Pinterest, the up-and-coming social networking site that allows members to ‘pin’ photos, videos, or other memorabilia to its boards, is now novel in another way. On March 23rd, the company publicly announced that it would prohibit thinspiration or ‘thinspo’ from its site.
Many may be fortunately unfamiliar with thinspo. However, thinspo is gaining popularity, so it is important to understand what it is and why it needs to be stopped. Specifically, thinspiration takes the form of motivational pictures and quotes for those who feel the need to reduce their body size to unhealthily thin proportions. Often, celebrity examples are touted for their willowy frames, tips are given on how to resist hunger, and the sites become fuel to the fire that feeds anorexia.
Pinterest obviously saw the danger of users posting this type of content, particularly since the majority of their users are female, the population where thinspo is most common. People who identify themselves as pro-anorexia or simply, ‘pro-ana,’ have become highly interested in Pinterest since it displays information very visually so that thinspo pictures and quotes would stand out.
Under Pinterest’s new policy, however, message boards containing thinspo content would not be acceptable. Upon becoming a Pinterest member, one must agree to not create content that “creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal.”
Although this written policy clearly makes headway in a battle against dangerous online content, policy and practice are never completely compatible. As an exercise to examine whether this new policy had stopped the rampant spread of thinspo on Pinterest, I created an account and searched the site.
What I found was very interesting. There were definitely many pins with pictures of very thin women and disturbing motivational quotes. However, there were also many pins by people who identified themselves as anti-thinspo. One quote even stated: “there is more to life than calories and scales.” How true.
Additionally, some people have pinned news articles about thinspo in hopes of educating others about the dangers. Remarkably, on some of the thinspo photos and quotes, there is a discussion by others about how these images are unhealthy and even dangerous. One person commented that a picture was in violation of Pinterest’s new policy.
So, is the policy starting to change behavior? That remains to be seen. However, Pinterest’s policy might have started a much-need discussion around how we address online content that might be damaging for physical and mental health.