Although Instagram has taken some steps to ban hashtags and images that celebrate eating disorders, one charity is still concerned that the photo-sharing app, which boasts more than 80 million users, is still fertile ground for encouraging dangerous food restrictions.
Back in April, Instagram made it impossible to search for such hashtags as “thinspo” and “anorexia,” which Instagrammers pair with images of emaciated bodies. It also came out against sharing images that glorify self-harm and emaciation.
While going to such lengths helped remove more than 30,000 graphic pictures, according to the company, The Telegraph reports Beat –- a British nonprofit that helps people struggling with eating disorders –- is still concerned about the ease with which users can still post, search and access photos that promote starvation and impossible body standards.
“It’s worrying that with the powerful medium of social networking and the growing popularity of phone apps such as Instagram, people are able to easily access images that encourage the individual to believe that an eating disorder is a lifestyle choice and to avoid treatment,” a Beat spokesperson told The Telegraph. "Some sites have acted to remove content that is seen as dangerous and encouraging people to do dangerous things. Eating disorders as a lifestyle choice should be treated in the same way."
Even though Instagram has banned some search terms, many others -- including #ana, a slang term for anorexia, which yields nearly 300,000 results -- still give users the chance to find, like and comment on photos of women with protruding ribs and tiny waists. Many users also take to uploading their own images to other social media, such as Twitter, a practice that comes with even fewer restrictions.
In addition to sharing photos of dangerously skinny women, users who consider themselves part of the “thinspiration” community also often open up about their body obsessions in their site bios.
"It's like we're all part of this secret community that most of our family and friends don't have the slightest clue about,” a "thinspiration" blogger told The Huffington Post in February, before Tumblr banned such blogs.
Although Instagram hasn’t outright disabled its search function for all eating-disorder related terms, a content-advisory warning -- along with a link to the National Eating Disorders’ website -- shows up before users can click on the images.
Such a warning is not a full-proof deterrence, however, since users can still glorify the images with their comments.
To help curb the sharing of such destructive images, and guide people fascinated with skinny bodies toward healthful outlets, Beat told the Telegraph that it wants Instagram to take a more proactive approach.
"Beat also believes that individuals should be pointed towards pro recovery sites,” the spokesperson told the paper, “providing acceptance and support throughout society so that these alternative sites are no longer the only refuge a person feels they can seek.”
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.