TRIGGER ALERT. SENSITIVE SUBJECT MATTER CONCERNING PRO-ANA/MIA WEBSITES AND THINSPIRATION
So, it kind of went like this:
“I mean, I don’t fucking understand it! There are all of these people… All of these people fucking suffering. Waking up every day and hating themselves… Hating what they see. Are the bones enough? Can you adequately see your sternum today? What could be done to shed those pounds that HAVE to be food weight from the meal you let yourself eat the night before? You’re not fat. You’re just bloating. It’s the message that has a lot to do with it… Yeah – I mean the media shit… Yeah, ads and that junk. But there’s other stuff too! I mean like these pro-ana/mia websites, thinspo… That shit. It’s really adding to the pressures in a way that is so much more overt! Wait… What do you mean you haven’t heard about pro-Ana…? Oh, you’re in for a treat.”
Recently (as in Wednesday) I was directed to a link regarding a petition to cease the production of an Urban Outfitters T-shirt that read “Eat Less”. As disgusted as I was, I needed to do my research. The good news is that apparently the shirt was pulled from the online store in 2010. The bad news is that it was still circulating within the actual ‘in real life’ stores as a clothing item. Now. I was outraged (naturally), and I got on to the idea of the way disordered eating behavior is promoted throughout our culture. Right away we think “the media”. This is all well and good, but I am not quite ready to begin my rant on the way popular media (such as ads, television, that old hat) promotes and normalizes disordered eating patterns. This (likely series of) blog posts are going to require special attention and likely several installments – as we know that the media is a part of our culture that does the best job at socializing and perpetuating ideals and stereotypes. I wanted to take a different approach. The message that this dumb-ass, grey, baggy, shapeless, nasty T shirt gave me was that I was inadequate and in order to fix myself I needed to bite the figurative bullet and cease to eat. It also told me another thing.
The wearer of this dumb-ass, grey, baggy, shapeless, nasty T-shirt is also promoting a “lifestyle” (or better yet, a cult) of disordered eating along the lines of restricting the diet – something characteristic of anorexic tendencies. The message is clearly pro-ED, and pro-Anorexia (Ana). I decided then that I was going to explore this idea of Pro-Ana/Mia (Bulimia), through discussing pro-Ana/Mia websites and the thinspiration that is readily available to anyone who has access to a computer. These websites do not shape themselves on subtlety, as a magazine cover might. Pro-Ana/Mia sites are in your face and include the overt message that disordered eating can be something acquired through skill – that the body you obtain through your anorexia (for example), is a gift. You have the control to have gotten yourself there, now display and hold onto that control – because you are one step closer to being “beautiful”. Bottom line – this is really detrimental to the fact that these disorders are being portrayed as a choice, as something positive, coming with a reward for the victim’s hard work. It’s a piss off because it promotes, maintains and further pushes ED along, giving him strength and taking the strength away from those fighting the good fight to recovery. It places disordered eating in a positive light –something to strive for. Pair that with the cultural and societal pressures and place all of that on top of a psychologically vulnerable human being who has a few body-image issues and BAM – recipe for disaster.
I promise, this whole blog won’t be negative. I simply wish to raise people’s consciousness to the idea that pro eating disorder websites exist, are not nice, embody disordered eating as a subculture of sorts and are extremely dangerous. I also want to touch on the fact that the internet isn’t as prickish as we may think from examining some of its contents. Some positivity will come out of this, I swear! As many bad sites as there are out there – there are outlets for help. I’ll mention a few, what they are about, and where you can find out more. I’m also hoping to get a little bit of my story and journey included in this chapter.
I mentioned briefly that this pro-Ana stuff is almost embodying a sub-culture… A “group of people who are collectively organized in a network of symbols, rituals, and shared meanings” (Gailey 2009: 94). I felt that this was an accurate description put forth by Gailey, who studied pro-Ana/Mia sites as edgework and self-objectification, immersing themselves in that sub culture as they tried to learn more. The results were terrifying. I mean, I have been aware of pro-ED websites and the like, and have always felt so deeply for the people promoting these disorders as a lifestyle choice – a positive one at that (or rather, a choice with consequences that are deemed positive). But essentially, what I realized is that this sort of thinking not only reinforces the behavior associated with an eating disorder, but motivates people to continue, and makes it easier and easier to become a part of the subculture through endless “tips and tricks”, and “thinspo” – usually pictures of scary skinny models or the blog owners themselves posted in order to provide inspiration for their followers.
These websites are essentially the enemy of everything having to do with recovery, positive body image, and good self-esteem. It’s just … Opposite. For example – instead of a positive quote about recovery (“Just keep swimming”, “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, “never never never give up”), the sites are plastered with negative and detrimental quotes and motivations put in place to fuel triggers for disordered eating – keeping people stuck in place or promoting them to push themselves further (“Nothing will ever taste as good as being skinny feels”, “Perfection is only for the few, the strong”, “We are all given the gift of control. Some of us know how to use it, others don’t”). It’s just bad. Bad bad bad. It perpetuates and motivates several themes that Gailey (2009) identifies such as secrecy, skill, control, depression, fear, loneliness, perfectionism, pain, self-hated and so on.
I want to talk about control for a brief moment. It’s characteristic of my disorder at least. I mean… As disturbing as it sounds, there is a high attached to being able to control something in your life that you know you cannot live without. By restricting, you feel like you’re over powering yourself, that nothing can control you, and that you are strong. In exchange for this high, you do not realize that it is actually the disorder that is controlling you. It isn’t about “not listening to the warning signs” or “not listening to people warning you”. You don’t see it, you’re in denial (and that isn’t your fault). I just feel as if these pro-ED groups are using these blogs and tumblr pages as another means to exert control over themselves. By showing the world (via the internet) that they “have the power” to be committed enough to live with this disorder and are not “weak” enough to “let themselves go” and become fat again they believe that they are displaying that they are in control of their lives (which are essentially in a downward spiral).
There is so much self-hate and self-objectification associated with this shit. Curry and Ray (2010) identify the concept – the idea that self-concept is being assigned directly to a person’s beliefs about how they are viewed by others. They internalize what they believe others may be thinking about them. You can call it what you wish, but it’s reducing oneself to nothing but an object. By defining yourself and associating your self-worth with what you believe people may be thinking about you – you are in huge shit. It’s a shame that this is the way that most of our society tends to think. It’s how ad campaigns work, and it’s how these pro-ED sites penetrate deep into the minds of people who are struggling. By making the victim feel as if they are inadequate, they will internalize that idea and start believing it themselves. In the end, you end up subscribing to and buying into the “solution” to your inadequacy. In this case – thinspo and becoming a member of the pro-ED subculture – really and truly believing that this is the path to perfection, that you have a skill and a talent that separates you from the rest of society (making you elite) and that anyone trying to tell you otherwise is full of crock.
This pro-ED subculture is going to want to make the group as elite as possible. They do this by characterizing ED as a choice or a skill that only few have been given the gift to perfect. They use their pain as motivation. They are strong enough to endure, you are not. A lot of thinspo characterizes those in recovery as failures. So, essentially, I am not a real anorexic. Sorry guys, I’ve been lying to you this whole time. I am not pure and special enough to be a part of their elite group because I chose life. I’ve failed at my disease and I guess I’m just not fucking worthy.
Psh. Funny how that works.
I mean, it isn’t all about shoving ED down your throat (excuse the expression… And excuse the fact that the previous sentence was kind of dirty – or maybe that’s just my mind). There are also many out there who use sites of this nature to reach out. The subculture is all about finding people similar to yourself. This may include finding inspiration and motivation to continue, or finding like-minded individuals who want to get out of the cycle. It’s a like-minded community. With the rising of the internet – no one is ever truly alone. These people find friendship through their isolation. They can also find comfort, support and understanding among all of the other bullshit. It allows for people to remain anonymous in a public way and can be a way many people avoid the stigma attached to these sorts of illnesses (Curry & Ray 2010). However, as I mentioned, the internet can be an asshole. I won’t leave you thinking that pro-ED communities are just misunderstood monsters who really have good intentions. I mean – the intentions are good… They are good for those already caught in the cycle… Which is essentially bad because it continues the cycle. It’s fucked up. The internet can also be viewed as one of the biggies in spreading the culture of thinness to the non-Westernized world. Studies have even showed that the images Western cultures promote using waify models on television and through the internet being accessible to the wider population in other countries and other cultures have actually promoted and shown a rise in disordered eating behavior in the young female population! Now, tell me that isn’t fucked up! “Severely thin [is] synonymous to being sexy” – and that’s where the self-objectification comes in again. As I’ve said before, the emphasis putting value on thinness is going to fucking kill us all (Curry & Ray 2010).
On another interesting note – I’m working through this book that sort of addresses a lot of these issues (especially viewing disordered eating on as a culture on a cultural level). It’s called Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia and it’s pretty heavy, but it gets into a lot of this sort of idea. I keep thinking back to an example used in the book – where an anorexic woman went into treatment and was hated by the other women there. She was essentially threatening those in recovery because her existence acted as a trigger. The woman herself was reported to have been sitting proudly – aware that she was the only one in that room who was still “pure”.
So, I’ve highlighted a couple of things in this post. To summarize – Pro-ED subculture highlights (in my opinion) many antecedents of anorexic behavior (or disordered eating behavior) including, but not limited to continuing the promotion of thinness as a healthy sign of success, perfectionism, highly competitiveness within the environments that stress body thinness, low self-esteem and shows the heightened concern for appearance and body shape during physical changes over the life course (Curry & Ray 2010). They are dangerous and promote disordered eating in a way far more overt than the thinspo we encounter in everyday life such as through regular advertising, television and movies (I would like to mention here that thinspiration is not dead to me after this blog. It’ll rear its ugly head again, promise. Don’t forget my media blog! I’ll be talking about thinspiration in movies especially by using examples from a book called Body Shots: Hollywood and the Culture of Eating Disorders). They cause us to pay far more attention to eating disorders, however, not in a glamorized way as Hollywood would approach it. They are very elite and display to us the prevalence and weight mass culture (the internet in this case), which is accessible to nearly every person, carries in our everyday lives regarding our body image, how we are essentially failures at obtaining the skewed beauty ideal of the time, and a solution to that problem through starvation. They also produce like-minded thinking that borderlines religion (look up “The Thin Commandments” if you don’t believe me… Scary shit, bro) and idolizes a nasty disorder that kills nearly ten percent of those who contract it. Lastly (but not leastly!), they have an allure and mysteriousness about them that sucks people in. They’re almost like recruitment sites.
I mean. I was bullied as a kid. We all were. I was pretty rollie pollie, I’m not going to lie. Either way, kids in Junior High School are mean as fuck and I was bullied for my weight. Of course, I was one of the tallest girls in the class to boot, I wore glasses that were not flattering in the least, and had terrible acne. I was battin’ a thousand, I’m tellin’ you. ANYWAY, the internet was cool when I was 13, but it wasn’t as relied on as it is today. How often do you ask a question and then go straight to Google? Don’t Google that –but the answer is a lot. You do it a lot. So – would it not make sense for younger teens who could be getting made fun of because of their weight, feel chubby, or are feeling inadequate because of all of the beauty ideal bullshit being thrown at them in droves to simply hop on a computer in this day and age and type something into Google such as “I want to be skinny” hoping to receive diet tips. I’ll tell you, I Googled “I want to be skinny”.
Fucking Tumblr thinspo galore! It’s actually overwhelming.
So, you see how easy it is? Access to thinspo and pro-ED websites is pretty wide open. Exposure can lead to behavior imitation. A cycle of disordered eating or a continuation and reinforcement of disordered eating (as well as terrible self-esteem and other self-destructive behavior that is likely to follow).
Dear readers – this is serious shit. I know it looks bad, but there are people out there who feel choosing recovery is not failure. They take ED very seriously, and they want to help. Now, down the road I will likely devote an entire post to the help available to those suffering from this terrible disorder, but I would simply like to provide a few links – Just to show you that not all websites concerning ED are evil cesspools of darkness and ick.
Project HEAL – Help to Eat, Accept, and Live. They’re based in the States, but branches are popping up everywhere! Even here in Canada Land! They are an NGO who raises money through fundraisers in order to send people for Eating Disorder Treatment. You can get involved really easily too! Cool, right?
NEDA – National Eating Disorders Association. They act as a support for individuals and families affected by ED. They act as a catalyst for prevention, cures, and access to quality care! Their symbol is also the Eating Disorder recovery symbol (fun fact).
So, those are just a few to get you started. The Looking Glass Foundation for Eating Disorders is another one to check out – based in Vancouver. What they do is really great too!
So, there you have it. A bit of positivity to end this ridiculously ranty, angry, depressing blog post with. Well – I don’t know if I should think of it as depressing – more so as empowering. Getting angry about this shit and wanting to change it just shows you’re an activist – which in my opinion – isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I suppose I should also update you all on how I am doing. I’m not going to lie. Shit has gone down. My health is getting pretty terrible. I’m still steady at 122, but the chest pain has gotten worse. I cut a fuck ton of my hair off because I’m sort of sick of seeing it fall out. I have also decided to finish the remainder of my semester at home – with my family. They are the best support I can ask for right now besides all of my friends and others who have been there for me through all of this. I did a round trip to school and back today (yee haw for 10 hours on the road today!). I had an appointment with my psychologist (who is amazing, might I add), packed most of my shit, and came home. As I write this I realize that I forgot my fucking butt cushion in my apartment. Sitting in kitchen chairs is murder. Butt cushions make it better. I guess I’ll have to break my heart and spend ten bucks to get a new one. Damn.
Anyway. Bottom line here is that I’m living in a lot of fear. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. ED is going down. My recovery time is tremendous (nearly a decade if I keep on track), but I guess it’s something to work toward. I’m trying to take negatives and turn them into positives. I’m still doing a lot of yoga, and as soon as my heart can handle it, I’m going to start kick boxing. Eating hurts like hell, but I try to do it anyway. The hardest thing for me right now is telling myself that I have not failed in any way by deciding to take this time at home. I made the right decision in the end because it is here I know I will always have unconditional support… That, and I really like when my mama hugs me.
Stay positive – quit thinking you are inadequate. You’re fuckin’ beautiful, so deal with it. We all have our demons, but we’ve also got fight. Embrace that.
Curry, J. & Ray. S. (2010). Starving for support: How women with anorexia receive ‘thinspiration’ on the internet. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 5, 358-373.
Gailey, A. (2009). Starving is the most fun a girl can have: The pro-ana subculture as edgework. Springer Science & Business Media, 17, 93-108