Thinspo, Fitspo & Fat Pride: The New Controversial Body Image Movements You Need to Know About

February 22 to 28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. We'll be sharing information about this important issue throughout the week, from what to do if you or a friend is suffering from an eating disorder to how to love your body just the way it is! Be sure to check out all of our content here.

"Allow me to introduce myself…Anorexia Nervosa is my full name, but you may call me Ana. Hopefully we can become great partners.” So begins the notorious “Letter from Ana” a letter from the personified Ana that graces many sites on body image and eating disorders—those that encourage them and condemn them alike. The origins of the “pro-ana” movement are a subject of debate among its fans and critics, some claiming that the “ana” in pro-ana does not refer to anorexia at all. But regardless of the fine print, attitudes that border on favoring eating disorder development have continued to gain traction among young people, especially women.

Let’s hit pause: to understand the culture, you have to understand the language. Listed below are some of the basic terms that permeate the continuing online discussion about body image.

  • CW — Current weight; typically recorded by blog users to track and share their weight loss.
  • ED — Eating disorder.
  • Fat acceptance — Also called “fat pride” and “fat liberation”; a movement to change attitudes toward fat people.
  • Fitspiration — A combination of the words “fit” and “inspiration.” Consists of images, videos and/or quotes concerning physical activity and fitness. “Fitspo” for short.
  • Manorexia — Anorexia as it pertains to males.
  • Pro-ana — The promotion of anorexia as a lifestyle choice as opposed to a disorder.
  • Pro-mia — The promotion of bulimia as a lifestyle choice as opposed to a disorder.
  • SW — Starting weight.
  • Thigh gap — The gap between someone’s thighs. Photos of thigh gaps and their presence are often used as a rough indicator of weight loss: the larger the gap, the more apparent the weight loss.
  • Thinspiration — A combination of the words “thin” and “inspiration.” Consists of images, videos and/or quotes concerning a slender body image. “Thinspo” for short.
  • UGW — Ultimate goal weight.

The Rise of Thinspiration

Body weight has been a topic of discussion since people discovered food (aka the beginning of human existence), so it’s no surprise the topic needs its own glossary. But here’s the plot twist—by the time our generation hit its tween years, the Information Age had taken our fascination with body image online. While tips for bulking up and trimming down pervade the Internet shamelessly, certain sites and blogs take weight-conscious culture to the extreme. Flip open your laptop and within milliseconds of a Google search, you’ll find the web presence that self-identifies as pro-ana, promoting will power at the dinner table. On the other end of the spectrum are movements like “fat pride” and the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. And scattered in between are ambiguous sites, from those that promote EDs to others like the now-dormant blog Medusa, which focused on “alternative thinspiration”—alarming images of underweight individuals—to discourage viewers from starving themselves.

“Many health professionals take a negative viewpoint on [thinspiration and fat pride] movements,” says Dr. Jennifer Wider, MD, author of The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide and medical advisor to Cosmopolitan. “They tend to glorify and promote a lifestyle that isn’t necessarily healthy.”

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. We all sat through health class during the awkward years of junior high, and outside the classroom ED awareness is a powerful movement on and offline. So why do sites that encourage EDs thrive?

One possible answer is the premise of social media in the first place—a sense of belonging and a common mission. Fans enter the world of protruding hipbones and thigh gaps to share their goals and get support for weight loss. “I personally think a sense of community is important for all women, no matter what their body type is,” says Dr. Wider. “But the community can only be healthy for an individual if it supports healthy lifestyle choices which include good, solid nutrition and dietary choices.”