Thinspo –short for "thinspiration" – is a common term used to tag images and ideas posted on social media sites meant to encourage women to stay thin or become even thinner.
Women of all shapes and sizes visit thinspo blogs, post thinspired messages and tweet out related images daily. They use thinspro as a motivational tool, much the same as tacking inspirational notes and photos onto a refrigerator or mirror.
But increasingly, the movement has become dominated by anorexics who view their quest for extreme thinness as a lifestyle choice rather than an illness. A growing number of pro anorexic or "pro ana" sites and blogs have rallied around thinspo as a kind of support group for those who have no interest in recovery.
The 2008 International Internet Trends Study found that the number or pro ana and pro bulimia -- or "pro mia" -- sites increased 470 percent in the past two years. One of the top thinspo sites, prettythin.com, receives an average of 280,000 page views per day, according to the web analytics site Alexa.com.
Claire Mysko manages Pround2bme.org, the National Eating Disorder Association's online community that offers support for those with eating disorders. She said the women who fixate on thinspo content see it as ticket to happiness and acceptance.
"They are searching for a connection, and in some ways they are finding it but unfortunately in a way that helps them maintain their disordered mindset," she said.
And she warned, exposure to thinspo can be toxic.
She pointed to studies that found that girls reported lower self-esteem, perceived themselves as overweight were driven to exercise, think worse about their appearance and feel more depressed, guilty and shamed even after a single viewing of thinspo-themed content.
"Vulnerable young women and girls get caught up in the idea that becoming ever more emaciated is the answer to all the other problems in their lives," she said. "This is especially true for those who already have weight and shape concerns to begin with."
Reinforcing Disordered Behavior
Thinspo is dominated by photos, many of them of them depicting skeletal young women and girls with prominent ribs, twig-like limbs and sallow visages. To an outsider, these pictures can be disturbing. To a girl deeply focused on her eating disorder, Mysko said they can affirm her life choices and further distort her view of what a normal, healthy female body should look like.
The sites are also rife with credos and manifestos. The quote "Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels" and the Latin phrase "Quod me nutrit me destruit" (That which nourishes me destroys me) are prominently displayed on many of the sites. Others post "The Thin Commandments," which include statements like "being thin is more important than being healthy" and "being thin and not eating are signs of true willpower and success" and "what the scale says is the most important thing."
Before the social media explosion of thinspo, girls would typically glean new ideas for maintaining their withered frames from the pages of magazines or by mingling with other anorexics and bulimics at clinics and support groups. But now, said Andrea Vazzana, a clinical psychologist at New York University's Child Study Center, this sort of information is just a few clicks away.