Social media stands up to bad body trends

As beach breezes and bikini bods fill summer agendas, young adults are yet again being influenced by the negative summer body obsessions. This time, social media sites are stepping in.

Last summer, the space between a woman’s inner thighs when she stands with her feet together was nicknamed the “thigh gap” and became the fascination of the season. Summer 2k14 has brought a new fixation: the bikini bridge.

The bikini bridge is the space between a woman’s swimsuit and her stomach when she is lying down. Photos of women with flat stomachs, skinny thighs and bony bikini bottoms flooded popular social sites like Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest.

The hashtag of choice to gather these images? #thinspiration.

“You’ve probably heard of it, and more than likely seen it — the countless #thinspo-tagged photographs of often disturbingly skinny bodies posted online with the intention, as the name suggests, of inspiring girls to be thinner,” Kristen Mascia of Teen Vogue said.

Young adults, girls especially, are heavily influenced by these images. A simple #thinspiration search can lure body-conscious girls and women to hundreds of photos, sending them into a spiral of discouraging thoughts focused on body hate.

Some turn to dangerous methods to combat these thoughts. More than one-half of teenage girls and roughly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy behaviors like skipping meals, taking laxatives and vomiting to lose weight, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

“And the self-doubt, envy and inadequacy often sparked by the comments and photos of strangers and ‘friends’ is harder to escape,” Colleen Shalby wrote for PBS NewsHour. “For adults, these feelings sting. But for young people, the wounds can cut deeper.”

Social media moguls are starting to a take a stand against this trend popping up on their sites. Popular photo sharing app Instagram has banned the hashtag from being searchable.

Pinterest tells its users: “Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening.” It also offers multiple contacts for users to get help.

Negative body image is a nationwide problem that has continued to be a growing beast. The rate eating disorders continue to develop has been increasing since 1950, and the rise in anorexia in teens 15-19 has grown every decade since 1930, NEDA found in a national study.

Social media sites are taking proactive steps in reversing the adverse use of their platforms by thinspo-happy users. These sites realize they have a great influence over their users and are now using that inspiration to encourage positive thoughts and behaviors.

“We need to change the dialogue,” NEDA president and CEO Lynn Grefe told Teen Vogue. “With thinspo trends like the bikini bridge, the message is that nothing is ever enough: You’re never good enough, pretty enough, or small enough.”

However, in the mix of the madness of body image qualms, it is important to remember there is no shame in inspiring to lose weight, healthily.

Former “Man v. Food” host Adam Richman realized his weight was a danger to his health and took steps to burn the calories he’d gained after four seasons of large portions and unhealthy prepping for the show. Richman posted a photo of his 70-pound weight loss on Instagram in early July and used #thinspiration in the caption.

He was bashed by fans who felt he was supporting anorexia and bulimia so often associated with the hashtag.

“There’s no doubt that as a cultural phenomenon, ‘thinspiration’ is dangerous,” Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett for The Guardian said about the definition the word has taken. “It has been dubbed offensive, problematic and triggering, and so anyone who employs it needs to be ‘called out’.”

Yet, his “inspiration” for being thin was not because of an expectation set by our generation, but rather his own personal health being at risk. He lost weight because he had to, not because images of skinny girls made him self-conscious.

Being inspired to shed a few pounds off the scale shouldn’t be shamed. The danger arises when this inspiration to be thin doesn’t stem from a want to be healthy, but a yearn to fit in with the latest body-conscious summer trend.

Reach the columnist at rsmouse@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @BeccaSmouse

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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