Is Social Media Facilitating Eating Disorders?

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Image by Sarah Hill

Image by Sarah Hill

For years, much of the discussion surrounding eating disorders and the cultural factors which contribute to them has focused on media, marketing, and the idealization of the human body through photo manipulation. That topic is still as relevant as ever, but another part of modern life is beginning to draw attention for its own role in facilitating eating disorders.

In the case of advertising creating a false or misleading bar for our health and bodies, the motivation for the types of imagery is the desire to sell something by depicting the perceived ideal, even if it ignores reality in almost every way. But, what motivates the worrying number of “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) or “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) communities that have been uncovered on social media?

Marcela Rojas from The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News recently explored social media’s growing influence on body image and contribution to eating disorders. Across sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest, there are countless communities centered around supporting one another’s self-destructive behaviors. This includes offering tips and tricks, as well as sharing “motivational” images with shocking messages such as one urging viewers to “skip dinner, be thinner.”

While Rojas brings up these deeply troubling trends and communities that cause many recovering eating disorder sufferers to avoid social media altogether as a means of protecting oneself from potentially triggering images or statements, she also highlights some ways social media helps those seeking recovery.

In response to pro-eating disorder hashtags such as #thinsprogram, #thighgap, and #bonespo, some individuals have begun sharing their stories, photos from recovery, and their own inspirational statements using hashtags like #edrecovery, #edsoldier, and #foodisfuel.

Pro-eating disorder communities have seemingly existed online since the invention of the internet, but the growing movement and community effort to support those seeking recovery and eating disorder treatment is a promising sign that society may be finally taking important steps towards addressing eating disorders.

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