One of the newest social media platforms taking over the Internet is Pinterest, a visually-oriented site that simulates pinning pictures to a corkboard. The site allows users to create boards about different topics, such as travel, food, exercise, décor, or fashion. It has quickly grown to become the third largest social media site. While the still developing site is continually expanding, a few trends have been prominent since its beginning: posts about exercise, food, and weddings. While this might not be surprising because 80 percent of users are female, it is concerning. These types of posts promote traditional gender roles and present an idealized version of what a woman should be, reinforcing these beliefs in users. The site has been jokingly praised by some men as “keeping gender roles alive.”
When perusing posts on Pinterest, it doesn’t take long to find one featuring an impossibly thin woman in workout clothes. Dieticians have recommended posting workouts to Pinterest or following posts of health professionals or other pinners concerned with exercise. While the health benefits of exercise are obvious, striving for a body like the women in the pictures is less beneficial. The site has been criticized for the excess of “thinspirational” images that feature bony women and messages such as “Don’t reward yourself with food. You’re not a dog,” and “Eating isn’t very Chanel.” After being criticized for being too similar to pro-anorexia websites, Pinterest changed its guidelines to prohibit images promoting eating disorders and added a warning about the dangers of these disorders. However, this does little to prevent users from posting pictures of extremely thin women with comments coveting the stomachs, legs, and arms of the airbrushed models. The sheer number of images like this on Pinterest and the positive feedback associated with them seem to reinforce the notion that happy is equivalent to skinny.
Contradictory to all the exercise advice, the site also features countless recipes. One e-card floating around the site views the contradiction between the recipes and the exercise posts in a humorous way: “Pinterest: Thank you for making me want to work out like a complete psycho and eat desserts all night… simultaneously.” The site has become known as a way for women to share cooking tips and dishes with one another, these ranging from recipes on a budget to elaborate desserts. Links from the site have increased traffic to food magazine Cooking Light 6,000 percent in six months. The presence of the numerous recipes present another clear place women are supposed to be besides the gym: in the kitchen. Many comments on recipes say things such as “Can’t wait to make this for my husband!” while very few offer the idea that the woman does not have to be the one to do the cooking. Although women are still more likely than men to be in charge of household activities in the United States, this online obsession with recipes is far from the strong female persona that many of today’s women and teens hope to convey.
Besides fulfilling all your cooking and workout needs, Pinterest is self-described as a great place to plan a wedding. The site is loaded with pictures of fluffy, white gowns, adorable ideas for the reception guest book, fake wedding photos of model brides and grooms kissing in different settings, and wildly expensive engagement rings. Many Pinterest users seem to have their whole wedding ready, minus the relationship and the proposal. Besides commercializing marriage, the countless pictures of smiling brides reminds women what Disney has been telling us for years: a happy woman isn’t a single woman. Never mind that the divorce rate in the US is almost 50 percent; the women on Pinterest are clearly buying into the idea that marriage brings happiness. Who they will end up marrying seems to play a minor role in this fantasy, which makes sense considering many posters of these images are barely old enough to drive, let alone be engaged. Pinterest demonstrates the prevalence of the notion that women should dream about their wedding day from childhood and that happiness is contingent on finding the perfect man.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Pinterest is that the gender roles presented on the site are self-enforced. Misogynistic men and the media cannot be blamed for the presence of thin, airbrushed women, cheesecake recipes, or extravagant bridal gowns. The female posters of the site willingly post these images and “repin” or “like” others’ posts. Although it can be argued that society has made women value thinness, homemaking, and marriage, it seems unfair to pass the blame on. With over 10 million members and growing, the sample of women on Pinterest seems to present little backlash against traditional gender roles, but it is not devoid of strong, feminine ideals. There are business tips and intelligent articles on Pinterest, but these are limited in comparison with wedding dresses and workouts. This does little to combat the image of the thin, married homemaker that is present on the site. Pinterest can be fun and occasionally useful, but perhaps women should look beyond the enjoyment and consider what our pins are saying about us.