Thinspo content will no longer be welcome on Instagram. Following in the footsteps of Pinterest and Tumblr, Instagram is the latest social media site to ban “thinspiration” photos — images that are meant to provide motivation for those who want to lose weight and which health experts say often contribute to eating disorders.
Instagram’s new policy doesn’t come as a surprise. The app came under scrutiny last week when celebrity and Instagram user Alexa Chung posted a photo of herself and was attacked by users for being too skinny.
Instagram’s new guidelines read:
“Don’t promote or glorify self-harm. While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning. We believe that communication regarding these behaviors in order to create awareness, come together for support and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm.”
Instagram will enforce this new anti-self harm policy by making hashtags such as #thinspiration #proanorexia and #probulimia unsearchable, according to Buzzfeed. Meanwhile, photos about eating disorders that aren’t necessarily glorifying skinniness will not be banned but accompanied by a warning and a link directing users to nationaleatingdisorders.org.
But how effective will this ban really be? Even though #proanorexia is unsearchable, the hashtag #proanatips still displays results, the Washington Post points out. And even if you can’t search #thinspo on Instagram, you can still find thinspiration photos on the service using web viewer sites like Webstagram.
Furthermore, not all thinspiration photos carry a #thinspo hashtag. Though photos of skinny celebrities and fashion magazine advertisements don’t promote eating disorders, they can still be used and manipulated by users in a similar way.
But according to Claire Mysko, who runs the National Eating Disorder Association’s social networking site Proud 2 Be Me, it’s not just the images themselves that make thinspo boards a breeding ground for eating disorders. Their power lies in the fact that they create communities where people with body image issues can reinforce each others’ bad behavior. Banning these words will encourage users to search for other, hopefully healthier outlets.
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“When you eliminate a community for people, you have to provide a positive alternative,” Mysko tells Buzzfeed. “We’re saying thinspo is dangerous, but we recognize they’re providing a sense of community, and we want to fill that void.”
Many critics have been skeptical of the effectiveness of these social media bans and policies. Images of skinny people are omnipresent in our society, they note — making it virtually impossible to eliminate them from social media platforms. Cracking down on the hashtags may make it harder for people who promote and share tips on eating disorders to feed off one another. But ultimately, the responsibility of policing unhealthy images will fall on the users themselves.