Ana and Mia: Popularization and Promotion of Eating Disorders on Social Media

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Websites, blogs and images that are pro ana or pro mia promote anorexia or bulimia (ana and mia) by providing young people with “thinspiration”  or “thinspo” (inspiration in the form of photos of skinny women or desirable bodies) and tips on how to lose weight by sticking to the “rules” of anorexia or bulimia. The eating disorders are often personified as Ana and Mia, imaginary friends there to help you on your way to perfection. Some “pro” communities are there to offer support and a forum for discussion on eating disorders for those who suffer from them, while other communities insist that ana and mia are lifestyle choices, and offer tips to “succeed”, such as crash diets like the ABC Diet (ana boot camp), posting caloric intakes daily as part of a contest to see who can eat the least, tips on how to reduce hunger pangs, and ways to hide the disorder from friends and family.

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The promotion of eating disorders is littered with pithy sayings, as well. Phrases such as “A second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” and “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (which can be attributed to Kate Moss in a 2009 interview), become mantras in the community, emblazoned across thinspo photos.

It’s well-documented in the scientific community that although the pro-ana and pro-mia community is a support network by nature, the support offered is often detrimental to recovery or living without an eating disorder. People encounter promotion of eating disorders either by looking to lose weight healthily, and then stumbling across it, or by looking for those suffering with similar issues.

Pro-ana and pro-mia media make it extremely difficult to escape the confines of an eating disorder if you are already living with one, and can easily snare those with vulnerabilities and insecurities. If you search the pro ana tag on tumblr, you are inundated with black and white pictures of painfully thin young women, poems, text posts admonishing eating over calorie limits, caloric intakes, and post upon post about thigh gaps and collarbones.

Because eating disorders are such isolating conditions, those who live with them find a surrogate family in the form of pro ana or pro mia communities. Speaking from personal experience, I had friends I met on tumblr who I would text daily, discussing our hunger pangs and meticulously laying out plans for our weekly caloric intakes. Disordered behavior, from as innocuous seeming as only eating half your meal and then throwing the other half out to as obvious and damaged as deliberately purging after a meal, is normalized and accepted in the eating disorder promotion communities. Surrounded by a virtual community of those applauding your symptoms, it becomes nearly impossible to leave those offering you support.

Dr. John Morgan, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Eating Disorders section has this to say on pro ana and pro mia websites:

“We’re concerned about their toxicity but the more they are discussed, the more people tend to look for them,” he explains. “It’s like giving talks in schools on the issue – one or two in the class will go and starve themselves afterwards. We want healthcare professionals to be aware of the negative sites, but stop sufferers searching for them. There’s a paradox whereby we’re worried but we don’t know what to do.”

In the coming days, I’ll be compiling interviews with people who have survived eating disorders and will be including their thoughts on pro ana, pro mia and thinspiration in general.

Up next: recovery communities in contrast with disordered communities

NEDAwareness Week 2014

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The 2014 NEDAwareness Week runs from February 23rd-March 1st this year. NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) has a yearly initiative to raise awareness of eating disorders, and increasingly uses social media as a tool to do so. The theme of 2014’s week is “I Had No Idea”, focusing on ending on misconceptions surrounding these disorders. The key messages this year are:

  • Eating disorders are serious illnesses, not lifestyle choices.
  • Education, early intervention, and access to care are critical.
  • Help is available, and recovery is possible. 

NEDA is asking everyone to do one thing this year to dispel a misconception about eating disorders, with a huge range of ways to get involved, from putting up posters and distributing pamphlets to hosting an info session or serving as a speaker. NEDA also offers infographics and images to post on Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, NEDA is using the hashtag #adiosED to promote awareness on Twitter, and #capturehope on Instagram.

Promoting understanding is one of NEDA’s strongpoints. A variety of articles on the NEDAwareness website is available, with viewpoints from different genders, ages, races and socioeconomic statuses. 

I’ve been searching the tags “pro-ana”, “pro-mia”, and “NEDAwareness” on Tumblr for the past few days and have put out a call for submissions about how the site has affected users’ perception of ED’s and if it has influenced their illness at all. Once I compile a good amount of submissions, I will post highlights at the end of NEDAwareness Week. 

Whether it be participating in a NEDA Walk, blogging about eating disorders, participating in the Twitter and Instagram campaigns, or raising awareness in your community, everyone can be a part of saving a life. The link below has just several ideas and I encourage you to try one, or come up with your own way to spread awareness and break down misconceptions. 

Get Involved

Project Proposal

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Throughout this project, I will be examining how feminism and eating disorders (especially the process of recovering from eating disorders) intersect. Much of the community surrounding people recovering and living with eating disorders (ED’s) exists on social media, particularly on blogging platforms. While social media can provide a supportive environment, often it can bring down those dealing with disordered eating. I am interested in how feminism informs the body positivity movement, the experience of someone living with an eating disorder, and how the community can foster recovery.

As a former member of the eating disorder community on Tumblr, I feel that I have a unique perspective on this issue. I plan on using information from different social media platforms, informal interviews with members of both the feminist and ED communities, and other sources, such as young adult fiction, academic journals, and organizations such as NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association).

The instances of eating disorders is rising in our population, especially in young women. There are a multitude of studies examining the comorbidity and mortality rates associated with ED’s, and the statistics are sobering. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue, up to 20% (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2007), and rates are increasing across socioeconomic and ethnic groups. With the obvious obsession with thinness, especially in the mainstream media, and the rise of cyberbullying, young people are increasingly more susceptible to developing disordered eating habits. Current events, such as Aerie’s #aeriereal campaign and the abundance of “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” pages on blogging platforms are of particular interest to me, as they raise questions of bodily autonomy and society’s unrealistic expectations of young women.

As a survivor of an eating disorder, this project has personal significance to me. I hope to critically examine the role of social media on eating disorders, along with the role of feminism in both active eating disorders and recovery.