I was one of the early users of the website-turned-obsession, Pinterest.com. For anyone unfamiliar with this website, it’s essentially another social media site, where one creates virtual pin boards with different themes to amass pictures of things they like. For example, I have a board where I pin pictures of food (if I click the picture, it takes me to the source link with the recipe). I also have boards for inspirational quotations, crafts, fashion, hair and makeup, and photography, to name a few.
I think part of Pinterest’s allure is that it can be a beautiful mixture of fantasy and real life. My fashion board has 300+ items pinned that I would only own in my dreams. It’s how I would dress if I had a bottomless wallet and endless time to shop. It’s lovely fantasy. It’s also helpful in real life because I can get a better idea of styles I should be buying for myself based on what I pin. I have found over time that I pin a ton of different looks that involve blazers. So now I know that next time I go shopping, that could be a key piece for me to pick up! Again, it’s that melding of fantasy and reality that works so well.
One very real and fun part of Pinterest is that I have created so many of the recipes and craft projects that I’ve pinned. It’s been great for trying new foods, expanding my knitting abilities (I made the scarf in this post’s photo based on a pattern I found on Pinterest), and creating jewelry, which is something I had never done before, but learned that I quite enjoy. As I’m writing, the only thing that sounds dangerous so far about Pinterest could be said for any social media site: it’s an addictive time suck!
But here’s my concern with Pinterest: it can be downright dangerous, especially for young women, striving for an unattainable ideal. Because it’s a social website, your pins are visible to your friends and anyone who cares to visit the site. Its basis is sharing pins and ideas, which is a great concept, but can lead down a dangerous road of “group-think.” When I see my friends, especially young women, posting photos of emaciated models and quotes, such as “Nothing ever tastes as good as skinny feels” to their boards, entitled “Motivation” or “Inspiration,” I cringe. I see unhealthy “cleanses” being pinned alongside workout plans and quick ways to lose weight that are dangerous and often downright disordered.
It’s frightening because I know how easy it is to get sucked into that mindset. First you pin a “perfect” airbrushed model because you love her bikini (and wish you had her body). Then you see a recipe for chocolate cake and you pin that too, because it looks delicious. But the next thing you see is a pin with a model or a picture of scale on it, saying, “Whatever you eat in private, you wear in public.” You quickly pin that to your “motivation” board and search for some quick ways to lose weight. You find no shortage of pins to “help” you: ones that tell you to cut out entire food groups all together, ones that tell you to chew a certain number of times before swallowing, ones that push you to exercise harder, saying “If it’s not hurting, it’s not working.” And these are just the beginning. Some of the most disordered pins, I refuse to even write about.
Pinterest has recently e-mailed users that it will be updating its policies to ban pins that encourage self-harm. I hope with everything in my heart that they consider unhealthy diets, over-exercise, and the pinning of unhealthy, emaciated women as “inspiration” to be self-harm. I don’t want to get into an entire debate about censorship versus free speech: that’s for the Pinterest legal team to deal with! But I do know one thing: we can’t just blame mainstream media anymore for their portrayal of the ideal body, face, hair, skin tone, or anything else. We are officially perpetuating the problem ourselves each time we re-pin an unhealthy photo on Pinterest. Sure, even if Pinterest cracks down on disordered links, there will be plenty of other websites for people to get their “thinspiration” fixes. There will always be people promoting crash diets and programs that are clinically untested. But maybe those don’t need to pop up as pictures next to the cute dress I want to buy or the next necklace I want to make.
With all that said, I do want to say that I definitely encourage healthy living. I’m all for exercise and eating well in a way that’s appropriate for each person’s individual body. But Pinterest can’t tell you what that means for you. Your physician needs to tell you that. And if you think you may be out of control (or way too in control) over what you eat or how you exercise, maybe it’s a physician or dietician at an eating disorder center that needs to help you come up with a plan. There are tons of ways to get your body healthy, but I guarantee they don’t include the extremes that some people will promote.
So here’s to Pinterest, as it evolves: may the harmful pins diminish, while the creative pins flourish; may we see more women uploading pictures of their own styles, so that the clothes we like are not just on models; may we guiltlessly try new foods, discover new hobbies and projects, and may our “motivation” pin boards be harmlessly and helpfully filled with truly motivational quotes, such as “Be curious, not judgmental” by Walt Whitman.
We, the users of Pinterest, have the power to decide what gets re-pinned over and over. So let’s make it a place that’s safe, healthy, fun, stylish, humorous, and beautiful. After all, that’s the escape so many of us look for in websites that involve fantasy wardrobes, houses, or vacations. If we keep the fantasy healthy, the reality will be happy. And while you’re drooling over the latest couture or most extravagant interior designs, don’t forget to take a moment to be grateful for what you do already have.