Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


In addition to the treatment of individuals with existing eating disorders, research and social efforts have been made recently to prevent the development of eating disorders. Preventative efforts have included: a) expanding research concerning the etiology of eating disorders, b) increasing awareness of the consequences of eating disorders, and c) shutting down pro-eating disorder websites. One aspect of pro-eating disorder websites, thinspiration, has emerged on social media websites. Studies concerning the effects of viewing thinspiration have shown that individuals who view thinspiration are more likely to accept unhealthy beauty standards, show increased self objectification and sexualization, exhibit increased distortion of social reality, express increased body dissatisfaction, and display an increased likelihood of disordered eating (Ghaznavi & Taylor, 2015; Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008). For this reason, social media websites have included warnings on common searches for thinspiration content. Fitspiration, a recent evolution of thinspiration, has also emerged on social media websites. Fitspiration appears very similar to thinspiration, but is thought to be healthier. Because fitspiration is new, little research has been completed on the consequences of viewing fitspiration images. This study aimed to establish research on the consequences of viewing fitspiration images in comparison to thinspiration images. Prior to completing this study, a pilot study was conducted to determine which thinspiration and fitspiration images best represented their respective category. Participants viewed a randomized combination of 15 thinspiration and 15 fitspiration images, and were asked to rate each model’s thinness and fitness using a Likert scale. Means calculated on the thinness and fitness ratings revealed that participants correctly rated most of the thinspiration images as thinner than the fitspiration images and rated the fitspiration images as fitter than the thinspiration images. The lowest ten mean ratings for thinness and the lowest ten mean ratings for fitness were determined for use in the current study. This study hypothesized that participants who viewed thinspiration or fitspiration images would have a distorted weight perception, decreased self-esteem, be less likely to overeat, and more likely to exercise, as compared to participants who viewed control images. To assess for distorted weight perception, participants answered a perceived weight status question that asked to describe themselves as very underweight, underweight, average, overweight, or very overweight. Self-esteem was assessed using the State Self-Esteem Scale (SSES); participants rated themselves on 20 statements such as, “I feel unattractive,” “I am worried what other people will think of me,” “I am pleased with my appearance right now,” and “I am self-conscious.” Intention to overeat and exercise were measured using a behavioral intentions questionnaire that asked participants to rate their likelihood of engaging in specific behaviors and cognition such as food restriction via cutting back on the amount of food eaten, likelihood of overeating, likelihood of exercising, likelihood of purging via vomiting, and likelihood of thinking about weight. A Chi Square analysis was used to assess for differences in weight perception. Results indicated that participants who viewed thinspiration and fitspiration perceived themselves to be more overweight than participants who viewed control images. Next a one-way ANOVA was used to assess for differences in self-esteem. It was found that there were no differences between the groups in terms of overall self-esteem, but a one-way ANCOVA revealed that participants in the experimental conditions had lower appearance self-esteem than participants in the control condition. To assess behavioral intentions, a one-way MANCOVA was used. It found no significant differences between groups in regards to the participant’s likelihood to exercise or overeat. The findings of this study are applicable to the general public and to clinical populations. The results of this study suggest that it may be wise for individuals to limit intention or unintentional exposure to thinspiration and fitspiration images to as to reduce the likelihood of distorted weight perception and decreased appearance self-esteem. Clinicians can also be more informed on the consequences of clients viewing thinspiration or fitspiration, especially clients who are predisposed to the development of an eating disorder, or attempting to recover from an eating disorder. Limitations of this study include using only adult participants, restrictions of the time and style of tracing activity used to expose participants to the images, and the appropriateness of the self-esteem scale used. Future directions include increasing the length of exposure to the images, providing a more naturalistic setting, assessing younger populations, using different scales, assessing a male population, and using image and text combinations. This study aimed to better understand the consequences of viewing thinspiration images and establish the consequences of viewing fitspiration images. This study adds to the literature on the effects of viewing thinspiration and fitspiration images on an adult population.


Dr. Jennifer Bonds-Raacke

Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type



© 2016 LaNaya Anderson


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