Girl Talk: My Love/Hate Relationship With Thinspiration Blogs

The other night, I was wading through all the junk scattered around my apartment, starting to panic because I couldn’t find a book I needed to review. I threw out bag after bag of garbage and finally decided to get some dinner, my version of which was a prepackaged frozen entree of organic tofu, vegetables and brown rice, plus a bottle of soy sauce.

Yet for those of us who indulge in binge and/or emotional eating, it’s not what we know in our logical, rational minds, but how we feel at our most irrational moments, that rules us.

No sooner had I popped it in the microwave than I discovered a brown paper bag from Trader Joe’s filled with one giant bag of tortilla chips and one bag of potato chips. I was still lamenting the previous night’s binge on everything Pretzel Crisps (yes, the same ones that pulled their “You can never be too thin” ads earlier this year), but that didn’t stop me from opening the potato chips. I thought I could just eat a few, savor that greasy, so-salty-it-hurts-the-corners-of-my-mouth taste, then throw the rest away. I wouldn’t have gone out and bought them, but there they were, right in front of me. But in the four minutes it took to heat my healthy meal, almost the entire bag was gone, and instead of that pleasant salty taste on my tongue, I felt like a bomb had gone off in my stomach.

I hate the fact that I still can binge, that I need so little to trigger that mindless state of shoving food into my mouth. That is what is keeping me at the same weight I’ve been at for a year and a half, even with regular exercise at the gym and generally healthy eating. It also messes with my head in an extreme way. After the chips, I did eat the veggies, lamenting that they were actually quite filling and delicious, but, piled on top of the chips, I felt fat, bloated and disgusting. I wanted to make myself throw up, but I haven’t done that in over a year, and the annoyance and pain of purging were outweighed by my annoyance with myself for overeating.

Instead I lay down on my bed at around 10:30, two hours before I normally go to sleep. In the dark, I told myself all of the worst things I could think of about myself, feeling hopeless. Instead of a productive night of cleaning or writing, I’d stopped my night short by pulling the equivalent of a fire alarm on my body, setting it on orange alert, making me stop and ponder what I’d done and why I’d done it.

So that is the state of mind I was in the next day when I discovered The Skinny City blog, a “thinspiration” blog where its author writes over photos of thin girls, saying things like “I want to be so thin that my collar bones poke an eye out.” It’s easy to dismiss that type of longing and its attached idea that being thin means being perfect. I don’t believe that, and I certainly don’t believe that starvation and anorexia are the way to get there. Not only does prolonged starvation have an extremely negative effect on your health, it doesn’t keep the weight off. My friend Jennette Fulda, author of the memoir Half-Assed, lost almost 200 pounds (half her body weight!) by the basics of healthy eating and exercise.

Yet for those of us who indulge in binge and/or emotional eating, it’s not what we know in our logical, rational minds, but how we feel at our most irrational moments, that rules us.

So why I was drawn to this blog wasn’t because of what I don’t have in common with its author, but with what I do. We both want to lose weight; we both want to feel more comfortable in our bodies and clothes; we both are tired of feeling controlled by being “too big.” What drew me in is that her current weight (150 lbs.) and goal weight (120 lbs.) aren’t that far off from mine (155 and 125, respectively). Every time I get on the scale at the gym, when I have to move the big indicator from 100 to 150, I feel awful about myself. Part of me knows it’s “just a number” and that things like my cycle, my water intake, and muscle mass affect it, but still, that number is something I can measure my progress by, and when that progress is stalled, I blame myself.

The recent uproar over the Jonathan Adler pillow with “Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels” embroidered on it (or the Urban Outfitters “Eat Less” T-shirt before that) is understandable, but I think we also have to come to terms with the fact that that basic sentiment isn’t just a thinspiration/pro-ana slogan, but one at the root of some diet gurus’ teachings. I was just rereading one of the many diet books I own, The Beck Diet Solution, and the basic theme of it is, in a word, deprivation; that if you really want to reach your goal weight, you have to forget some of the foods that taste/feel good in favor of achieving that goal. On some level, that is hardly different from the pro-ana saying, even though that program is not encouraging anyone to forgo food altogether or to deprive themselves forever.

I’m not saying that being “thin” (or, for me, a size six) is the most important thing in the world; I also know that plenty of other people think I look great, but that doesn’t help me when I’m looking in the mirror hating what I see. I know I’m privileged to even be worrying about this, to have the option of wasting food … but that doesn’t lessen how it feels when I wake up and my day jolts to a start by lamenting the size of my stomach. I go through up and down stages where I feel better or worse about my looks, and that doesn’t always correspond with my actual weight.

Who among us, if we’re honest, wouldn’t agree with this sentiment on The Skinny City: “When I’m walking around in the city I want people to do a double take”? My push/pull, love/hate relationship with that blog and its ilk is that there’s enough there that I agree with, wholeheartedly. There are days where I fail to appreciate anything positive about my life if I’m hating the way my stomach or my thighs look, where I just can’t be calm and rational about it, where I don’t want to do the slow and steady road to weight loss.

One commenter wrote, “This i[s]n’t thinspiration this is starvespiration.” I agree. While I’m certainly not endorsing starvation as a means to weight loss, the feelings behind those who believe that’s their only option? For better or worse, those I relate to.