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'Bonespiration' is becoming a troubling trend on social media

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Photos of women whose bodies look downright skeletal have hashtags like “bonespiration,” meant to promote being bone thin and emaciated. (Source: 3TV) Photos of women whose bodies look downright skeletal have hashtags like “bonespiration,” meant to promote being bone thin and emaciated. (Source: 3TV)
Experts say the problem is as soon as one social media site catches up to a hashtag, the posters just change them. (Source: 3TV) Experts say the problem is as soon as one social media site catches up to a hashtag, the posters just change them. (Source: 3TV)
After getting treatment for her eating disorder, Lee is happy that she’s living a healthy lifestyle. (Source: 3TV) After getting treatment for her eating disorder, Lee is happy that she’s living a healthy lifestyle. (Source: 3TV)
When we looked up “bonespiration” on Instagram, for example, we got a warning saying that the tags “often encourage behavior that can cause harm, and even lead to death.” (Source: 3TV) When we looked up “bonespiration” on Instagram, for example, we got a warning saying that the tags “often encourage behavior that can cause harm, and even lead to death.” (Source: 3TV)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

It’s a trend that experts call horrifying: Disturbing pictures and hashtags being posted on social media sites of bone-thin bodies.

Advocates have been working to quash the terrifying trend for years, but experts say it’s now morphing and parents need to know. 

When you watch the video above, we want to warn you: some of the pictures are graphic and may be most troubling for those at risk of an eating disorder.

We decided to do a quick search of social media and it was shockingly easy to find photos of women whose bodies look downright skeletal. They have hashtags like “bonespiration,” meant to promote being bone thin and emaciated.

“You see a lot of things that are posted with the intent of glamorizing the disorder,” Erika Lee, who is an eating disorder survivor, told us.

Lee says these posts are worrisome. She showed us her own ultra-thin pictures from when she was battling her illness. She used to post online too, which, she says, prolonged her recovery.

“It was like the secret rulebook of here's how to get away with this," Lee says.

Years ago, similar tags like “thinspiration,” “probulimia” and “proanorexia” prompted Instagram to ban accounts and hashtags that promote self-harm.

Experts say the problem is as soon as one social media site catches up to a hashtag, the posters just change them.

“It is a bit like whack-a-mole. A lot of the social media platforms are doing their best to deal with this content in a responsible way, but due to the volume of it and the number of users who are at risk, it is very difficult to manage,” Claire Mysko, with the National Eating Disorders Association, told us.

Experts say for the 30 million people in the United States who suffer an eating disorder, just seeing the posts could trigger them to fall deeper into an illness.

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis. People who are struggling in a very, very dark place,” Mysko says.

The National Eating Disorders Association works with social media sites. When we looked up “bonespiration” on Instagram, for example, we got a warning saying that the tags “often encourage behavior that can cause harm, and even lead to death.”

The site also offers help. The key, Mysko says, is support.

“If you're compelled to post content like this to connect with others please know that there are resources available," she said.

After getting treatment for her eating disorder, Lee is happy that she’s living a healthy lifestyle.

“There's nothing glamorous about starving yourself until you're emaciated,” Lee says.

If you’d like to get more information about how to get help with an eating disorder or have a friend or a loved one who is making posts like the ones described here, go to the National Eating Disorders website for more information.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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