⚠️Trigger warning: This blog post contains information and discussion surrounding eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, as well as body dysmorphia, body weight, body thoughts, addiction, self-harm, and suicide.
Trends tend to make a resurgence every few decades—baggy sweaters, and bike shorts from the ’80s, Vans and flannel shirts from the ’90s, claw clips and cargo pants from the 2000s.
Most of the time, revisiting old trends is a fun, nostalgic way to shake up your wardrobe. But what happens when trends turn toxic?
Today, we’re talking about the resurgence of “thinspo”, and how this mentally and physically dangerous trend of the early 2000s could be on the rise again.
What is “thinspo”, and where did it come from?
The term “thinspo” or “thinspiration” comes from combining the words—you guessed it—“thin” and “inspiration”.
The term found its origin during the mid-2000s, rising in popularity well into the 2010s on websites like Tumblr, Xanga, LiveJournal, Facebook, and Myspace. Recently, “thinspo” has been making its unwelcome comeback on more modern social media platforms like TikTok.
The most harmful form of “thinspo” consists of idealizing thinness and extreme skinniness. Examples of this content are posting pictures of protruding rib cages, cheekbones, clavicle bones, and unnaturally thin wrists, thighs, and waists. Another is unhealthy eating habits and the glorification of food restriction. The term “thigh-gap” and Kate Moss’s quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” might come to mind when revisiting this content.
It should be noted that criticism of “thinspo” is not akin to those who are naturally thin. All body types are valid, and it is never okay to shame anyone for their bone structure or metabolism. “Thinspiration” is a separate issue directly related to the visual movement toward achieving a specific body type in harmful and dangerous ways.
Who is making “thinspo” content?
“Thinspo” content primarily comes from groups known as pro-ana (pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (pro-bulimia). Some of these content creators claim to serve as a non-judgemental platform for those with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), falsely acting as a source of discussion and support for those in recovery. Others deny the existence of eating disorder-related BDD completely, claiming it instead as a lifestyle choice that should be respected by medical professionals and loved ones.
Sadly, this content is most commonly created by people who are themselves suffering from BDD. Many are unable to comprehend the damage being done to their own bodies, and potential harm being done to others in creating content that encourages others to adopt associated practices.
Most often, content creators struggling with BDD don’t openly acknowledge their disorder or encourage their audience to engage in their behaviors. Rather, their content highlights their own underweight bodies and unhealthy food habits, putting at-risk audience members in a highly dangerous position.
How can “thinspo” affect mental and physical health?
People most detrimentally affected by the dangerous trend are those who experience BDD. According to Mayo Clinic, BDD is a mental health condition that causes you to form an unhealthy and obsessive fixation on “one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.”
When exposed to content that idolizes thinness, BDD can lead to other harmful and often dangerous mental health issues such as eating disorders (ED) and other forms of self-harm, such as cutting or substance abuse.
EDs are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose as a result of addiction. Around 9% of the US population—approximately 28.8 million people—suffer from EDs, resulting in an estimated 10,200 deaths yearly.
Typically characterized by abnormally low body weight, an acute fear of weight gain, and/or a distorted perception of weight, anorexia causes those suffering to place an unhealthy emphasis on weight loss, most often restricting food intake to achieve it.
People with anorexia may also exercise excessively, place an unhealthy emphasis on calorie counting, and misuse laxatives, diet aids, diuretics, or enemas.
Anorexia can result in life-threatening illnesses, such as anemia, heart problems including cardiac arrest, infertility, and kidney failure.
Bulimia is often identified by bingeing, which involved eating large amounts of food, followed by “purging” in an effort to rid the body of extra calories.
People with bulimia can use different methods to control weight, including self-induced vomiting, fasting, and strict dieting. Similar to those with anorexia, people with bulimia have also been known to misuse laxatives, weight-loss supplements, diuretics, or use enemas after binging.
In addition to the health concerns associated with anorexia, bulimia has additional health risks such as severe tooth decay and gum disease, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, depression, and the development of personality disorders including bipolar.
As well as promoting unhealthy body image and food habits, some “thinspo” content also promotes other forms of self-harm. These include the glorification or encouragement of cutting and suicide. People suffering from an ED are some of the most at-risk for suicide, with approximately 26% of sufferers attempting suicide.
The encouragement of substance abuse amongst “thinspiration” content creators is also rampant—you may recognize the term “heroin chic” in relation to the glamorization of drug use.
Resilience Lab is proud to have a diverse team of therapists specializing in BDD, self-harm, and EDs, and can help those suffering get the treatment they need to recover, and even reverse negative health effects.
If you’re currently experiencing anything discussed in this post, help is available. Our Care Team experts work tirelessly to get you matched with a therapist who can help you with your needs in under 24 hours. Book your free consultation with our team today.