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Hashtags that Support Pro-Eating Disorder Ideals

Today, social media enables nearly anyone to receive and contribute information quickly to people around the world. Millions of different hashtags allow similar posts to be collected and viewed at once. Mass media has always pushed certain body ideals onto society, but social media has taken this to a new level with hashtags such as thinspiration, fitspiration, and bonespiration.

Studies have been conducted in the past on these tags, aside from bonespiration, and their association to body dissatisfaction and decreased self-esteem. A recent study, however, has analyzed the content of these tags to determine just exactly what kind of ideals they “inspire.”

The study, which was conducted in the UK and published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, carried out a content analysis on three different social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, and We Heart It) via the hashtags thinspiration, fitspiration, and bonespiration.

Fitspiration or fitspo was introduced by the fitness community to encourage users to be fit and healthy, while thinspo and bonespo are meant to encourage users to be just that: thin and boney. These hashtags have been found to be linked to the pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) community, which argues that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice, rather than an illness. Even the fitspo tag, which has been widely viewed as a public positive, can be linked to this community and has been found to increase body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem.

The study wanted to more fully understand the bodies portrayed in these tags. It analyzed 734 images (189 fitspo, 269 thinspo, and 276 bonespo) and calculated the percentages of images within these groups that depicted specific body image attributes, such as body type, muscles, bone protrusion, and objectification.

Nearly 95 percent of both thinspo and bonespo images portrayed women with thin bodies, and fitspo did not rank much differently with 81 percent. Less than 50 percent of fitspo images depicted women with muscular bodies and 60 percent of full body fitspo images were considered objectifying.

It is important to people, especially parents, to know how easily obtainable this information is for young women today. When a young girl – or anyone for that matter goes online, they are exposed to a multitude of thin-idealized, female bodies on their feed. Even when trying to search a supposed positive collection of images like those under the fitspo tags, the “inspirational” imagery that is found is often coupled with hashtags such as “proana” (or pro-anorexia), “thigh gap,” “I’m ugly,” “ribcage,” “size 00,” “anorexia tips,” “collarbones,” and “goals.”

When adolescent girls, who already commonly experience body dissatisfaction, view this type of imagery online, it can trigger mental illness and self-harm. It can give a very skewed impression of how society thinks women should look and what is considered healthy. Eating disorders are not a choice, and idealizing them mocks those who suffer from these illness.

Instagram has banned a majority of the hashtags that contribute to pro-eating disorder imagery, but with the amount of variations of these tags, it’s impossible to completely ban anything. More research needs to be done on how this type of online behavior affects users and what can be done to reverse it.

Featured Image by Agata Ryszkowska on Flickr 

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