'Bonespiration' Is the Latest & Most Chilling Hashtag Sweeping Over Social Media

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One undeniable power of social media is its ability to foster communities and connect people who wouldn't be able to interact otherwise. While this can be good -- e.g., finding old friends or discovering body-positivity influencers -- it can also lead people down a more damaging and dangerous path, especially when it comes to eating disorders

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A recent study by Exeter University Medical School found that 140,000 images on Instagram were linked to the hashtag #bonespiration. Of the 734 hashtagged images that the research team analyzed, over 25 percent showcased protruding hip bones, 2 percent showed protruding ribs, 22 percent featured collarbones, and 6 percent displayed the spine. 

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The hashtag was born as a way to sidestep the current ban on eating disorder–promoting tags (such as #thinspiration and #thinspo), which was set in place in 2012. 

According psychotherapist Kimberly Hershenson, people use these hashtags to find communities that support and normalize their behaviors.

"When you're engaging in disorder behavior, you can question your behavior and almost unconsciously know that what you're doing is probably unhealthy," Hershenson tells CafeMom.

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These communities, even though virtual, can make people feel less alone in what they're doing. 

skinny woman with spine showing
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Just using the word "bone" as opposed to "thin" feels more chilling, or as Hershenson puts it, takes it to "another level, another extreme." While "thin" is most often used with a negative connotation, it can also be used in a healthier way; "bones," however, is only used in such a way as "they look like a bag of bones," she says.
 
It's a dangerously literal comparison, especially since more than 30 million people, regardless of age or gender, are suffering from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness.
 
 

"To tackle this social contagion, we need to be aware of the social media platforms being used by young people -- mainly girls and young women -- which is encouraging extreme weight loss," Catherine Talbot, a psychologist at Exeter and one of the authors of the study, said, according to Yahoo. "This behavior could seriously damage their psychological and physical health."

Hershenson recommends limiting your or someone else's time on social media, which can teach people certain behaviors or have triggering images. Since social media is so easily accessible, it can feel inescapable, like it's invading your safe spaces.
 
Most importantly, we should all remember that the things we scroll through on our various feeds are not based in reality. "People try and present their best selves by what they write," Hershenson said. "It really leads to a lot of comparison," she continued. Instead, we should focus on fostering our relationships off-screen and be grateful for the things we do have in our lives, which includes our wonderful bodies and loved ones. 
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