The cause of concern isn’t pornography but rather “thinspo” videos alleged to promote anorexia and bulimia among the young people who watch them. There are currently more than 8,000 public thinspo – also called thinspiration – videos on YouTube, most of which set images of skeletal models, celebrities and anonymous real girls to songs such as Lisa Loeb’s She’s Falling Apart, a favourite anthem among disordered eaters.
They tend to be accompanied by “motivational” words for pro-ana (pro-anorexic) viewers, such as the message in the video “Thinspiration By Livi” reading: “Every time when I’m about to eat, I look at these girls and then remember that nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”
Thinspirationis defined as “a term that refers to a role model used by people (often individuals with eating disorders) to inspire them to lose weight. It’s most common in the pro-ana community, but not confined to it. “ While I myself had never heard of such websites until I read Harris’ article this morning, I certainly have used images of thin women to help fuel my own weight loss efforts in the past. I have also spent a great deal of time obsessing over food, eating, weight loss and body image. That said, this issue hits very close to home for me. I have been on both ends of the weight spectrum- a size 16 at my heaviest and down to skin and bones at my thinnest. I know what it is to get into that mindset where you want to be thin more than anything else to the point where it’s almost all you can think about. I have gotten myself so thin that my face is drawn, my bones are showing and my family is worried; but I still don’t think I’m thin enough. I have congratulated myself for being able to get through a day of eating next to nothing and given myself a pat on the back for putting in overtime at the gym. I certainly have engaged in severely problematic food and weight behaviour at different times in my life. The weight I am at today is my healthiest. This is me watching what I’m eating, being conscious of nutritional value, and being active but not being completely obsessive. Ironically, I think I’m fat right now.
The worst part about the images being portrayed in popular culture today is that they are completely unrealistic, airbrushed, manipulated . . . and put a lot of pressure on young people to look a certain way. This is extremely dangerous.
In doing some research for this post, I took a look at the National Eating Disorder Information Center’s website. The statistics are absolutely startling.
Scouring through magazines, clothing catalogs, newspapers, television and the movies, some eating-disordered women seize upon super-skinny celebrities for “thinspiration,” a term used on pro-anorexia Web sites to describe admiration for their role models. Supporters post pictures of their thinspiration favorites on Internet sites and community discussion boards. Popular thinspiration celebrities include movie star Keira Knightley, tennis star Anna Kournikova, and models Kate Moss and Oksana Pautova. Even those like Mary-Kate Olsen and Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham, who have publicly admitted to their battles with eating disorders, are held up as templates for success.
The singularity of focus is what makes the pro-eating disorder websites so unique. Instead of four or five pages of emaciated, elongated, computer-manipulated models spaced out in a magazine among editorial content, these sites stockpile these images exclusively. To curious observers, rather than having a temptation to emulate these images, more likely their reaction may be surprise at how absolutely commonplace they are. In other words, the majority of these images are by no means underground, subversive, or secret. They are merely purloined from the many media images we encounter on a daily basis without even trying.
There is one style of thinspiration that is unique to pro-eating disorder Web sites: photos portraying underweight individuals, always girls or women, participating in questionable behaviors, such as kneeling over a toilet, exercising, or showing off their skeletons. The more disturbing Web sites include captions such as “I love your bones,” indicating that such appearances are desirable.
Speaking from the perspective of someone who has dealt with disordered eating, body dysmorphia and the struggle to be thin, these websites really worry me. This is why I felt compelled to write something today upon reading this article this morning.
“So the question is, where do we draw the line about what’s appropriate versus what’s harmful – harmful to the people taking part and harmful to the people watching.”
At a time when there are so many more important issues to be focusing on in this world, why are so many young women consumed by this quest for thinness? Imagine the good that could be done if all of this energy was focused somewhere more positive.