Saturday, August 27, 2011

Thinspiration *trigger warning*

So, just for kicks I decided to visit some pro-ana websites and seek out some 'thinspiration'. Okay, admittedly it wasn't just for kicks. I wanted to get an idea of what these people were aspiring to after browsing through a photograoher's portfolio on model mayhem. Browsing portfolios often elicits this kind of reaction. The problem isn't that these women have bones that show- some women are naturally thin and naturally bony. I've worked with models like this- no biggie. The problem, of course, becomes when that one body type becomes something that is held up as a social ideal- a body type that everyone should aspire to. For those who don't have that body type naturally they often resort to disordered eating such as chronic dieting and, for millions of Americans, eating disorders. There are enough Americans with eating disorders to make up New York City- or L.A., Chicago, and Houston combined.

So what prompted this foray into the world of pro ED sites? The photo was black and white. A tall, very thin model, twisted and arched, her ribs visible down her back and hip bones that jutted out from a slightly concave stomach- not unlike this photo (which I found on a thinspo/pro ana site, by the way). I can't post the actual photos that got me thinking about this, but I'll tell you that bones are incredibly common on modeling sites and in photograher's portfolios.. and that the pro ana pro mia sites that I visited had photos very similar for their goals. I can't begin to say how disturbed I am that the photos of photographers I know and have worked with resemble (and in some cases are more extreme than) those used on pro ED websites.

Even photographers I've worked with have posted photos of women with bones sticking so far out it seems painful. I really wish I could post some- just for reference, but I won't. Instead I'll share some actual photos that I found on pro ana websites:

Kate Moss who said
"nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"
photo very similar to many I see on
modeling sites

I see photos like this often in photographer's portfolios

again- something similar to the photos
that promoted this post

victoria secret model

some male thinspo
As you can see, bones are pretty popular. Rib bones and hip bones being the most common. And these photos are actually not as bony as some of the photos that I'm referring to. So this is what I found out by visiting pro ana and pro mia sites: the people they use for thinspiration? The people they're aspiring to? They're not what you think of when you think of anorexia. They're not this. Did I find a few of those images on pro ana sites? Sure I did, but very few. The vast majority of photos, of thinspiration, were of people that society as a whole considers ideal and beautiful (you'll notice that most, if not all of these are from ads, celebrities, or professional models). And if these sites ever find some of the photographer's ports that I've been looking through? Well they'd have a field day. 

Again, I'm not saying that people who look like the people in the above photos should be considered bad, gross, unhealthy, or anything else. If that's their natural body type then it just is. The problem comes from the fact that we want everyone to look like them regardless of what they have to do to get there. And as the beauty ideal is pushed thinner and thinner it seems that bones are getting more and more popular. At the same time we seem to have more and more people speaking out against models being ultra thin. It seems like a common reaction- for an extreme to get even more extreme as they're being phased out. Despite the massive amount of fatphobia we still have to fight, I do believe that we're moving towards body acceptance overall. There are still plenty of fatphobes who, while they think fat is bad, they also recognize the problem with idealizing the ultra thin and setting that as a standard and goal. I just wish more photographers would catch on. 

As it is, right now, bones are the beautiful and artsy thing to photograph. So what do I do? Who's going to listen to a fat model who tells them "hey, your photos look like thinspo and you're contributing to an unhealthy social ideal".  Like most activists, there are lots of times when I feel like things are never going to change. This bone trend thing? Yeah.. it feels like that.


  1. I'm really glad you took the time to point out something other than how "gross" or "unhealthy" the thinness and bones are. It's true that thinness is held to an ideal. I can't say for sure why that is, but I have a couple of guesses on the matter. For one, we all know that it used to be heavier was the ideal, because they were seen as rich and plentiful of food, so they were the ones that others aspired to be. Now I think our society has shifted on to a level of thinking that goes once step beyond that. Basically, being that they are rich and have a lot of food to eat but they also can afford personal trainers, nutritionists, and gym memberships to stay lean, fit, and trim, and looking good overall. I think the ideal of thinness goes hand in hand with facial beauty as well. Societies way of thinking appears to be that thin is good. Best if you are pretty in the face. If you are thin and have greasy hair, pimples, pasty complexion, and braces, then your thinness doesn't really matter for shit. Again, not my personal opinion at all, but you'll notice that this is the reaction by most of society.

    Also I think the fashion industry has contributed towards the thinness ideal because it is believed that thinner models make clothing look best, and thousands of studies have shown that the consumer is more likely to desire a clothing piece worn by a thin model rather than a heavy model. Not only that, designers want to make clothes for the least amount of money, so it would make sense that the less of body mass, the less they are going to have to spend on their sample sizes.

    So there's no doubt that there are plenty of naturally thin people with all the bones sticking out that you mentioned, but not everyone can live up to that and get their body to look that way, which makes that ideal damaging to those who weren't born with the as I call it, skinny genes.

    I'm not sure how we can change the ideal except keep promoting things like HAES and showcasing women of different body types and sizes in the media as best as we can. And you don't have to be a big time designer to do it. The internet is a big media outlet that almost everyone in the world uses. I think if we use what resources we have and start building upon that to promote more diverse beauty, we could eventually get there.

  2. "Best if you are pretty in the face. If you are thin and have greasy hair, pimples, pasty complexion, and braces, then your thinness doesn't really matter for shit."

    Absolutely- and in this case you'll find that thinness is often refered to in more negative terms such as "lanky", "scrawny", and, for women, "boyish". Beauty ideal is indeed a lot more complicated than just fat and thin

    "promoting things like HAES and showcasing women of different body types and sizes"

    I agree... a lot of people want to just out right ban thin models- I don't think that's the answer. I think the answer is in a diversity of body types, not switching out one ideal for another.

    thanks for your comment :)