This morning I crawled out from under my rock and learned about thinspo. Sometimes there is absolutely no fun involved in a loss of innocence. This was one of those times.
I first heard the term “thinspo” last week on a podcast. Yes, really. Just last week. I googled the term today and glimpsed an Internet subculture that shocked and saddened me. There really are women who publicly, matter-of-factly, and completely reject their fully-functional, highly complex human bodies, because they are “fat.” There appears to be no self-pity in this, no seeking of a “there-there, I love you just the way you are” virtual hug from anyone.
The images and pep-phrases of thinspo (“thinspiration” – think “successories” for weight-loss fanatics) strike me as stoic rally cries for soldiers going to battle. The war is for acceptance in a cruel world that has no place for cellulite. These soldiers seem to be past making value judgments, as any effective soldiers are. They purse their lips and accept hard reality, willing to fight to the death for a place in this wretched culture rather than live oppressed and kicked around any longer.
Just over a year ago, I stepped on a scale and faced a new tens digit – one I had only seen between my feet before when I was pregnant. I looked up my height, weight and frame size on a BMI chart and discovered I was overweight. So I decided to change direction. Over the last year I lost twenty pounds and gained new strength as I began running regularly and started eating mostly whole, plant-based foods.
Blah-blah-blah. If keeping my mouth shut about my success would in any way encourage a thinspo soldier to open hers and eat something substantial, I’d do it.
But maybe the best thing is to talk honestly about it. Yes, I moved the needle on the scale. Yes, I dropped a couple jeans sizes. Heck, I even have some defined abs to show for my regular core-muscle workouts.
But the only way an image of my body would make it into thinspo would be as reverse-thinspo, images of not-thin-enough bodies to inspire the thinspo soldier to keep that mouth firmly clamped except for the occasional diet soda and iceberg lettuce.
The thinspo ideal is not the human body at its best. It is a matter-denouncing self-loathing shroud.
I met my weight-loss goal, and I did it because I wanted to, when and how – and if – I wanted to. Now I run and eat well because it’s my habit, my lifestyle, and one of my life’s pure joys. Not my means to salvation from a hateful body-self.
A thinspo soldier doesn’t know or care what she wants. She can’t do her soul-crushing job with any effectiveness unless she shuts her mouth – not only to food but also to her own voice.
My body is amazing, and so is yours. I’ve routinely listened to negative self-talk that tells me otherwise – in my case, that my breasts are too small and my thighs are too large. But what does that even mean? What is “too small” and what is “too large?” My breasts functioned flawlessly in feeding both my babies. My thighs have never failed to support my body and move it from place to place.
That’s not to exclude those with dysfunctional breasts or thighs from the statement that your body is amazing. The fact that you are here at all, breathing air, thinking thoughts (or not), pumping blood through miles of tubing, experiencing life as only you – only you of anyone else who has ever lived – can experience it: that is amazing.
Whatever else we are, you and I are embodied beings. Enfleshed. Incarnate. We must learn to live in peace with and within our bodies. Yoda had it so right and a little bit wrong when he said,
Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. . . . Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
I beg to differ, honorable Green One. Luminous beings are we, alive through this amazing matter.
I’m including no links to thinspo material in this post. That’s because I know that images and catch-phrases are powerful, and our culture already screams at women, all day long, that they are not thin enough, small enough, weak and insubstantial enough. So if you choose to “go there,” view thinspo’s brutal additions to the daily stream of attacks at your own risk.
And let’s all think twice about how and why we pursue health and beauty, and how we talk about that with each other. There are too many young women of inestimable worth on the brink of enlisting in thinspo’s ranks, and our careless words can give voice to the lies that recruit them.
Here-here and hi-five to your plea for authenticity!
Just a wonderful, wonderful post, Julia.
Twiggy lives on. I read recently that sales of Barbie dolls were dwindling and hoped that women had decided to get healthy, not thinspo. Thanks for writing this, Julia.
Reminds me of an article I saw awhile back:
Thankfully, I’d never heard of thinspo before today and will be glad to forget it. Though I still have work to do turning myself away from the negative messages, I’m so proud of my daughter–we had a used Barbie doll in our house for exactly three days before she wanted to get rid of it. So there’s still hope, Becky. Julia, thanks for writing this; we can’t ever hear it enough.
Leave it to the Onion to have the last word:
Thanks, all. Jodi, thanks for the great links. I’d also add some books I’ve enjoyed reading related to this topic – Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher (I should probably read that one again, having a nearly-adolescent daughter myself now) and The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg.
As long as we’re on the subject of books for adolescent girls…I just received The Care and Keeping of You through Paperback Swap, and at first read-through it looks great (also comes highly recommended by a couple ladies I respect).
A quote from the introduction that relevant to this conversation:
“It’s tempting to compare yourself to the girls you see on TV and in magazines and movies. But hold on! Is it fair to measure yourself against made-in-Hollywood images created by makeup artists and photo wizards? No way! You don’t need to measure yourself against anyone at all, including friends or other girls at school.”
I had never heard this term before i read your article so i did google thinspo because i really didn’t understand what it was. Oh. My. Word. I think what makes me sad is 90% of the photos are from neck down. Therefore, whatever is above the neck is pointless in one’s determination of worth. It just reinstates in women that their intellect and voice are null and can be cut off. Metaphorically, if the eyes are the window to the soul. One’s soul is also worthless. Sad, so sad. The book you gave me when Abby was born, Growing Strong Daughters, is also a great resource.
Thanks for your comment, Janna. Great observation – and thanks too for reminding me about Growing Strong Daughters. Here’s a link to that book – http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Strong-Daughters-Encouraging-Become/dp/0801067995