Social Media Sites Fight "Thinspo"

By Sarah Beller 04/17/13

Instagram and other websites take aim at content that triggers or promotes eating disorders.

No more Thin-stagram Photo via

Instagram recently joined the ranks of social media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest that have created policies to curtail "thinspo" content—images of very thin bodies that are thought to promote eating disorders. And as social media sites become more pervasive, many experts say that monitoring these sites is an important start in helping reduce unhealthy behaviors and mindsets. After Instagram's first attempt last year to limit the use of thinspo content in search terms, many users of the popular site found ways around the restrictions by using different spellings (ie "thynspo"). Now, the company has introduced a tougher policy, announcing that it will disable "any account or hashtag found to be encouraging eating disorders." But can monitoring these sites really make a difference? Many experts say it's a good start. "Thinspiration sites and images have been around for some time now, but with social media it is becoming more of a problem in the sense that there is greater access to difficult and disturbing content," Dr. Lara Pence, clinical psychologist and Director of Alumni Affairs at The Renfrew Center, tells The Fix. "So in that light, these sites are not helpful... and they do need to be monitored. It is difficult, though, because of course we value freedom of speech."

Instead of censoring social media among those they treat, the Renfrew Center chooses to "fight fire with fire," by posting messages and images online that affirm healthy body image. "We think these social media sites are doing the best they can, and we can help by creating positive spaces, like the Renfrew Facebook page and the Barefaced and Beautiful campaign, that send out alternative messages and help debunk the thin ideal," Pence tells us. "These platforms can be a great way for women to join a positive community and feel empowered. They can use their computer or phone to connect with other people and help promote recovery in the right direction." For parents and friends concerned that a loved one is posting or looking at thinspo content, Pence says it's important to "go towards the person, rather than back away. But go towards them from a place of compassion and empathy. Maybe try saying 'I'm curious about something you posted—what's that about?' or 'I saw this on your website and it made me concerned- is everything ok?'" 

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.