Is 'Thinspiration' Ruining Your Body Image?

New report finds women are being exposed to "thinspo" images regardless of whether they seek them out or not

Social media use exposes us to all sorts of images, videos and ideas.

We engage with and scroll past a mind-boggling amount of content every day, but what a recent study from the University of California, Davis recently found is that women in particular are being bombarded with images of “extremely thin” women, whether they’re seeking them out or not.

Of course, if you’re a woman who uses social media, and especially if you interact with the online fitness community, these findings probably don’t come as much of a surprise.

The study’s authors sought to examine photos labeled as “thinspiration” or “thinspo” on both Twitter and Pinterest and found that a majority of the photos promoted “extreme thinness” and were usually cropped to remove the subject’s head in order to focus on certain body parts.

"Imagine a teenage girl or even a young woman looking for inspiration using terms such as 'attractive,' 'fit,' or 'pretty,'" said the study’s lead author, doctoral candidate Jannath Ghaznavi. "She will likely find images of headless, scantily clad, sexualized women and their body parts."

Ghaznavi’s paper, titled "Bones, body parts, and sex appeal: An analysis of #thinspiration images on popular social media” was published in Body Image: An International Journal of Research.

And while it didn’t closely examine how these images might affect women, but rather investigated their prominence, Ghaznavi took the opportunity to point to past studies which have shown that frequent and repeated exposure to “thinspiration” content is likely linked to poor body image and even disordered eating.

For example, a recent report from Brown University described negative body image as “a widespread preoccupation.”

The report made note of one study which found that 74.4 percent of normal-weight college women said they thought about their weight or appearance either “all of the time” or “frequently.”

Another example:  in 2011 Glamour magazine surveyed more than 300 women about their bodies and 97 percent of respondents said they had at least one “I hate my body” moment every day.

And while this issue seems to affect a large majority of women, no doubt it’s also an concern for men, too.

It’s likely that the cause is result of several different factors, including negative self-talk, but as Ghaznavi’s paper points out, the profuse amount of photos that promote unrealistic beauty standards—images that many are internalizing as what the ideal woman should look like—are likely a large part of the equation.

"A young woman looking at these image may think that's what she should look like," Ghaznavi said. "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."

If you feel you’re struggling with body image or are overly influenced by unrealistic images in the media, consider some of the helpful tips and advice offered in the resources below.

Real Talk: Experts Share Advice for Improving Your Body Image

Why Even Active, Healthy Women Struggle with Body Image—And How to Overcome Self-Destructive Thinking