Note: trigger warning for eating disorders and thinspiration. In addition, I recognize that the messages in thinspiration are damaging and untrue, however this post is not about the messages contained in thinspo but about the individuals who make up thinspo communities.
Thinspo is stupid right? We all know it. It’s totally and utterly crazy for skinny white girls to sit around looking at pictures of even skinnier white girls and then whining and beating themselves up about not having an eating disorder? It’s utterly mindless and a waste of time and energy. Of course rich teen girls would have the time for this, but who else does? I just have to laugh at these idiots. They just want attention, they’re just trying to do it for boys. Don’t they know that anorexia is ugly? Don’t they know that curves are sexy? Don’t they know they’re damaging themselves and everyone around them? I hate them, but they’re so stupid sometimes I can’t even care.
As you might imagine I don’t agree with any of what I just wrote. However it took me a grand total of about 30 seconds on google to find quotes similar to all of what I said. Mocking thinspo is something of a national pastime and many people feel no qualms about viciously ripping into the people who engage in thinspo. I think we all need to come clean about it: we’ve probably made fun of thinspo as some point in our lives, we’ve probably thought that it’s sick and disgusting, we’ve probably thought that the people who do it are dumb and hurting others.
Yes, thinspo at first glance is disturbing and terrifying. But there’s a lot more going on in thinspo than you might think, and mocking it is really like kicking someone when they’re down. It’s not promoting the feminist agenda, it’s not promoting health, it’s not promoting mental health: it’s stigmatizing mental illness, it’s playing into the same dumb ideas that whatever teenage girls do is useless and stupid, and it’s actively ignoring the cultural milieu that might lead women to seek something like this, instead blaming them for trying to survive in a culture that glorifies thin.
So first and foremost what mocking thinspo ignores is that thinspo originated out of communities made up of individuals with eating disorders, and that the messages contained in thinspo are almost verbatim the things that an eating disorder will say to someone. Mocking someone for their mental illness is far more fucked up than having a mental illness.
People with eating disorders get mocked all the time anyway. This is a big part of the reason they feel the need to hide their behaviors and part of the reason they’re so isolated. Because not eating is so antithetical to basic biological drives, many people want to be able to write it off with sarcasm and cruel jokes. But those sorts of responses don’t provide any help or alternatives to the people being mocked. It provides more of the bad feelings and shame that they probably were trying to escape from in the first place, rather than giving them constructive help. When mainstream culture tells you you’re stupid for feeling the way you do, you look elsewhere for support: usually to other people with eating disorders or disordered eating.
This is how thinspo communities get started in the first place. People with eating disorders can’t find community or support anywhere else and so they end up in an extremely destructive community. Mocking thinspo simply reinforces that the only “safe” people are those who also have the same beliefs and behaviors. When you make fun of the messages, you ignore some real and strong reasons for individuals to seek thinspo: loneliness, fear, shame, and self-hatred.
In addition, most people never make it beyond the front door of thinspo. They google skinny and come up with some disturbing and painful images, then spew hatred towards the people who created them. In reality, when you delve deeper you find some unexpected things. Many thinspo sites are a place of community and support, talking not only about weight and meals, but also about emotional difficulties. And oftentimes when someone in those communities makes the decision to seek treatment or recovery, they get support and kind words. Of course there are a myriad of negative messages in thinspo, but there are also people behind those messages who are often willing to provide friendship and a shoulder to cry on.
Let’s put the blame where it’s deserved: on advertisers who keep glorifying skinny, on modeling agencies that put pressure on their models to lose weight over and over, on messages about health and weight that remind us over and over again that thin is healthy. The women and girls who have internalized these messages are trying to survive in a hostile society and are using the available coping methods to allow themselves to deal with the toxic messages society sends them about their worth. It’s really easy to target people who are already hating themselves, but maybe we should look a little more critically at where those messages are coming from.
One of the final problems that a lot of people cite with thinspo communities is that they’re harmful and they glorify hurting yourself. That might be true. It’s entirely possible that thinspo has caused an eating disorder before (although I seriously doubt that it’s ever done it on its own). But keep in mine who has created these spaces: people who are hurting, people who are lonely, people who are likely coping with a serious mental illness. I absolutely agree that we should work to dismantle the messages that are promoted in thinspo and that we should create and promote competing messages that help people find a measure of peace with themselves. But aiming our guns at the individuals who are already in so deep that they truly believe the words they’re saying? That is one of the most cruel things I could imagine.
As a last note, a lot of the mocking of thinspiration seems to be built on the back of “oh my god look at how disgusting that person is I can’t believe they’re so skinny”. Body shame of any kind is not ok. No bodies are disgusting. If you think otherwise, you can get out.
I’m going to be really open here. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at thinspo in my life. It’s never contributed to my eating disorder, but it was a clear indicator of when things had gotten bad for me. It made me feel less crazy. It made me feel safe.
I have a thigh gap. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my thigh gap. When it gets smaller, I get anxious. I also used to have a bikini bridge. I loved it, and I miss it and whenever I look at myself and see I don’t have it anymore I hate myself a little bit. I spend time and energy worrying about my body and there is nothing wrong with telling people that.
Because here’s the real honest truth. Anyone who wants to shame me for looking at thinspo or tell me that I’m disgusting, crazy, fucked up, or stupid because I internalized many of those messages knows nothing about me and certainly not enough to make those judgments. They don’t know why I engaged in those behaviors, and they clearly have misplaced their empathy. And if they truly believe those things about someone just because that person had an eating disorder? They can go fuck themselves.
Thinspo doesn’t make me stupid or anti-feminist, my actions and beliefs towards the patriarchy do. Thinspo doesn’t make me stupid and is not a valid reason to mock me, because what I do in my off time is none of your damn business. My use of thinspo doesn’t harm others (with the exception of my close friends and family who are invested in my well-being). Thinspo is an expression of a mental illness that is not my fault, that is not disgusting, and deserves not to be stigmatized. It is not ugly, wrong, or cruel to have a mental illness.
The vitriolic hatred of thinspo seems to me to be a veiled attempt to pass off body shaming, stigma of mental illness, and the relentless mocking of anything related to teenage girls as feminist. That’s bullshit. Mocking thinspo is a cruel action that drives people with eating disorders further into isolation. Full. Stop.