Weighty issues embedded in ‘#thinspiration’ controversy

A US television host’s inadvertent use of the controversial hashtag has sparked a heated debate

US television presenter Adam Richman before and after his weight-loss dieting, which led to him losing more than 27kg before he posted a photo of himself online with the hashtag #thinspiration.

US television presenter Adam Richman before and after his weight-loss dieting, which led to him losing more than 27kg before he posted a photo of himself online with the hashtag #thinspiration.

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

Adam Richman, the US television host, has always struggled with his weight. Presenting a show called Man v Food in which he has to take on massive eating challenges has not helped. But over the past few months he has slimmed down considerably, losing more than 27kg, thanks to a rigorous exercise programme.

Showing off his new body in a photograph posted on Instagram last month, he used the hashtag #thinspiration. The heavens of social media opprobrium opened.

The hashtag refers to the lengths to which people go in order to lose weight. It can be used triumphantly as in “look at all the weight I’ve lost from tough and constant gym work-outs”.

But #thinspiration is controversial and loaded with ambiguity. It has been appropriated by pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia circles as a slogan used urging people to continue getting thinner.

Richman was apparently using the term in its relatively more benign sense. However, there was a vicious backlash to his Instagram photo, with many saying the presenter was being “irresponsible”, given that he is a public figure.

It was a social-media argument that got out of hand: the more Richman was attacked, the more he lashed back. At one stage he replied to someone who had criticised him by saying: “Grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you.” Richman’s show has now been cancelled.

Musician Professor Green has also been in the thinspiration wars of late after using the hashtag under a picture of his wife, Millie Macintosh.

‘Fitspiration’ The couple were similarly accused of encouraging eating disorders and were so upset by the criticism that Macintosh decided to change the hashtag “thinspiration” to “fitspiration” and release a statement in which he said

: “I look slim but I have got muscle definition. If I was putting up pictures of my ribs sticking out like I looked unhealthily thin, then I would be irresponsible.”

Previously the UK television presenter and model Alexa Chung said she was forced into closing down her Instagram and Twitter accounts after being accused of promoting “thinspiration” by posting photos of her slim but healthy physique.

She said at the time: “It angers me because I don’t want to be a pin-up for young girls just for being thin. I don’t want to be admired for being thin as opposed for being dressed well – and I don’t want the two to get confused.”

What has made the debate about Richman more complex is that one of his harshest critics is a woman named Amber Sarah, who has labelled herself in public as a “fat activist”.