As a somewhat reluctant Pinterest user, I knew two things going in.
- Pinterest is full of inspiring pictures.
- Those pictures lead to some very unrealistic expectations.
The photographs are beautiful, and every recipe, DIY project and exercise plan is described as “easy”.
The first thing I tried was this recipe for a salad in a Mason jar. It promises everything that Pinterest is supposed to be: DIY, healthy, quick, make my life easier. On the right is the pin I followed. On the left is the salad I made. While the salad I made tasted great, you can’t see flavor, you can only see appearance, and the appearance is pretty lacking.
Now, I honestly don’t much care what my lunch looks like, so I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed. But the expectations that are set by the perfect images can be much more problematic for one of the most popular types of pins: weight loss and exercise.
If you search Pinterest for “weight loss” you’ll find literally hundreds of pins. In the first 200 pins that came up I saw 1 “normal” woman encouraging everyone to love their body, 2 men (one of whom was Dr. Oz and his latest miracle weight loss diet), and about 80 hyper-fit women.
Some of the recipes, plans and suggestions in these pins seem totally reasonable (I am neither a nutritionist nor an exercise physiologist), but some of them seem dangerously unrealistic even to a layperson.
The 1200 calorie diet, the lemon juice fast, and the “lose 10 pounds in a week” aren’t anything new, but the medium is.
When I see these weight loss ideas in a magazine, next to a picture of a fantastically fit and skinny woman, I know that she was professionally photographed, and may have nothing to do with the article in question. But when I see these things on Pinterest, where everything is posted by “regular people” (other users), then I might think that these are realistic and achievable expectations. And that can cause a world of hurt and disappointment.
But then another aspect of Pinterest comes to the rescue. One of the great things about the Pinterest community is that they’re happy to acknowledge and embrace failure. It’s even got it’s own name: “Pinterest Fails” (creative, no, descriptive, yes). People willingly post their failed attempts to re-create Pinterest projects, so others can laugh, or commiserate. With this outlet for failures, the barriers to trying something new are greatly reduced. If you try something and it works, great! If it doesn’t work, well, it can go on Pinterest fails and hopefully people will find it instructive (how not to do X) or at least funny.
Clay Shirky describes in “Here Comes Everybody” how communities with a high tolerance for failure can generate great creativity and productivity. Is everything on Pinterest or Youtube great? No, most of it is terrible. But because the barriers to entry are so low, and the cost of failure is minimal, many more people are willing to try. What it means for consumers is that you have to be prepared to spend time filtering pins to find what works.
By balancing the generous display of failures against the unrealistic expectations of weight loss photos, Pinterest becomes more than the sum of its parts.