The Bitchin’ Table: When Did Shaming Become A “Healthy Motivator?”

[Trigger warning: images from “thinspo” sites and discussion of eating disorders]

Katie O. and internationalcupcakebandit are pissed off about the “thinspo” trend, where women are encouraged to be unattainably skinny and shamed for even thinking that they might want to eventually eat something. Coupled with an emphasis on fake baking until you’re a creepy shade of Oompa Loompa orange, we’re wondering why the standard of beauty for women is targeted to make us sick and unhealthy, and why, regardless of whether we’re skinny or curvy or happily fat, we will never be good enough.

Internationalcupcakebandit:  hey Katie O.! Have you been on pinterest lately??

Katie O.:  No, I mostly stick to tumblr (which can be a horrifying wasteland)… what’s going on there?

Internationalcupcakebandit:  well… you’re lucky then. As I was perusing this afternoon (you know, clearly adding all the chocolate desserts I could to my boards) I came across some really scary stuff. They call them “fitness motivation” pins..

Katie O.:  Oh, I’ve seen that kind of thing on tumblr… people will tag pictures of incredibly skinny women, like women with their ribs sticking out, as “thinspo” which apparently stands for “thinspiration.” So the whole point is to lose weight to achieve the usually unattainable body of your “thinspiration.”

Internationalcupcakebandit:  Wow. Yeah. I don’t even understand. Almost all of these pictures are targeted toward women with a goal that says “I don’t care about actually being the image of heath” and rather hope to be the image of “SUPERMODEL SKINNY”

I mean damn, it’s just making me hungry…

Katie O.:  Yeah, after seeing an image shaming women for eating chips I could really go for a bag of Ruffles. I will NOT be shamed out of my love for potato chips!

Internationalcupcakebandit:  NOM NOM NOM

Yeah, ladies, don't forget that you deserve a side of shame with your potato chips.

Katie O.:  But I think that these pictures of women who are skinny past what is clearly natural for their bodies (and there are naturally skinny women who should not be shamed for their bodies either) combined with pictures shaming women for even eating gets to the point of the whole thing. It’s not even about being healthy at all!

Internationalcupcakebandit:  Oh I totally agree, it makes me really sad. And the worst part is, I don’t think these women know what’s healthy and what’s not when this type of propaganda is rampant on social networking sites.

Katie O.:  That’s a great point. I also see this “thinspo” stuff tagged with “pro ana” (as in pro anorexia and pro bulimia) or “pro mia” which is endorsing eating disorders for women.

Katie O.:  It’s unacceptable for these thinspiration sites to turn eating disorders into the ideal for women and say that women should starve themselves or purge to have the “ideal” body.

Internationalcupcakebandit:  WHHHHATT!? what is the world coming to at the point where we idealize psychological and physical malnutrition.. especially when there is no bright line between what’s actually good for you (like eating every meal, working out at a moderate comfortable pace, and nurturing your body) and starving yourself because of malformed ideas of whats “pretty”. I even saw these pictures that were telling naturally skinny people they were lucky but people who worked to be skinny are strong.. inferring that women who don’t starve themselves and are comfortable with their natural, healthy set point weight are WEAK. wtf.

And the girls who don't want to be skinny at all are what, then?

Katie O.:  That’s screwed up. So you get shamed if you’re not skinny, and even if you ARE you get shamed because you didn’t have to “work” for it. It just goes to show that whatever women do, it’s NEVER enough. Our bodies will ALWAYS be wrong, regardless of how they look, or whether they fit the beauty standard or not.

Internationalcupcakebandit:  Exactly, and these standards are so unrealistic. Most women are never going to be able to get the body of Megan Fox, and even if they starve themselves and work themselves until, as this one picture put it, they puke, they will immediately gain it back. Making these women feel even worse about themselves..

Katie O.:  Speaking of unattainable standards of beauty, I can’t help but think about fake tanning. Which happens ALL the time at JMU. And fake tanning, or even fake tanner with all of its chemicals, is SO unhealthy!

But if you’re white, and you’re not fake baked to oblivion and not SO skinny, you’re not attractive. If you’re a woman of color, you’re probably just screwed by the Western beauty standard anyway.

Internationalcupcakebandit:  Oh my goodness, yes. Obsessive tanning is something i’ve never understood. Like getting your heathy intake of Vitamin is great, but it’s become an obsessive compulsive behavior for a lot of young women especially. Not to mention the rampant skin cancer problems that come right along side it. You know, every time you lay out in the sun for too long, your genetic material mutates? Yeah. That’s what’s happening America.

Katie O.:  Ugh, it’s even scarier when you phrase it like that. But I guess that’s what’s so upsetting about all of these phenomena — women need to physically harm themselves to be attractive (whether through starvation or fake baking or using skin lightening creams that are popular especially in South Asia) and even then it’s just not good enough.

How are we supposed to learn or go into politics or get good jobs or make a difference when we’re hurting ourselves just to fit a sexist, racist beauty standard?

Internationalcupcakebandit:  it’s all just a giant breeding ground for disordered eating and behavior. and it’s not even like I can man hate right now, it’s women shaming other women to fit their ideal standard of what they think men want to see and be with. it’s messed up on so many levels. in a society where young women at the age of 7 or 8 are developing eating disorders in increasing numbers… there’s a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.

It seems like overnight the ideal changed from being a curvy fertile woman to a stick skinny (and most likely barren) woman.

Clearly you only have two options: not eating and working out to excess, or hating your body. Yay, choices?

Katie O.:  I agree, we have to stop promoting unhealthiness or telling women to not be their natural weight to be beautiful! But another thing I hate that people who oppose this stuff say is shit like “real women have curves.” Seeing that makes me so mad because then we’re just shaming women who are skinny too. Women who identify as women are real women, period.

I guess an awesome thing though is that there are blogs that try and counter these ideas of “thinspo” and whatever, like and to promote body positivity no matter what your body looks like.

Internationalcupcakebandit:  EXACTLY, there is no one type of “pretty”- we are all beautiful and different. And each of our different bodies is what makes us unique! I think movements toward loving yourself no matter what are really important

I’m gonna start pinning those all the time now!

5 thoughts on “The Bitchin’ Table: When Did Shaming Become A “Healthy Motivator?”

  1. Wow… those so-called motivational pictures are such lies. It’s so sad to see that so many women are unhappy with their bodies. I have a friend who is so beautiful and curvy and who I’m SO jealous of but she hates herself. Those pictures do not help anybody – they just encourage self-hate. Women harm themselves so badly trying to be “beautiful” when I’m sure they look fine already. It makes us original and unique. If all girls looked the same, we’d be a very sad planet indeed.


  2. First I want to say that I fully agree that we shouldn’t shame other women or encourage others to be anorexic or bulimic, and that health is truly the ultimate goal, not being skinny.

    That being said, a lot of the images you guys used are fitspo, NOT thinspo. The difference being that fitspo is for people who want to improve their bodies by eating HEALTHY food, not NO food, and who work out. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with encouraging people to do that. People should be healthy, and eating bags and bags of potato chips isn’t good for you. That doesn’t mean starve yourself, that means eat right. I actually eat more now that I have started a clean diet than I EVER did eating junk food (I average about 2200 calories a day). My goal, and the goal of most women and men who are into fitspo, is to be strong, which to me is so empowering, and I think it goes right along with being a feminist.

    So to explain about the images:
    That Jillian Michaels quote applies to working out. While I don’t agree with all of her methods as a trainer, what she’s talking about is overcoming your mental limits. A lot of times when I’m working out really hard lifting weights and doing squats, I think I’m going to vomit or puke. But I focus really hard, keep going, and I don’t puke. So much of the time it’s just your mind telling you you can’t do something when in actuality your body is capable of finishing that last rep or set. So she isn’t telling you that you SHOULD faint or puke, but that you have to break your own mental barrier.

    Regarding the skinny girl’s are lucky picture, that isn’t telling you to not eat. It’s saying that it takes a LOT of work to get skinny and it does make you strong. My aunt was very overweight but she started lifting weights and eating right and lost 70 lbs and is now healthy and strong (not skinny) and she agrees that photos like that do inspire you to keep going and stick with your program, they don’t encourage you to binge and purge or starve yourself. I think they could have changed the wording to make a slightly better point, but the message is still there.

    And in regards to the last photo, you got that ALL wrong. It takes a TON of discipline to work out. That guy hasn’t starved himself, he’s disciplined himself and his eating habits to get all of that muscle mass, which is really admirable, and a hell of a lot better than being obese which is BAD FOR YOU. I actually have that picture as my desktop image on my laptop because it reminds me why I go to the gym 5 days a week and why I gave up eating tons of junk food.

    I realize you may not have realized that these photos were incorrectly tagged or mislabeled. But I think it’s important to note the VAST difference between fitspo and thinspo.

    I don’t think feminism and being healthy and fit has to be mutually exclusive. And I think we’re encroaching on dangerous territory if we always tell people that EVERY body type is okay because there is NOTHING okay with being obese, it is detrimental to your health and can cause heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blood sugar problems, and sleep apnea among other things. Note that I didn’t say ugly, but UNHEALTHY. I don’t think we should shame anyone, but we should encourage unhealthy
    people to get healthy, because it can be incredibly empowering to take charge of your life and your body.


    1. Your points about the differences between thinspo and fitspo are well taken, and I agree that it’s good to be healthy. But I think, regardless of how the images are tagged or what they intend to engage in, regardless they are an example of body shaming behavior. Sure, potato chips aren’t healthy, but if I eat them every now and then because I want to, that’s my prerogative. No one should tell me what I should or should not do with my body, and I should not feel ashamed of my behaviors. Also, unhealthy is one of those things that depends on individuals. By this, I mean that someone may be “overweight”, but they might also eat “right” and exercise. You can’t always tell how healthy someone is based on how their body looks. And while I’m sure you didn’t mean this, for many people “unhealthy” is a replacement word for “ugly”. It becomes a euphemism for many people, so they can act concerned and like they care about the best for “overweight” people while they are actually just shaming them. (See:,,

      I weigh around 160 lbs, and I do have “love handles” or whatever people like to call them. I have thighs that touch. From a thinspo and even a fitspo perspective, my body, based on weight, BMI (which is totally an inaccurate measure but people use it anyway), physical appearance, and whatever else, would be seen as unhealthy. People have called me “fat” before to my face. What you can’t tell by just looking at my body is that I’m a vegetarian, most of what I eat consists of vegetables and proteins like tofu that are very good for me. Yeah, sometimes I eat chips and ice cream too, but overwhelmingly I have a “healthy” diet. I also walk everywhere, since I don’t have a car. I live an active lifestyle. I do yoga some nights and mornings, but I don’t go to the gym because, honestly, I just don’t like it. My activity and diet aside – I still have the body that I have. 160 lbs is the norm for me — my freshman year when I was depressed and vomiting regularly from stress, I dropped 20 lbs. As I overcame that depression, I gained the weight back. As I indicate in the bitchin’ table, the weight I’m at now, “overweight” for my height or not, is my set weight, and it’s where I stay, regardless of diet or activeness or whatever.

      You are absolutely right that feminism and being fit aren’t mutually exclusive — but we have to realize that feminism and body shaming are, that an individual’s health depends on them as an individual. Regardless of the intent of these images — thinspo or fitspo — internationalcupcakebandit and I thought they encouraged unhealthy thoughts about one’s body, for some people, and found them to be quite problematic. What we have to realize, is that whether the intention is there or not, women can feel shamed by these images, and by the concepts of both thinspo and fitspo. I’m not trying to say engaging in fitspo is bad, but that while it works for some people, it doesn’t for others, and that no one is a better or worse person for that. Furthermore, some of the concepts can be triggering to people who have dealt with both eating disorders and disordered eating. Or they (once again, regardless of intention) can trigger people to actually develop eating disorders, and that’s also a problem. Looking at them made me feel bad about myself, something I work daily to overcome because of a history of body image issues. Ultimately, what I do with my body is my business, as is what you do with yours, or anyone does with theirs. Engaging in body shaming images, in my opinion, is just not healthy.


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