Thinspiration vs. thicksperation: Comparing pro-anorexic and fat acceptance image posts on a photo-sharing site


This study is among the first to compare the social media content of these two online communities related to body image: The pro-anorexic community and the fat acceptance community. I used a content analysis of 800 Instagram posts and compared how both communities conveyed their social identities and provided social support. I found that fat acceptance members identified with their community through hashtags related to positivity and self-love, while pro-anorexics identified with their community through posts related to “thinspiration” and negativity. Members of the fat acceptance community distinguished against outsiders by attempting to reframe beauty, while members of the pro-anorexic community distinguished against outsiders by arguing with recovered anorexics. Lastly, both communities provided support by complimenting users’ appearances and providing informational resources on how to maintain one’s body image. Members of the pro-anorexic community also circulated network support by promoting the weight-loss buddy system of “ana buddies.” I propose for future researchers to triangulate these findings with interviews and ethnographic studies to further understand community values. This knowledge provides useful insight into the way in which stigmatized communities use technology to maintain their social identities and enhance their support.

Social identity; body image; photo sharing platforms; online communities; social support
Author biography

Sarah-Rose Marcus

Sarah-Rose Marcus is currently a doctoral student at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information. Her research examines the role that social media platforms play in identity construction and romantic relationship development.

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