The image was a grainy black and white, meant to be reminiscent of the days of Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor. The woman’s body is much smaller than these starlets, though. You see her from her chest down, the striking slimness of her waist the focal point. Across the image are the words, “Because the pain of looking in the mirror hurts more than starving.” And the hashtags beneath read:
And it breaks my heart.
With a decision to reverse the ban on “thinspiration” images last week, Instagram has potentially reopened a floodgate. Users can now once again search the social media platform for the popular images of emaciated women with dangerous messaging, images that they use to inspire their own weight loss goals.
Those who seek out thinspiration will often say that look to the images to keep themselves “in check” with their eating and exercise. They use them to essentially shame themselves into submission, running an internal self-deingrating dialogue through their minds as they flip from picture to picture online.
Instagram had made an important stand against these types of images when it announced that it would not be allowing them to be searched. They joined Pinterest in their position against dangerous content that promotes self-harm. And yet the move was short-lived, begging the question — what changed?
Other hashtags were un-banned as well, including #underboob, #tipsydumbcunt, and #bitch, while others remain on the unacceptable list, like #bra and #iphone.
Instagram hasn’t explained the rationale behind the terms it finds appropriate versus not, but did release a statement saying, ”We want Instagram to be a safe and fun place for people to capture and share moments. That means finding a good balance between allowing people to express themselves and providing protections to prevent certain content that would be against our terms. This is an evolving and ongoing process for us and we encourage people who come across content that makes them uncomfortable to report it to us using the built-in reporting tools next to every photo and video on Instagram.”
When it comes down to it, thinspiration images simply hold a mirror up to our society and are only one example of our cultural obsession with thinness. Banning them treats one symptom of a much deeper illness. And whether the search terms are available or not, these types of images will show up around the internet and in our movies and magazines.
That said, it’s an important symptom to treat, as the users of these sites are often kids and young adults who are vulnerable to this kind of false ideal. If we allow them to be bombarded with these images and don’t provide them the tools and self-esteem necessary to combat them, we’re potentially causing serious harm.
I’ll admit, Instagram and sites like it don’t have an easy task. Trying to balance freedom of expression with protecting the vulnerable is a complex endeavor.
What do you think about Instagram’s decision to allow thinspiration content?
p.s. If you need some help with preserving your sanity on social media, read this post.