On bodysnarking

26 Apr

Heard the term “thinspo”? It’s an abbreviation for the term “thinspiration,” which is causing some controversy on-line these days. According to Business Insider:

Thinspo devotees ostensibly post pictures of slim-looking men and women as  inspiration for those wanting to lose weight. More usually, however, the images  are a thinly veiled cover for the pro-anorexia community (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2012-04-21/news/31377650_1_ban-fails-alexa-chung-harm#ixzz1snr1nAV5).

That’s right, there’s a pro-anorexia community, so well-established that it, too, goes by its own nicknames:

Pro-ana and pro-mia websites advocate anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa as a lifestyle choice, rather than as serious mental disorders,” said professor Ulrike Schmidt, chair of the [U.K.’s Royal College of Psychiatrists’] eating disorders section. “Research shows that, even for healthy young women, viewing such websites induces low mood, low self-esteem and increased body dissatisfaction” (http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-10359511-71.html).

The connection between thinspo and eating disorders becomes alarmingly apparent when you visit sites like Thinspo (http://www.pro-thinspo.com/thinspo.html), where the tabs at the top of the home page include: “Dieting,” “FatBurner,” “Fasting” and “Exercises.” You can also click on hyperlinks to view pictures of “sunken cheeks,” “concave bellies” and even “graphic bones”–but the latter only if you have a membership to Prothinspo, the self-proclaimed “Queen of the Starvation Scene!!”

Concern about thinspo/pro-ana/pro-mia postings on-line has prompted several social media sites to ban “images and accounts that condone “self-harm” behavior such as eating disorders, cutting oneself, or committing suicide” (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57418395-93/instagram-follows-tumblr-pinterest-bans-self-harm-posts/?tag=mncol;editorPicks). But, of course, independent sites like pro-thinspo.com have freedom of speech. And then there is the uncensorable fact that we live in a pro-thin society that views the sometimes unhealthy skinniness of celebrities as part of the beauty ideal. One such thinspo role model? Alexa Chung (I don’t know why she’s famous) who posted this photo of herself (she’s the one on the right) on Instagram:

Notice your own reaction to this picture.

Other Instagram users weren’t shy about posting their own reactions, which included describing Chung as “horrid,” “too skinny” and “ugly.” One viewer commented, “you’re [sic] legs look unhealthy,” while another posted, “Ew shes [sic] so skinny it’s gross.”

Do you agree?

While “thinspiration” is a valid concern, the attack on Chung (who responded to her critics with this sign-off: “Hi, I am here. I can read. Ok everyone thanks for the teen angst discussions. People are different sizes. I’m not trying to be thinspo for anyone (sic). I am now making this acct private. Byyyyyeeee”) seems hypocritical.

Claire Mysko, writing for the National Eating Disorders Association’s Proud2Bme website, offers this perspective:

We’ve talked before about how celebrities like Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Ashley Judd have been on the receiving end of harsh comments about how they look “too fat,” “puffy,” and other such nonsense… But what about when the snark is directed at a celebrity for being too thin? Does that make it okay? The short answer is no. It’s not okay. Bodysnarking in any form–whether it’s about someone being too fat, too thin, too wrinkly, too “done,” too busty, too flat, you get the picture–reinforces the idea that it’s acceptable for our bodies to be objects of constant scrutiny. It sends the message that life is one big beauty competition, and we’re all expected to be contestants. Except that there’s no real prize because no one can ever win. (http://proud2bme.org/content/ew-shes-so-skinny-its-gross-why-alexa-chung-got-bodysnarked-why-its-not-okay).

Mysko’s position reminds me of Ashley Judd’s call to end the “misogynistic assault on all women” (see my 4/19/12 post for the link to her essay). Both women raise a disturbing point about buying into a prejudice and perpetuating it–not just on others, but on ourselves–while we claim to be striving for acceptance and equality. Criticizing women for not being fat enough, like criticizing women for being stay at home moms, is just a variation on a theme, self-justified though it may be under the mantle of “feminism.” This female participation in a misogynist mindset reminds me of the expression “crabs in a bucket,” describing the tendency of those crustaceans to pull each other back down, instead of working together to get out of the bucket. Just swapping or “paying back” discrimination doesn’t make the world any more equitable. But stopping the snark might just tip the bucket over.

One Response to “On bodysnarking”

  1. Sally P April 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    YIKES!! I’m too stunned to comment further…

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