Thinspiration is a dangerous trend that parents and others whose loved one has an eating disorder should be aware of. This article explains many forms thinspiration, and offers tips for parents on signs of teens looking for thinspiration. Learn tips on how to protect teens.

Many teens with eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia, want to feel normal or to be motivated to lose more weight and to resist recovery. Thinspiration, or thinspo, is media that encourages teens to perpetuate their anorexia, bulimia, or other unhealthy eating patterns.

Thinspiration can take many forms:

  • Photos of supermodels or very thin celebrities
  • Photos of other people with anorexia or bulimia
  • Digitally altered images of people that make them look impossibly thin
  • Artistic works showing very thin people
  • Slogans or mottoes to discourage eating or encourage purging or excessive exercising
  • Poems or quotes idealizing thinness
  • Songs about being thin or eating disorders
  • Photos of obese people
  • Images of fattening foods meant to turn people off from eating
  • Creeds and commandments for people wanting to maintain their eating disorders
  • Social networking sites where users encourage each other to fast or go on extreme diets

Thinspiration pictures usually do not show faces, and try to emphasize shadows and bone rather than flesh. They may look corpse-like. In many cases they are also doctored to create an impossibly-thin image. Sometimes the images are presented together with text or music that glamorize thinness. Thinspiration images tend to lower self-esteem and increase the desire to be thinner, particularly in young women.

These things are all considered triggers, which encourage a person with an eating disorder to resist recovery and continue their dangerous habits. For many teens with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, the disease is about control, perfectionism, competitiveness, and suffering, and thinspiration encourages them to embrace their disease. It can also be a form of rebellion or lashing out against the pressure to confront and overcome their eating disorder.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are often deadly, and thinspiration may discourage people from seeking help. Many people who are anorexic or bulimic have a warped view of themselves and the world, and thinspiration helps to reinforce their views and to drive them to be excessively thin rather than trying to be healthier.

Thinspiration is generally found through electronic media, especially the Internet. Pro-anorexia (Pro-Ana) or pro-bulimia (Pro-Mia) websites are fairly common on the Internet, and most of these sites include pictures, sayings, and other "inspiration" to encourage eating disorders in teens.

Though these Internet sites claim to be targeted to people who already have eating disorders, they are also visited by other teens, especially young girls, who are concerned about their weight and want to learn weight loss tips. In Britain, a study found that 1 in 4 eleven-year-old girls had looked online for weight loss advice, and a third of teens used the Internet as a source of dieting tips. A third of teens also reported that images of celebrities made them want to be thinner. These thinspiration web sites can be dangerous because they glorify anorexia and bulimia and teach teens how to embrace and hide eating disorders.

Some things parents can do to protect vulnerable teens from thinspiration include:

  • Talk to teens about having healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight, and express your concern for their well being
  • Encourage a positive body image by not making fun of or teasing about appearances and by avoiding comments about people’s weight
  • Limit the time teens spend with TV, movies, the Internet, and other media that may create a distorted body image
  • Monitor teen's use of the Internet, including "friending" them on social networking sites so you can see what they’re posting, and keeping the computer in a public place so online activities can be viewed by everyone
  • If you find a web site or social networking page that seems to encourage anorexia or bulimia you can try reporting it to the site's host or service provider. Some service providers like Yahoo and Facebook will remove the web pages because of their potential to cause harm to young people
  • Get counseling for teens who have or are at risk for eating disorders
  • Be very cautious about allowing teens to use eating disorder support groups, group therapy or self-help groups for eating disorders, especially when found online
  • Understand that recovery from eating disorders is difficult and people with anorexia and bulimia want to feel normal and understood, which is often what draws them to thinspiration sites


Jessica Reaves, Time, Health and Science, "Anorexia Goes High Tech" [online]

Grace Overbeke, Mind Matters: The Wesleyan Journal of Psychology, "Pro-Anorexia Websites: Content, Impact, and Explanations of Popularity"

Lynell George, Los Angeles Times, "Nurturing an Anorexia Obsession" [online]

Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Magazine, "Narrow Minded" [online]

The Daily Mail, "One in five 11-year-old girls search 'pro-anorexia' websites for tips on staying skinny" [online]

Jacqueline Head, BBC News, "Seeking 'thinspiration'" [online]

Newsweek, "Out of the Shadows" [online]

Related Article: Pro Ana Mia Websites >>