Imagine a perfect world – a world where everything is beautiful, tailored exactly to your preferences, desires, and aspirations! Pinterest is well on its way to creating such a world – but is that such a good thing? Pinterest is an excellent source of ideas and inspiration, and a great way for entrepreneurs and online shopping centers to market their products. It does, however, have potential to become a serious concern, especially among young female users, because of the alternate reality it has created – a world of fit, slim beauties who eat strawberry mascarpone yogurt pie, wear the latest hipster, boho, retro, romantic outfits, think good vibes and flower chains and heartbreaking song lyrics, fly off to Europe on a whim, and marry Prince Charming in a personalized, DIY extravaganza.
Pinterest, a self-defined “social bookmarking tool,” was launched in 2010 with a mission to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting” (Pinterest.com, 2015). Users collect and organize images, called “pins,” which can be viewed or “repinned” by other users. Additionally, pins can be “liked” and “shared,” and users can collaborate on boards, which are called “group boards.” Since Pinterest’s launching, it has attracted over 70 million individual users, 85% of which are women (EntrepreneurialInsights.com, 2014).
Because of this wide sphere of influence, Pinterest is an effective way for artists and entrepreneurs to peddle their wares and reserve an audience in the competitive world of popular culture. Many businesses, including Etsy, Modcloth, Free People, and Shabby Apple, have recognized this and do much of their marketing through cleverly designed, aesthetically pleasing boards, with thousands of followers. Similarly, freelance artists such as Katie Daisy, Gemma Correll, and Ileana Hunter make themselves known through their Pinterest activity.
Of course, with free advertising comes the risk of losing credit for original ideas. Individuals can examine and copy art, sewing projects, DIY projects, or whatever tickles their fancy, and no great harm is likely to result. The danger arises when larger companies like Target and Walmart use Pinterest as a free survey tool, to gather data concerning the tastes and preferences of their potential customers. When an exact imitation of Gemma Correll’s signature pug appears on a greeting card at Hallmark, and anyone can pay $10 for a boho skirt you could have sworn you saw for $100 at FreePeople, could it have something to do with the millions of women and girls longingly pinning and repinning whatever they desire? Walmart can make a few of those dreams come true, for a fraction of the price, but what about those who thought them up in the first place? Do they get anything out of it?
Apart from the practical business side of things, Pinterest has potential to become a “virtual paradise” for its users. For example, imagine an American teenage girl, caught up in the emotional and sociological whirlwind of her life, distressed and lonely, collapsing in front of her laptop for an evening on Pinterest. It asks for nothing in exchange for hours spent perusing quality images of all the things she loves best. What sweeter fiction is there in which to lose herself and forget her troubles? When she is depressed or disillusioned with her goals, Pinterest is there, bursting with inspiring quotes and beauty and loveliness that can inspire her to keep pressing on, because as Rudyard Kipling so wisely put it, “One day it really will be alright! If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!” (Pinterest.com, 2015). At the same time, however, this unsuppressed flood of glamour can be very depressing, because she can never achieve the perfect ideal she has laid out for herself. When she realizes this, it is tempting to give up on her real self and live a “virtual life” through her boards. Taking into account all users of Pinterest, from extremely active to very passive, an average of 98 minutes per user per month is spent on Pinterest (Craig Smith, 2015). However, in a survey of several avid users, an average of 7 hours per week, at least 24 hours per month, was spent browsing Pinterest (Personal Interview, 2015). That’s an entire 24 hour day, spent absorbed in the “perfect world” Pinterest presents! Although this obsession may seem improbable to those unfamiliar with Pinterest, this “alternate reality” has become a rising social issue among teenage girls, for whom it has become an addiction and a lifestyle.
With this growing obsession, girls spend hours exposed to hundreds of images of fit, slim, sun-kissed beauties, enjoying The Pinterest Life. Rigorous training routines and decadent, calorie-loaded desserts are displayed side-by-side with an onslaught of fitspo and thinspo photos, flooding girls’ minds with images of what she should look like, what she would look like if she were more self-controlled, more long-suffering, or more patient. In short, if she were “better.” All the cheery little self-confidence quotes in the world cannot erase the impact these images have on a girl’s opinion of herself. Countless arguments have been made for and against fitspo and its impact, but ultimately the danger is only in the role it plays in the viewer’s life. Fitness is truly possible for anyone, to varying degrees, regardless of one’s initial shape or size, and for some fitspo is an inspiration to get out there and get it done. For most girls, however, the “fitspo body” is truly unattainable, and yearning for it can only cause disappointment, shame, and failure.
As stated earlier, Pinterest is at its core a social inspiration site: whatever your niche, be it fashion, visual art, fitness, sewing, culinary arts, writing, or photography, it is an invaluable wealth of ideas and motivation. In this way it is unique from all other social media. While it can consume monstrous amounts of time, at least that time is spent learning and gathering ideas, in attempt to achieve personal goals. It is more productive than sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which tend to foster narcissism and useless procrastination (Psychology Today, 2013). Other than blog owners, who may post pictures from their blogs to increase blog traffic, very few users post personal information or pictures of themselves, so Pinterest is one of the most private forms of social media available. It is arguable that despite the lack of “personal information” such as age, friends, and location, users put themselves in the public eye more than ever before by displaying their passions and interests for all the world to see. While this is a valid point, it is important to remember that how the users present themselves is entirely up to them, so no information is divulged to the public without the users’ consent.
All things considered, Pinterest is a fascinating resource with great potential to positively influence culture. While it can be used in a mostly positive way, to spread ideas and inspire innovators, in this age of worldwide media and leveling of culture, perhaps it is actually quenching originality and true creativity. At any rate, Pinterest cannot simply be dismissed as a passing craze, because within it there lies the potential for a great deal of social change. If it is misused, the lives of many young girls (and women and the occasional man) may be forever affected for the worse. As with all other aspects of life, Pinterest must be used wisely, with discretion and moderation, in order to fulfill its positive potential. Pinterest users can create for themselves an alluring “perfect world,” but it cannot take the place of the real world, which God created to be enjoyed, not escaped. He wants us to live an abundant life in Him, and Pinterest – fascinating, fun, and helpful though it may be – cannot take the place of an infinitely creative God!