Thinspiration: Still legal in the U.S.!

By J. DeVoy

While not all speech protected by the First Amendment is palatable, it is valuable.  Almost two years ago, France tried to stifle the spread of information about anorexia and bulimia.  The bill proposed to the country’s legislature provided steep penalties for promoting these diet and lifestyle choices.

[The bill] would take aim at any means of mass communication – magazines, blogs, Web sites – that promote eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia with punishments of up to three years in prison and €45,000, or $71,000 fines. (Source.)

Depending on the bill’s language, these terms could be dangerously vague.  Only a few blogs are well-read enough to rival traditional media and truly be mass communication as most people would understand it.  Moreover, the definition of how one “promotes” anorexia or bulimia is problematic.  Of the sites I’ve seen, most of the promotion is done in terms of life experiences, as women (and some men) talk about their increased confidence and desirability as a consequence of being thinner.  One of the main avenues of promotion is photography, often through websites dedicated to pictures of thin people; these images, sometimes lumped together as montages on YouTube, are known as Thinspiration.

There’s no question that anorexia and bulimia carry health risks.  So do tobacco and alcohol, though, both of which are legal and heavily advertised.  Being thin is an element in the bundle of physically attractive traits both men and women can possess.  A Dateline NBC story found that attractive people really are treated better; Above The Law‘s David Lat argued that, on average, attractive people have better legal careers — and readers agreed, at least according to the post’s unscientific poll.  Before blaming cultural bias, which undoubtedly plays some role, consider a recent study from the Netherlands that found even blind men found thin women the most attractive — especially those with a waist/hip ratio around .7. This suggests a biological imperative in determining attractiveness based on thinness.

Despite health risks, which are inherent in all kinds of legal activities such as driving and smoking, there is some evidence that the outcomes from bulimia and anorexia can be positive.  In fact, the immediate risks of eating disorders are less significant to others than driving, especially while intoxicated, or releasing second-hand smoke for others to breathe.  France and various other Debbie Downers, however, want to ban support for this lifestyle.

As always, sunlight is the best antiseptic.  If there are profound health consequences from eating disorders, the internet is an adequate forum for activists to identify them.  Like so many things, anorexia or bulimia may be choices that cannot truly be regulated by the state.  Where there is a voice criticizing eating disorders, another necessarily exists to promote them as a fulfillment of intense mental and emotional needs.  If nobody was seeking out eating disorders, there wouldn’t be a desire to ban their promotion.

There are many reasons thinspiration is protected speech and the regulations proposed in France are inconceivable in America.  Above all others, it’s because the Constitution and American people assume individuals can make responsible decisions for themselves about their image and health.  And, even if that’s not true, First Amendment protections provide the forum for debate on both sides of this and any other controversy.

7 Responses to Thinspiration: Still legal in the U.S.!

  1. Jessica says:

    While I generally agree with your sentiment that “Thinspiration” such as what you’ve mentioned ought to be protected speech, I find this statement to be moronic at best:

    “there is some evidence that the outcomes from bulimia and anorexia can be positive”

    Anorexia results in more fatalities than any of the mental illnesses. Comparing the “ripple effects” of a mental illness like anorexia to driving is misinformed.

    Though poorly worded, I believe France’s bill aims to target more of the interactive peer-to-peer blogs and message boards where users advise others on how to lie to their doctors, suggest the foods easiest to vomit, cheer on members who have been “fasting” for long periods of time, and applaud others for losing dangerous amounts of weight. This is akin to encouraging suicide, which may be criminal in the United States.

  2. Ariele says:

    I agree with your general point that a law banning thinspiration via mass media would likely violate First Amendment rights in America. However, you belie your point (and your own intelligence) by justifying the speech on its value and referring to eating disorders as “lifestyles.”

    Eating disorders are mental illnesses and the women (and to a lesser extent men) who suffer from them are not doing so by choice. The quest to be thin is a symptom of a disease, not a goal that society should support. Encouraging anorexics won’t solve America’s obesity problem. Make no mistake that thinspiration, while likely protected speech, has no value, serving only to aggravate a destructive mental illness. These sites are akin to sites that promote self-cutting, suicide, or any other self-destructive behavior caused by mental anguish and illness.

  3. 12XU says:

    I don’t care if they ban thinspiration. Just stay the fuck away from reverse-thinspiration. That shit is priceless.

  4. The French don’t want their women to be too thin, but neither do they want them too fat — so the anti-anorexia law anticipated follow-on legislation prohibiting the advocacy of gluttony, and a ban on praising the epicurean delights of overeating.

    However, in a move to calculated to encourage the return of the seven-course meal, Parisian restaurateurs threatened to storm the Bastille (accompanied by their surprising thin patrons) if anyone at the local prefecture tried to stop them from advertising the merits of cheese, pate, butter, or wine — that is, those things that actually contribute to obesity in other, non-French people — and convinced the legislature to table any talk of an anti-gluttony bill.

    Key legislators were later photographed dining at Le Bristol surrounded by a bevy of waif-like escorts, whose lips — being unable to discuss the merits of fasting, high colonics, or regurgitation — were gloriously sealed. Vive la France!

  5. Jeff says:

    My God DeVoy, what’s with the spirited defense of eating disorder’s? All your alpha male bullshit has been bad enough but this is over the top.

    I don’t imagine you’ve ever really cared about someone with an eating disorder, but, if you did, you’d realize it has little to do with “immediate risks.” It’s nothing like smoking or driving without a seatbelt. The mental states that lie behind the disordered eating are simply devastating to a person’s happiness and ability to relate with others. When, and if, those mental states are successfully treated it’s like watching a loved one return from the dead.

    I’d take fat and mentally well over thin and bulimic any day.

  6. […] Thinspiration: Still legal in the U.S.! picks up the proposed French legislation which I discussed in my post on incitement to […]

  7. Nicole says:

    The problem, in my opinion, is the same as with drugs. Not every person who smokes a little pot is going to end up a crack hoe. Not every person looking for the truth about how to lose weight with minimal suffering is going to become anorexic.

    Anorexia is a disorder that can’t be magically created in people. A person has to have a potential to become obsessive/addictive in order for it to catch. Now that the word is out that a low calorie but optimal nutrition diet is a good thing that extends life, this is where most “pro ana” people end up, not starving themselves to death.

    If someone is prone to become anorexic, if that didn’t kill them, something else would. For everyone else, it’s simply a desire to be thin, which the people who follow pop culture can’t be blamed for, and for which people who actually go informed into low calorie lifestyle should be respected.

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