I have a whole mess of friends who absolutely love Pinterest. For those who have never heard of it, it is a image heavy internet bookmarking service and social network. You find things you like on the internet, and bookmark it by ‘pinning’* it. You select a representative image from your link, and select which pinboard you will put it on. You visit your homepage on Pinterest to see all the things you and your friends have pinned. So far, it’s great. Love it. I’ve found delicious recipes, and a few things that have helped me parent my kids. Which is fantastic.

The trouble comes from visiting the “everything” board; the board that shows what everyone (not just your friends) is pinning. It is tempting, when I have five minutes to waste before I need to go pick up my kid from school, to browse through this board. For the most part it is rather innocuous, much like browsing through a Better Homes and Gardens-type magazine. I’ve found though, that as I’ve spent time looking at beautiful pictures of enormous bathrooms, and very fancy staircases that my satisfaction with my own house is lessened. My commitment to living not only frugally, but also simply and compactly is put to the test when I think about the mansions pictured there. I don’t think it’s good for me. But that isn’t the worst part.

I suppose I’ve constructed for myself a happy little bubble of feminism wherein slut-shaming, body-hate, and other symptoms of misogyny are heavily regulated. I haven’t read fashion magazines in years, and I’ve been TV free since college. The only media I consume is often what I actively seek out.

Browsing through the ‘everything’ board on Pinterest has shattered my little bubble. Sure there isn’t a *ton* of this sort of negative content, but I find myself continually surprised at it’s prevalence. Perhaps I’m just naive, but I had thought that most women knew that looking at altered pictures of unrealistic bodies is not only unhelpful, but actually *bad* for your psyche. I hope that I’m not the naive one here. For example I suspect that many of the women ‘re-pinnning’ pro-anorexia rhetoric are unaware that such a thing as “pro-anorexia” even exists. I also don’t think that the people sharing these images and quotes are doing so maliciously, but just because one doesn’t realize that their behavior is damaging doesn’t make it okay.

In some ways I’m glad to find some examples of misogyny or other problematic thinking to dissect and analyze. And it is probably good for me to venture out of my happy little bubble so that I can remember that there are lots and lots of people who see the world differently than I do. I’m a little unsure what I want to do about my discomfort. Avoid it? Work through it? Fight what is causing it? I don’t know yet.

Are you on pinterest, and if so what do you think about it? How do you deal with unwelcome or negative media?

*Am I the only one who thinks of that “Let’s put a pin in it!” guy from Bolt every time I hear this?

Here are some of the problematic images that I have found over the past few days. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version and some comments on why I find it problematic.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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21 Responses

  1. kmillecam says:

    I was talking to my sister last night about how much she loves Pinterest, and that my other sister who is engaged just got on and was pinning wedding stuff. So I finally said “yes, I will join Pinterest tomorrow!” and here is your post 🙂

    Also, when said sister was making her husband look at a few things, he said something to the effect of “well, this is all very pinteresting, but…” and that made me giggle for a while. But I digress…

    I think the shattering of a bubble is very real here, and something I also experience. I seek out media and internet sites that are pro-feminist, body-positive, and come from a place of respect. But when I see things like the example above, I am reminded why I like reading Shakesville and other feminist sites so much: because they give me support in situations like this. I may not know what to do on Pinterest, but I know where I stand and why, and then I can look for the right opportunities TO say something. Is that even helpful??

    I guess I look at it as: everyone is in a different place, but I know that this is an important issues. I’m not going to go around forcing everyone to see what I see (even though it’s important), but I will be willing to have a potentially awkward conversation if it comes up, and that’s what I am committed to. I’m also at a point where I don’t avoid this stuff anymore. If I want to be on Pinterest, or in a conversation, or part of a group when we’re going out, then I need to find a way to stand up for myself while simultaneously allowing others to be in a different place. That’s a hard line to walk, to accept people as they are, but still stand up for what I believe passionately.

    I’d like to hear more specifics about what you are thinking of in particular.

    • Starfoxy says:

      I’d like to hear more specifics about what you are thinking of in particular.
      More specifics about the problematic content, or more about my possible approaches?
      About the content, if you go to the main page and search for things like “motivation” you’ll get a fairly representative sample of the mix between between health-focused, body-positive pins and the more problematic content. Doing a search for “thinspo” gives you an collection of images that are *all* problematic.
      The slut shaming stuff isn’t as prevalent or as overt as the body-hate stuff. But I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.
      About my potential responses to it- there are people who collect, alter, and re-post images in an effort to explain why those sorts of things are bad. (Similar to what Whitney suggests below.) This idea appeals to me the most as it is a very public refutation of these thought patterns, but it also avoids naming and shaming individuals.
      Since it is a social networking site, one is free to comment directly on people’s pins, but that feels far too confrontational to me. And since it is all right there for everyone to see it goes against the ideal of ‘reprimand in private, praise in public.’
      I have also seriously considered just closing my account altogether. Or if not that, being very strict about not browsing through the everything board. However I do appreciate the functionality of the website, and I doubt my ability to hold myself to stop wasting time looking through other people’s pins.
      You are very right that it can be very hard maintain one’s own standards while engaging with other people in a respectful way.

    • kmillecam says:

      I was talking more about what you were thinking of doing in response. I like the fact that you CAN respond to peoples pins, but I agree that going on a crusade to tell everyone what you think wouldn’t be effective. I also think that as you are mindful of it, then opportunities will arise to speak up or do something you’re comfortable with. I especially like the reposting idea.

  2. Whitney says:

    I would like to take a screenshot of that whole image–the one you posted in the upper-right corner–including the text as-is, and put it in ANOTHER image with the following caption,
    “Internet Douches: This shit is not attractive. Actually it makes you look stupid and retarded. Please stop doing it ASAP. Signed: Women everywhere.”

    Also, is anyone else baffled by the use of the word “whore” (and “slut,” in my experience) to mean “any woman I hate”?

  3. Corktree says:

    I’m not on pinterest, mostly for the issue you describe at the beginning. I very much dislike putting myself voluntarily in a position to compare my reality to others right now. And I’ve assumed that would extend to trying to compete with showing my interests to others as well. It’s the same reason I’ve pulled back from reading blogs and even writing on my family one – I start to think of things in terms of how what I do and like would come across online, and it’s just not a worthwhile state of mind for me anymore.

    But wow, I had no idea this is the type of messages that are circulating out there. Those images are pretty horrible. I’ve definitely been in a bubble, because I really would not have thought stuff like that was in any way supported or approved by any rational person. It’s good to be reminded of the other perspectives that are still prevalent and what we’re in opposition to.

  4. Jana says:

    I’m on Pinterest! I think if you exercise self-control, it can be a good thing; I have gotten some great ideas and learned some tricks to help me save money, create healthier meals, and consider new ways to reuse things I already have. But without clear intentions, Pinterest can quickly turn into another outlet to hate on your body (pinning a bunch of pics of flat abs and tight butts on ‘fitness inspiration board’ will hardly do anything good for your self-image) and covet a whole bunch of stuff that you don’t actually need like mansions to raise your perfectly groomed children in while playing with all of the handcrafted toys you’ve created from wood pallets you rescued from the dump. Seriously, some of that shit is CRAZY.

    What I try to do is only pin things I will actually use– a recipe I can see myself making in the next week. Or a DIY project that involves reusing items I already have to make my life more simple, not filled with more useless junk. I also try to post non-home things that I find inspiring–social innovations, books, or articles about how to be more self-sufficient and live a better life. I hope that then the things I’m bookmarking/pinning are more representative of the life I am trying to lead, and not some unfulfilled Barbie Dreamhouse world that I don’t, in all actuality, want.

  5. EBrown says:

    I use Pinterest as an inspiration board, primarily interior design, and, within that, color palettes. I.m an inveterate collector and I can collect images without spending a penny or using a square inch of space.

  6. EmilyCC says:

    Oh. my. heavens…so some of those images are used for inspiration?!

    I wonder if you (anyone who wants to respond) feels like this is a shorter version of the style/mommy blogs where everything looks perfect and life is never messy.

    But, new recipes, gosh, I LOVE finding new recipes.

  7. ohkj says:

    I am on Pinterest, and for the most part I love it. I frequently browse the “everything” button and I have never seen any of the images posted above, or like-images. In fact, I often find truly motivational quotes, and quite often see graphically designed prints of uplifting quotes from the LDS leaders.

    That said, I think EmilyCC hit it spot on (and I’ve thought this for a while) that this is just an abbreviated version of mommy/lifestyle blogs. While the concern in the church is for men and their pornography problem, I think that lifestyle/mommy blogs/pinterest is just as damaging for women. (this is not to say that women don’t have pornography problems, but this might be our version of the porn problem).

    Looking at versions of a life, house, body, clothes, recipes, that you want/don’t have/covet can create an alternate reality. It distorts reality. It makes things look more attractive then they might actually be, it takes away the reality of the object. Just like pornography.

    I mostly use pinterest to find new recipes, and decorating ideas. I try to make sure I have a grip on reality while I’m browsing, and know that no one has this life. It doesn’t exist. Just like behind all of the Instagram photos of children and houses on mommy/lifestyle blogs there’s a weeks worth of laundry and two days worth of dirty dishes and fights over money. Nobody’s life is perfect. We need to remember that.

  8. Kris says:

    I was gonna comment, but now I want to go look at Pinterest 🙂

    I don’t find myself unsatisfied with my house when I look at beautiful house stuff, and if I really like an idea I pin it to my “someday house” board because someday I will own a house and then might incorporate these ideas. I mean, some of the showers that get pinned I covet a little, but I realize that most of ’em are going to be way, way out of my reality and price range and it’s not worth lusting over, you know?

    I try to just skim past the thinspo crap. One thing I like about Pinterest is that nudity is not allowed. Unlike Piccsy, which is kind of the same idea, and there’s tons of nudity on that site. The other thing that bothers me about Pinterest is the pictures of guys with their shirts off, hands down their pants, and if you’re browsing the everything board I’m sure you’ve seen that picture of Adam Levine with a strategically placed hand over his bits. Ugh.

    I do have a fitness board, but I try very hard to only pin realistic pictures – I’m not going for anorexic, but I am going for healthy. I got into an eating disorder via pro-ana sites, and I’m very careful about thinspo stuff now.

    I’ve seen lots of LDS stuff on the everything board, which is awesome, and I always click on that person’s profile and browse their stuff because clearly they are awesome 🙂

    I love that my Bookmarks folder is no longer crammed with ideas, because it was getting too overwhelming to even sort through, and with Pinterest it’s easier to search through my pins for what I am looking for. But mostly I like Pinterest for the awesome kids, crafts, and DIY ideas, and the occasional amusing quote/animal pictures and the food. But don’t browse the food while you’re starving on a Sunday and you haven’t grocery shopped in a week. It’s painful. I’m krisis86 on there if anyone wants to take a peek 🙂

    • Starfoxy says:

      “I got into an eating disorder via pro-ana sites, and I’m very careful about thinspo stuff now.”
      Is it alright if I ask what, if anything a random stranger on the internet might have been able to do to help steer you away from the pro-ana stuff? In other words, is there anything I can do that you know of (provide commentary, or alternative content, raise awareness etc.) to help prevent disordered eating in other girls and women who may be drawn towards pro-ana sites?

      • Kris says:

        I’ve been thinking about this all night and I got nothin’. I found out about pro-ana websites when I was 14 after watching an episode of Boston Public centered on them, Googled, and it all went downhill from there. I don’t want to say “don’t talk about that stuff,” because obviously awareness needs to be there, but in my case, learning about it was the first step to my…uh…doom?

        Honestly, there has been a HUGE drop in the amount of sites and information available in the past few years, thank goodness. Used to be you could search it on any search engine and come up with hundreds of sites, including some extremely “helpful” forums with tons of people… I searched again a year ago during a frustrating time but could barely find anything. Phew.

    • Starfoxy says:

      Btw, thank you for your comment. 🙂

  9. I personally love Pinterest, but I understand your concerns. I just wanted to share with you a post I did on using Pinterest for more ways than one. It can be a fun time-passer, but my post illustrates how we can be productive while using it as well!


  10. Annie B. says:

    When I first started pinterest I browsed a lot, but now it’s mostly functional. I look on my sister’s food board to find things to make for dinner, I collect images of design concepts for inspiration later, I collect craft projects for my kids and I, and daydream a bit collecting images of dream porches, vacations, travel, ect.

    I also have a board labeled Health/Fitness/Inspiration because I’m a fitness instructor. I really don’t like the destructive “inspirational” pins either and I try to keep mine positive like “No matter how slow you go you’re still lapping everyone on the couch” or “Instead of focusing on the weight of your body going down, focus on the weight of your dumbbells going up”. I realize that body image is sometimes sensitive so I try to only pin images that focus on ability or strength rather than flawless tummies. I read an article about a study once that discussed how images motivate people differently. The gist was that an image of a fitness model will make a severely out of shape person feel negatively, but will positively motivate someone who is closer in appearance to the fitness model. The conclusion was that viewers responded negatively if they felt the image was unattainable. I think though that thin or fit people who suffer with body dysmorphia could just as easily feel discouraged by such images. As for myself, I actually enjoy the beauty in images of really really ridiculously good looking people, but I also think physical beauty is waaaaaay overemphasized and I steer clear of those types of images on my inspiration board. Basically I just try to ignore the negative and crowd it out with the positive.

  11. Susan says:

    So I just started using Pinterest for the first time a couple of hours ago, and the one of the first things I noticed was (1) the NUMEROUS pro-anorexia posts and (2) that the initial excitement high I experienced from finding cool things quickly turned into a low-grade depression envy. With respect to the latter, I agree that it caused me to be worried about my commitment to downsizing and small living and so it is troublesome. With respect to the “pro-ana” stuff, I’m not sure if it is as innocent as you think. I think a lot of the pins are so clearly pro-ana that the seemingly innocent commentary attached to them is less naivete about what the meaning behind those images are, and more a calculated and knowing way for anorexics to post these pictures without drawing the comment fire that would come with them otherwise. To be honest, what I took away from it was that there are a lot more anorexics or wanna-be anorexics out there than I thought! Or else they are early adopters of Pinterest because they found it to be a good covert marketplace for trading ideas and so there is a disproportionate number of postings right now on the site.

  12. kim says:

    Yes, this! I also have created a little bubble of feminist happiness around me. Every once in a while it gets punctured and I find it hard to not get angry or frustrated or sad. I know the majority (because at least I don’t kid myself) are not like me, but I would expect at least to see, on a north american, female member dominated site, respect for other ladies. I also was surprised at the amount of slut shaming, body snarking, and general lady hate. The body snarking was the weirdest: the larger ladies (but not too large) get a positive reaction “this is what a real woman looks like!”, pictures of skinny ladies with a little muscle are used as inspiration, skinny ladies with hardly any muscle get snarked on big time (“too skinny! ewwww!”), and pictures of ladies that fall into the ‘too large’ category (they are few and far between on pinterest) are either part of a ‘funny’ meme or especially for laughs or a resonant “ewwww”. How can these people read all these different reactions and not question their own? It makes me sad. We need to stand together, ladies!

  13. RachelJL says:

    Just found a link to this from the article in Gawker. I joined Pinterest sometime last year, maybe around June, and immediately started to see some of the pro-anorexia stuff. Some of the not-so-obvious stuff was coming from younger female family members and their friends and had me concerned for society more than I already was, and like you, in a way, I was grateful to know that it was there. Since I have a 10 year old daughter and had somewhat serious issues with looking at my own body in an overly-negative light as a teenager and young adult, (though not to the point of anorexia, thankfully), I want to know as realistically as possible, for good and for bad, what I might be facing as a mother.

    In fall of last year I attended a lecture by two U of U graduated students, Lexie and Lindsay Kite, on the negative role in media on women and their view on their appearance and health. There are many groups out there, apparently, but I was ignorant of that fact. They have a website called “Beauty Redefined” (and I’m not sure I know the cleanest way to post it, lol, apologies):

    I started following them on Facebook as well as another similar group for mothers of young girls called 7Wonderlicious, based in Australia. Then I started posting things I learned from each site on Pinterest. I was surprised that almost every time I pinned something on my board that I named “I like you just the way you are” (maybe cheesy, I’m not terribly inventive with my board names like some), that people repinned it then started following my board. I don’t have a huge following by any means, in fact it’s quite small, but it’s shown me that there are others out there who feel the way we do.

  1. February 22, 2012

    […] in the last few weeks, but way back in September 2011 a writer at the Mormon Women’s blog The Exponent was talking about her “whole mess of friends who absolutely love Pinterest.” (Mary […]

  2. February 26, 2012

    […] blogger was disturbed by the "slut-shaming, body-hate and other symptoms of misogyny" she saw there. The repressive regime in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale would probably have allowed its […]

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