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What Is Thinspiration?

By J.M. Densing
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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Thinspiration is a term that refers to the use of images to inspire weight loss. Usually the person who is trying to lose weight will use pictures of someone who is the desired size as a reminder of his or her goal. When the goal is a healthy weight, this practice can be a valuable tool; however, if the person has an eating disorder, the images used may show unattainable or dangerous levels of unrealistic thinness. The Internet has become a common source of thinspiration imagery, especially on weight loss websites and those that promote eating disorders like anorexia.

The term thinspiration comes from combining two words: inspiration and thin. It means using images of others, often models or celebrities, to inspire weight loss. This can include the use of pictures or videos of people who are at healthy weights, and those who are extremely thin. It can even include the use of images of people who are obese as a sort of "scare tactic" or as a reminder of what those who are trying to lose weight don't want to look like.

The images used usually depict the desired goal weight of the dieter. The images are typically used to inspire the dieter to persist in continued weight loss efforts, and as a reminder of the intended goal. If the goal is a healthy weight, that will be reflected in the images used as thinspiration. This can be a useful tool combined with a carefully selected healthy diet and exercise program to help individuals to lose weight and to improve overall fitness.

In some cases, people have unhealthy weight loss goals and behaviors known as eating disorders. Two of the most common are anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which most often affect teenagers and young women, but are also seen in older women as well as girls and boys. Usually when individuals have an eating disorder, their goals are extremely unrealistic, often dangerous levels of thinness. In these cases, the thinspiration images showcase individuals who often appear skeletal and emaciated. Sometimes the pictures accurately show the model's weight, but others are altered to make the subject appear even thinner.

There are many potential sources of images for thinspiration, for instance magazines, television, and the Internet. As the popularity of the Internet continues to increase, there continues to be a tremendous increase in websites devoted to weight loss, including those that promote eating disorders which are known as pro-ana, pro-mia, or pro-ed. These websites often combine weight loss tips and tricks with thinspiration imagery, in many cases promoting the extreme behaviors associated with eating disorders, such as dangerously low-caloric intake and vomiting. Parents are advised to monitor their children's computer use since exposure to these websites can have a dangerous influence on susceptible young people.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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