Selfies of super-skinny bodies are common on social media, a new study finds

Nov. 14, 2017—Young women are using social media to promote extreme thinness with selfies and images depicting bone-protruding bodies. The pictures, posted on Twitter accounts that use hashtags such as "thinspiration," may push more young people to try to reach an unhealthy weight, a new study shows.

The 'thinspiration' craze

Popular social media sites allow users to share photos with a wide audience. The researchers looked at selfies posted by young women with very thin bodies in various poses. They reviewed 734 images posted on the social media platforms Twitter, Instagram and WeHeartIt. Users could like or repost the images.

The images were tagged with "thinspiration," "bonespiration" and "fitspiration." The study found the first two categories to show images of women with protruding collarbones, hip bones and spines.

The purpose of these sites is to praise very thin bodies and inspire others to look the same.

The "fitspiration" category showed images of bodies with more muscle tone meant to inspire fitness. However, the researchers discovered that some pictures of extremely thin women popped up here too.

An alarming trend

The study authors fear that social media has increased the exposure of young women to certain body-type ideals. Other studies show that seeing images of thin bodies makes viewers feel less satisfied with their own bodies.

Exposure to these images can lead to unhealthy weight control. Experts are concerned that these social media platforms have now replaced pro-anorexia, or "pro-ana," websites.

Should this content be blocked? Researchers say banning the hashtags doesn't seem to work. Hashtags can be tweaked to dodge censorship. Instead, educating teens about positive body image may help combat the problem.

The study appeared in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

Dangerously thin

Eating disorders are a serious health concern. They can drastically change a person's eating pattern and body weight. Extreme eating disorders can even be deadly.

Eating disorders often develop during the teen years or young adulthood. Early signs include obsessing over food, body weight and shape. To learn more, visit our Eating Disorders health topic center.