Recently, there has been a lot of talk around both Tumblr and Pinterest about censorship of self-harm related content. First Tumblr banned images and groups promoting anorexia and bulimia in addition to images that glorify or show self-harm, and shortly thereafter Pinterest followed suit by banning self-harm photos. Following an influx of users promoting eating disorders, Pinterest announced their plan to ban content promoting eating disorders starting this Friday. Facebook has also made efforts to eliminate content promoting self-harm. Users who no longer can implement Tumblr and Pinterest to post images of women who are bones and skin as their idols or witty sayings about how good being skinny and starving themselves feels are turning to Instagram, a social media site which has not banned self-harm or eating disorder related content.
The content not only promoted thinness as an ideal but also eating disorders as a method of obtaining it. The social media outlets banned the categories of “thinspo” for thinspirational, “pro-ana” for pro-anorexia, and “pro-mia” for pro-bulimia. The images are composed of girls and women with overly pronounced bones often in skimpy clothing or pithy quotes about not eating or the importance of being thin.
The publicity has led many members of these websites to post back against disordered eating. Many users of Pinterest posted “Pinterest not Thinterest” and another user went on a rampage with an image of her holding a sign labeled “F*** THINSPO” over her breasts with a naked, well-rounded but not rotund belly.
An article on The Daily Beast quotes body image specialists about the impacts of these sites on individuals struggling with body image issues. First, there is a self-comparison aspect where individuals compare their bodies with the super lean and generally unhealthy bodies of the women on the website and consequentially fuel their own sense of inadequacy and desire to further their eating disorders. Furthermore, the sites create a community in which starving yourself or binging and purging is acceptable. Additionally, experts emphasize the importance of replacing these sites with resources promoting a more positive body-image such as the National Eating Disorder Assosciation, which is currently in contact with Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest about how to best redirect individuals searching for thinspo or pro-ana content.
Even using Facebook as it was designed without searching out materials promoting eating disorders can increase feelings of self-consciousness about one’s body, a phenomenon closely linked to eating disorders. A recent study conducted by the Center for Eating Disorders at Shepard Pratt found that in a sample size of 600 Facebook users, 51% feel more self-conscious about their body after looking at images of themselves and others on Facebook. Furthermore, the study pointed out the obsession with weight commonly seen in Facebook comments and status posts. These range from very overt statements of insecurity like “I look so fat in this pic” to comments about diet and extreme exercise.
A Time article presents further limitations to the ban. First, there is the difficulty of determining what exactly is and isn’t acceptable. Users are reporting photos that they feel fit the criteria of promoting “self-harm and self-abuse,” and these are being judged on a case by case basis to see if they should be removed from the site. Secondly, even if individuals aren’t specifically using Facebook, Tumblr, or Pinterest, they will be finding the same content and community elsewhere on the internet. We are continuously exposed to media glorifying skinny stomachs with ribs showing and collar bones protruding, so banning it on a few social media sites ultimately will have little to no effect on the individuals these websites are aiming to benefit.
The overall effect of technology on eating disorders goes even further. Food diaries are made easier with different iPhone apps and sites like “Tweet what you eat” where you fill in the food and amount and it figures out the rest. Furthermore, individuals can use programs on their phones to measure the number of calories they burn by walking throughout the day. Diana Freed explains, “The apps are in no way a cause of eating disorders, but understanding how an arsenal of diet and exercise apps impacts the behavior of persons with anorexia or bulimia is necessary to clarify triggers and identify how a patient can help to disengage from addictive behavior” .
Technology changed the means within which an eating disorder grows. While Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr all contributed to stopping the promotion of eating disorders, technology still provides individuals prone to eating disorders with a prison of continuous triggers. Through Instagram, tweets, food diary apps, and calorie counting apps, the world of technology created more barriers for individuals struggling with eating disorders to overcome.