Friday, February 26, 2010

NED Awareness Week: Eating Disorders and "Culture"

**WARNING: This post contains images that may be considered not safe for work, or considered to be triggers suffering from or recovering from an eating disorder**

As the warning above suggests, I'm going to dive a little deeper into the cultural social issues regarding eating disorders. I am saying now that I do not condone supporting eating disorders nor do I believe that those with eating disorders should be judged and shunned. I write this entry with all seriousness (and with a little bit of apprehension). Some of you may be familiar with what I am going to write about, and some of you may recoil and react in a shocked, or even negative way. I'd say that I would love discussion, but it seemed that y'all are shy or scared of commenting anyway. Again, I speak only from personal experience and research, and not from a stance of professional authority. Here it goes.

What has been of interest to me (both analytically and personally) is the culture that has evolved around eating disorders. For those of you that don't know, there is a whole sub-culture (not sure if that's the right word...) of "Pro-Ana" ("Pro-Anorexia") individuals. Especially with the emergence of the internet, what began as a more or less underground webring of webpages and sites dedicated to the support of those living with eating disorders, has exploded with the creation of blogging and online communities such as and And no, I don't blame the internet and consider it a bad thing. It's a tool that people use, and like people, the way that it is used is two-faced as well. At the same time, websites and these online communities have also created a haven and a safe place for people to be more open about their own personal experiences and help others recovering from eating disorders.

Oh yes, and I apologize if this entry is a little clunky and not the most elegant read. Because of my own experiences and exposure to those suffering from eating disorders, this is a little hard to write about at times.

I remember back in the early part of the 2000s, there had been some discussion about Pro-Ana websites. One ridiculously hot and lazy afternoon after class, instead of studying for my AP US History class in high school, I decided to sprawl on the sofa in front of the TV and channel surf. If memory serves me correctly, there really isn't much on in the early afternoon except children's cartoons, soap operas, and TV talk shows like Dr. Phil and Oprah. So, while channel surfing, I stumbled across Oprah (yes, Oprah! Don't judge me. I swear it's the only Oprah episode I ever watched. And I hate the Oprah Book club, grrrr. I am ashamed of carrying around a book with a giant "O" sticker on it, augh. Actually, come to think of it, I'm not sure if it was Oprah. Or Dr. Phil. Or somebody else... but we'll just stick with Opera for now) talking to a young girl and how she had developed an eating disorder which had begun when her mother had started to diet. This then delved into a spiel about Pro-Ana websites.

Not only do these websites support fellow strangers suffering from eating disorders through encouraging words and phrases such as "Nothing tastes as good as hunger," and "I envy your hipbones," but through specific song lyrics, tips for starving yourself and hiding your eating disorder, and what seems to be a favorite, "Thinspiration." Thinspiration, or "Thinspo," are images that people post and share online of individuals who they deem to be "beautiful" or "perfect." What many people discuss is this desire to reach "perfection," or this ideal image that they have in their heads. Some, of not many, of those suffering from eating disorders are plagued with this desire to be the perfect person. More often than not, it's not about the food or even to be considered the "hottest person in the room," (though it's the latter as well at times) but it's about being that perfect person, in control of him/herself in all aspects of life. Anyhow, that's a digression.

I have put the rest of the entry behind a cut because there are images that people might be sensitive to.

Thinspo ranges from images of anything from celebrities to supermodels, to just a "normal" person at home or on the streets. Many people often have a select few people as his/her "inspiration," whether it be the famous supermodels Twiggy or Kate Moss, or celebrities such as Christina Aguilera in her skinnier days or Kiera Knightly.

Thinspo may also come in the form of a fellow person that has an eating disorder as well, and is close to his/her "ideal" (the interesting part is, they often never feel like they have reached perfection).

It seems, also, that some people tend to have a focus on a specific part of the body, whether it be having razor-sharp hip-bones or collar bones, the most ridiculously long and slender arms you've ever seen, or having ribs that stick out.

From my observation, it seems that many people react in a very disgusted way, some times vocally stating how disturbed they are, that none of these images are attractive, and that the wafer-thin girls (and guys, but it's easier to find female Thinspo. However, this is not to say that there isn't a large group of males suffering from eating disorders as well) are just unhealthy-looking. Sure, many people say this, but at the same time, we still manage to be a very image-conscious society, and if you're really honest with yourself, I'm sure you can admit favoring certain body types of others, and that our society does tend to favor the more slender over the more... rotund.

Still, I want to note again, that those suffering from anorexia and/or bulimia have developed a skewed sense of what is "beautiful," "perfect," and "normal." Ribs and shoulder blades that could carve diamonds are hailed as the Holy Grail. Deep, sunken cheekbones are the way to go. And limbs where the joints aren't the same circumference (or larger circumference) as the rest of their arm or leg are considered to be fat.

I have come across many different types of websites discussing this issue. The number of Pro-Ana websites and the number of available Thinspo seems to have grown exponentially over the past decade or so. It makes me sad to see so many still out there. At the same time, I have also seen many Pro-Ana websites shut down, or required to put a disclaimer before individuals can enter the site.

Another side that I have seen, are posts by people hailing the more curvaceous woman and the bigger man, and shunning those size 4 or smaller. I have even seen posts just ridiculing those suffering from eating disorders and labeling those individual as just "shallow" and "stupid." As great at this "revolution" against the prepubescent body type is taking place, it also makes me sad, as it is just a perpetuation of this focus on image. Genetics and environment play such a large role in body type and size, and regardless of how much we say we acknowledge it and the fact that "Healthy is what matters," it seems to be put to the wayside more often than not.

Anyhow, that's all I have to say for now. Take care.


  1. Haha, I fail. I noticed it at some point and was going to change it but forgot to. I feel sill.y

  2. What disturbs me most about a pro-ana website is the people you know are there living comfortably while cheering on someone harming their body.

  3. @Allen: Honestly, I never felt that way on pro-ana sites. I don't think that's really the biggest concern.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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