Pinterest, like many new pop-culture social portals, has been tarnished by out weight-obsessed-sexualized-objectifying-of-females culture. Initially intended to be a sort of online scrapbook, Pinterest allows users to “pin” ideas, items, recipes and inspirations found on the internet on to a virtual cork-board. It is a way to pin your interests, hence “Pinterest.”
When it first started in 2010 Pinterest's mission was to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting,” which included favorite recipes, vacation spots, craft ideas, and other harmless categories. I use Pinterest for just this purpose but recently have found a shift in what I am seeing on the site.
Recently a friend posted a link with the “50 Best Snacks under 50 Calories” which included ideas like: 1⁄2 small banana, frozen and 14 seedless red grapes, also for 49.5 calories you could enjoy 1⁄2 cup jicama with 4 oz salsa (careful with your measurements, there is only a half-of-a calorie of wiggle room!) This pin is one example of the hundreds of thousands of pins which teach primarily women (83% of the U.S. users are women) disordered eating behaviors. Other pins include detailed instructions for dangerously restrictive fad diets and hours of brutal exercise regimens.
As a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women’s Issues, specifically eating disorders, this kind of obsession with calorie counting and finding 1 point “treats” is often a symptom of a deadly obsession with weight. Far beyond the unhealthy diet tips circulating on the site there are an equal number of pictures of impossibly thin and toned women who serve more as “thinspiration” than inspiration! Thinspiration is common in pro-ana (anorexia) and pro-mia (bulimia) websites where women teach other women how to perfect their eating disorders; these sites often include pictures of emaciated women and famous thin celebrities.
Another disturbing trend that I have found, which goes hand in hand with pictures of women’s bodies has been sexualized and objectifying content about women. One pin circulating the boards called “Posing guide: 54 portrait ideas to try right now” depicts a women posing in ways that would make my father blush. One of the 54 ideas includes straddling a chair and turning back to face the camera, seems more like a striptease than a “portrait” pose to me.
The problem here is not about freedom of speech or sexuality, the problem is the covert nature of the messages that women receive about what is “healthy,” “attractive,” and “good.” The problem is the internalization of messages that harm women, messages that overtime begin to feel like our own thoughts. In reality no women is satisfied after eating “one small celery stalk smeared with 1⁄2 Tbsp natural peanut butter.” No women feels more valuable and beautiful by turning her backside towards the camera before she says “cheese” or should I say “reduced fat cheese.” And yet, when we are bombarded by these messages, and see other women endorsing them, we begin to feel they are truth.
A woman’s physical and mental health depends on her ability to see these oppressions for what they are. If a woman is unhappy with her appearance or unhappy with her body shape and size- the diet and fashion industry boom. Your bad body image is their private jet. If we are not able to differentiate between the truth and the brainwashing about our physical hungers (see Mindful Eating- Dr. Susan Albers) and what is objectified vs. valuable about our bodies (ability to take us from point A to point B/nurture life/ run a mile/hug our partners/etc.) then we will always be vulnerable to depression, eating disorders, role conflict, and other serious issues.
So I am not saying don’t use Pinterest, it is a very clever and useful tool. I am, however, encouraging you to use your feminist filter, to check in with your inner voice- the wise elder inside you that wants and knows what is best for your health. Smile at the camera because you are happy! Pose for a silly picture for laughs. Eat until you are satisfied, stop when your feel full. Listen to you own truth and become inspired!
~ Emma J. Wood, Psy. D.
Emma Wood is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing at a college counseling center in central Texas. She is a national speaker and presenter on women’s body issues, body image, self esteem, and eating disorders.