a lot for somebody recovering from an eating disorder, but we can’t fully expect those around us to turn away from bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, etc. until we stop glamorizing the need for perfection and start normalizing the love we need to care for ourselves. Love those around you unconditionally. Encourage your loved ones to seek help if they need it. Above all else, stay true to the person you are and not the disordered view of who or what you want to be. Through these things, normality will be the new perfection in our society.