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Columns March 28, 2012 //  by  // 2 Comments

Posting info online about harmful diets needs to be prohibited

| David Delgado/The Daily Cougar

| David Delgado/The Daily Cougar

Pinterest has followed Tumblr and Facebook in editing their terms of service to bar content that encourages self-harm. Though these bans cover cutting or other unhealthy behavior, they were inspired by the deluge of pro-eating disorder blogs and posts. Until quite recently, social media websites made it shockingly easy for a young person, insecure about his or her weight, to find support for disordered eating.

The groups tag themselves as “thinspo,” short for “thinspiration,” and frequently feature images of emaciated models with disturbing captions such as, “You’re not a dog. Don’t reward yourself with food,” or “Whatever you eat in private, you wear in public.”

Once commonly referred to “pro-ana” or “pro-anorexia,” such groups offer instructions for extreme weight loss and provide encouragement to each other in becoming dangerously underweight.

Poor knowledge about nutrition by youths makes them particularly vulnerable. For instance, some ex-members have stated that they honestly believed the less than 500 calorie per day diet advocated by some of these groups were actually not dangerously unhealthy — just very strict.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with encouraging healthy weight loss. Obesity is becoming a greater public health issue every day, and the public at large should strive to eat healthier and lead more active lifestyles. However, eating-disorder sites and support groups encourage obsessive-compulsive and self-destructive behaviors.

Rather than encouraging a nutritious diet and an active lifestyle to lose weight, “thinspo” blogs promote extreme methods of weight loss such as starvation and purging. Sufferers of eating disorders often seek others to legitimize their condition — a kind of support they are unlikely to find in their family or friends, but that they can find easily in destructive online communities. These sites “provide community in all the wrong ways,” Claire Mysko of the National Eating Disorders Association said. “It only serves to keep people entrenched in self-destructive behavior.”

Tumblr was very popular with these groups for some time until it changed its terms of service last month to prohibit self-harm content. With the help of the NEDA, Tumblr has devised an elegant system that redirects searches for “thinspo” and similar content to places where eating disorder sufferers can get help.

In response, pro-ana groups moved to Pinterest in droves. According to Mysko, its highly visual and interactive design structure is appealing to the pro-ana community. After an outcry in the media over the deluge of new “thinspo” content on Pinterest, they have announced a change in their terms of service effective April 6.

The new terms will prohibit the posting of content that “creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal.”

Now that Pinterest is no longer an option, “thinspo” and pro-ana communities will have to find somewhere else to go. Obviously, removing content that encourages self harm from social media sites will not remove it from the internet entirely and will not stop those actively searching for the information; however, by removing the content from sites that are frequented by young people, it’s possible to keep vulnerable youths from accessing that sort of content and believing that it is a viable or healthy method of weight loss.

These social media companies are privately owned and have every right to restrict the content that can be posted. After all, they all already prohibit pornographic imagery.

If by prohibiting “thinspo” content, they can keep at least a few young people from believing that anorexia is a valid nutritional option, then they have made the right decision.

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com.

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  • quikboy

    You're going pretty overboard here. First of all, I've never heard of terms like 'thinspo' or 'thinspiraiton' until you mentioned them, and all the other stuff you mentioned here. So should we censor this article too, since it mentions those words and several bad dieting habits?

    So a few social networks (never heard of Pinterest) decide to 'prohibit' such stuff. You say it might help since you claim youths frequent these sites, but if people really wanted information, they will search for it through Google or Bing anyway. Someone might share it through social networks, but the real content is just a web search away.

    Unless you want the internet regulated by some quasi-govt. organization, wishful thinking about all content sites doing what you want in article form won't make a difference but publicize that there is stuff such as thinspiration.

    Instead, you should be requesting more effective and targeted ways of reaching out like through middle school and high school health programs (we were required to take a personal health class in CFISD, and we had several lessons on healthy eating, and avoiding anoxrexia and such) or celebrity endorsements and such.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.jansen1 Brian Jansen

    @shockingly easy to find support for disordered eating – do you mean the dozens of fast food restaurants around campus, where addicts come and eat poisonous semi-food products, encouraged to do so by the school, society and their addicted brains? students would be better off eating 500 calories a day of the right foods, in my opinion, than the 3000 calories of fast food that the average UH student must consume per day.

    i realllllly wish students could find stuff on campus to have an opinion about, besides how awesome UH is.
    there are problems everywhere, but you would rather discuss national issues that can be read about in a 100 other places.

    get local and have an impact.
    please

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