Fringe Group That Photoshops Images of Plus-Size Women to Make Them Thinner: 'It's Wrong to Accept Being Obese as OK'

Project Harpoon has been called "insulting" and "disgusting," but a spokesman tells PEOPLE that the group does more good than harm

Photo: Project Harpoon

A group of fat-shaming gamers is sparking outrage across the Internet for Photoshopping pictures of plus-size people – including stars and models – to make them look thinner.

Targets of Project Harpoon include Meghan Trainor and Melissa McCarthy – although most of their subjects are everyday women who post photos on social media.

Nick Baskins, a leader of the group – which has been in existence for about a week – exclusively told PEOPLE that he and his friends don’t mean to offend. “Our intention is not to harm, oppress, or ‘trigger’ anyone We get dozens of messages a day talking about how our photos have inspired them to go to the gym and maintain a better lifestyle.”

According to Baskins, Project Harpoon’s mission is to promote “thinner beauty” and “skinny acceptance.” The project’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts show side-by-side photos of plus-sized women (and a few men), with one side showing the original picture and the other featuring the person digitally altered to have a slimmer frame and sometimes narrowed bone structure.

The project, which Baskins says aims to show “both sides of modern-day beauty,” started when its founders met through a video game group and the online message board Reddit. They were dismayed by “transformations” of the game’s heroines, who went from stick-thin to more “realistic” body sizes. Changes like this have “paved the way for many people to renounce exercise and personal healthcare,” says Baskins.

“We are targeting the HAES movement (Healthy at Every Size),” he tells PEOPLE. “We believe that is simply not true, and while we respect any and all individuals, we believe it’s simply wrong to accept being obese as OK.”

The project has received criticism from both women and men who call it “insulting” and “disgusting.”

But Baskins says the designers behind Project Harpoon (who supposedly include men and women) disregard negative comments to “focus on inspiring and helping those who need it most.” He says they are not against people with “larger frames,” but are “pro-exercise and pro-fitness.”

Baskins declined to name the others involved in the group and would not reveal his age, where he is from, or release a photo of himself. “There are many people who will try to send me death threats,” he says.

The group’s goal is to encourage those who wish to get fit “by providing a number of images that give them something attainable,” says Baskins.

He adds: “It provides a metaphorical ‘kick’ that some people might need to start exercising that others believe may go against political correctness.”

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