Do ‘thinspiration’ images pose a risk to women?

"A young woman looking at these image may think that's what she should look like," says doctoral candidate Jannath Ghaznavi. (Credit: Philippa Watts/Flickr)

Some of the most popular social media sites feature images of extremely thin women that could be harmful to those who see them—whether they’re seeking them or not, according to new research.

Researchers in the department of communication at the University of California, Davis, examined about 300 photographs from Twitter and Pinterest posts that used the terms “thinspiration” and/or “thinspo.”

These labels tag images and ideas that promote extreme thinness and that often cast eating disorders in a positive light. The images were often cropped to remove heads or focus on just a few body parts.

“Imagine a teenage girl or even a young woman looking for inspiration using terms such as ‘attractive,’ ‘fit,’ or ‘pretty,'” Ghaznavi says. “She will likely find images of headless, scantily clad, sexualized women and their body parts.”

Images from Twitter, popular among younger audiences, were most likely to be cropped to remove heads and focus on specific body parts compared to Pinterest, according to the study.

The content analysis cannot speak to the effects of viewing the images, the researchers concede, but they point to studies that have shown repeated exposure to such content can result in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes.

“A young woman looking at these image may think that’s what she should look like,” says doctoral candidate Jannath Ghaznavi, who worked with associate professor Laramie Taylor on the study.

“That could prompt these girls and women to resort to extreme dieting, excessive exercise, or other harmful behaviors in order to achieve this thin ideal.”

The paper appears in Body Image: An International Journal of Research.

Source: UC Davis