The Unattainability of Pinterest


Ellie Gladson-Pang, Staff Writer

“Pinterest-worthy” is a term that means picturesque and visually appealing, or aesthetic enough to be worthy of being posted, saved, and shared on social media. It’s a common enough phrase—there’s no apparent malice in the compliment. The reference to one app in particular, however, is an overlooked indication of something much more sinister that underlies all social media. The real danger of Pinterest isn’t what is posted on boards; the trap lies in what’s missing from your feed. 

Pinterest is an American image-sharing and social media site designed to enable saving and discovering pictures on pinboards. Essentially, the app is a scrapbook and a catalog rolled into one, sourcing inspiration and materials from an endless well of ideas posted by users. Pinterest has 450 million global monthly active users as of December 2022 and has a well-developed reputation as a place exclusively for the most highly curated posts. 

The key word there is curated; because, unlike other social media sites like Instagram, and BeReal, Pinterest isn’t known for honesty in the sharing of your life. Even Instagram poses a danger of excessive manufactured content, and there are plenty of mental health risks associated with such artificial content. Young adults who reduced their social media use by 50% for a few weeks saw “significant improvement in how they felt about both their weight and their overall appearance” compared with peers who maintained high social media use, according to the American Psychological Association. This harmful behavior of intentionally altering the perception of one’s life is precisely the accepted and expected thing on Pinterest.

The app is used for sharing and saving pictures that you think can be cobbled together into the picture-perfect, “Pinterest-worthy” lifestyle. It’s relatively commonplace to post and save images of other people, their clothes, homes, meals and lives on Pinterest, and then subsequently forget your own. 

The strict criteria that determine the social value of a picture and its subject perpetuate toxic standards on Pinterest, no doubt about it. Trends crowding the site create a vacuum, reducing any non-conformance to a lesser status. Without reverence and popularity on Pinterest, individuality is condemned, as one particular style or look is elevated to be the expectation.

The popular Pinterest aesthetic called “Coastal Granddaughter” is a hidden example of this disturbing truth. You may have seen pictures of blue and white color palettes, knit tops, and button-up linens. Yes, this particular style is one of many popular on Pinterest, so its exclusivity isn’t because of a condemnation of those who don’t dress this way. In actuality, the trend has seemed to favor pictures of white, thin, blond girls. Deviation from this particular look won’t earn as many saves, boosting creators with a born advantage and leaving others out. 

This inequity of representation creates a distinct culture on the site; users aspire to be someone else. They see someone wearing an outfit they like or a simply popular outfit, and the young audience on Pinterest starts to wish they had the looks of the subject of the post, the money to buy the clothes, or the fashion sense to style them.

One disturbing example was the trend “Outfits I’ll Wear When I’m Skinny.” A rash of boards following this or a similar theme popped up on Pinterest, illustrating exactly the degree of negative body image ideals perpetuated by the site. These boards often featured the most trendy clothing pieces; users felt excluded by trends, and Pinterest only exacerbated those issues as the center of the movement.

“I saw a lot of those boards on Pinterest last year, and it was so obvious how toxic that mindset is and how people were victimized by social media. All the body image stereotypes about looking a certain way are still really common on Pinterest though,” said Arcadia High School (AHS) sophomore Vania Ahmadi.

The core issue with the site is that it fosters a sense of insecurity. The incessant obsession with being someone else, the spiral of self-loathing, and the need to conform to the pictures on a screen, are all side-effects of using such a dangerous social media site and contribute to a mental health crisis associated with social media and young people.

“I find myself deleting and redownloading social media apps all the time on my phone,” said AHS sophomore Reena Hsieh. “It’s Instagram most of the time that starts to feel toxic, but I’ve never really considered that Pinterest is where a lot of the same things happen. You see a picture that looks aesthetic, the perfect lifestyle, and it makes people feel like they don’t stack up.”

Maybe users start by saving outfit ideas and fun ideas for selfies with friends. Then they move to motivational quotes, travel and vacation pictures, and even wedding decor. How long is it before a young adult starts a board of luxury items they’re convinced they need to own? Then how long before they’re pinning weight loss guides and toxic body image goals? How long after that will they be saving cosmetic surgery inspiration pictures? Just like that, the fun concept of an idea catalog website has devolved into people with Pinterest boards for every single part of their lives, inviting an epidemic of self-hatred for not fitting the image.

Pinterest has a feature that creates a list of products similar to the item in a picture. Seems like a useful tool, but the stark difference between Pinterest and reality makes it seem more like a slap in the face. It’s a cruel metaphor for the entire dynamic of Pinterest when the app suggests the cheap, uglier version of your perfect outfit. Or a piece of furniture that you would kill to own. Or any product that is so completely different from the picture that you have to scoff. The entire app’s premise is to present an ideal lifestyle that is essentially unattainable and creates a black hole for the young adults who try. 

The whole idea of Pinterest is unattainable and unrealistic toxicity, disguised as uplifting inspiration.


Photo courtesy of UNSPLASH.COM