Scrolling through Instagram has become an integral part of many peoples’ days. Looking at pictures of friends, family, cute animals… There are many positives to this behaviour; it is pleasant to be able to keep up with friends and family, it’s nice to see a cute puppy with a party hat on – but what about the darker side of the social media phenomenon?
Hashtags are an easy way to see posts that interest you, we’ve all seen “#ThrowbackThursday”, “#Sunset” etc., but these hashtags are not all positive. How about “#Thinsperation”, “#SkinnyGirl”, or “#Skinsta”?
I’ve been aware of thinspiration blogs and pages for a good few years now and when I was younger I was a lot more impressionable than I was now and I recall being quite influenced by the pages in an unhealthy way, though now when I see them I find them most unsettling. A lot of society still continues to have a warped archetype of what is healthy and beautiful. – Anonymous, 2017
“Pro-ana” is an internet term meaning “pro-anorexia”, and promotes aspects of the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. The different internet groups use pictures of underweight people as “thinsperation”, post a variety of “tips and tricks” on losing drastic amounts of weight, and share “success” stories.
I wrote previously about the dangers of social media, but it was recently as I scrolled through the “explore” section of Instagram that I stumbled across a page such as this, probably due to following a fitness page (which has not inspired levels of fitness in me, it must be said). This was not the first time that I have seen posts like this, as in my younger years, I fell into the pro-ana community. I would browse websites, which I will not name in case of potential triggers, hating myself for not being as thin as the other people I saw online. I desperately followed the “diets” that were posted, seeking to reach my “UGW” (ultimate goal weight).
More specifically, girls often demonstrate a longing for protruding collarbones and hipbones, and a sort of worship of the “thigh gap”. The latter term is one which refers to having thighs that do not touch one another when standing up straight with the feet together. In fact, the hashtag “feet together, thighs apart” is very popular among the members of this sub-culture. – Tanner, 2015
Despite the dangers of Instagram, there is another community that is expanding which has a much more positive effect: the recovery community. People are creating pages dedicated to recovery from eating disorders, posting updates on their journey of hope. New hashtags are emerging, such as “#StrongNotSkinny”, “#EDwarriors” and – my personal favourite – “#FuckYouAna”.
A very close friend of mine is in recovery, and uses Instagram as a way of maintaining that. I asked her what she thought:
If you sculpt your Instagram feed wisely, the online recovery community can be a remarkably supportive place. There will always be accounts who post pictures of lettuce leaf under the hashtag ‘recovery’, and can make you feel awful about failing to recover whilst barely eating. But for me, instagram was a way of being held accountable for each meal I found particularly tricky, because – without having to burden my friends with the anxieties surrounding every encounter with food – I could share it with people who understood the magnitude of going out to dinner without planning, or using a bit of unmeasured oil in a pan. Talking to people, and getting reassurance from people further along the path of recovery was invaluable, because it showed me that there was a future after the bloating and the strange ‘recovery belly’ phase. It gave me hope, and made me feel responsible for eating proper meals, even when I was alone in my university dorms. – Anonymous, 2017
So what’s the verdict? Harmful or helpful?
Tanner, E “Girls, Instagram, and the Glamorization of Self-loathing,” Dissenting Voices: 4.1 Available at: h p://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/dissentingvoices/vol4/iss1/10