The recent influx of “thinspiration” pictures on social media platforms is shifting the definition of outer beauty in potentially negative ways. While the freedom to spread ideas through such media is important, the teenage audience must view images that inspire unhealthy lifestyles and subjective expectations of beauty with caution and a lesser degree of authority.
Standards of physical beauty change significantly with time. In the middle of the 20th century, for example, ideas of beauty were epitomized by advertisements endorsing weight gain. Today, however, beauty is equated with highly defined bone structures, thigh gaps and slim body frames. This skinny craze holds a particular position on social media websites like Tumblr and Instagram.
According to QuantCast statistics, over half of Tumblr users are teenagers below the age of 19. As a result, Tumblr unconsciously influences the self-image of individuals during a crucial period of their development into adults.
“When I see images of super thin, pretty girls on Tumblr, I’ll be honest, I’ll reblog it just because it’s something desirable,” said Chelsea Cho, a junior at Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS). “Sometimes,” Cho continued, “I’ll hate myself a bit that I don’t look like her.”
The pictures do more than just impact self-esteem. Some thinspiration blogs provide advice for getting thin, including the encouragement of unhealthy behaviors such as chewing on ice to curb hunger.
“A lot of people I know skip lunch at school,” said Eileen Lee, also a junior at GHCHS. “It’s extremely sad, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they’re the ones on Tumblr who reblog almost every picture with starving models.”
Eating disorders can be fatal. In fact, these diseases have the highest mortality rates out of all mental disorders. Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), and 50% of people with eating disorders suffer from depression as well.
ANAD has also found that only 5% of American females understand that the ultrathin bodies portrayed in media are not the norm. This misperception may be one reason why body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a pathology that leads sufferers to obsess over imagined physical deficiencies, impacts up to 2% of the world’s population according to the journal Psychological Medicine.
After the publication last year of a Huffington Post article highlighting the issue, Tumblr has taken action by committing to release public service announcements on the dangers of suicide and anorexia-related posts. The site also instituted a new policy to remove sites that include “active promotion or glorification of self-harm” including eating disorders as well as actions like cutting or other self-injury.
However, efforts must also extend to the actions of individuals.
Just because Tumblr bans some images, it doesn’t mean that all of the thigh gap pictures will go down anytime soon. Indeed, the power to share is the individual’s. However, we all have an obligation to not spread negative ideas of beauty to others.