Pro-ana: A movement under attack

Eliza Burke defines thinspiration as a “range of photographs of slender, sometimes clinically anorexic women and celebrities used to inspire starvation” (63). Thinspiration involves the strategic decontextualisation of imagery contained in various media artefacts which do not, at the surface, purport to encourage eating disordered behaviour. The hashtag commonly emerges in content emanating from the pro-anorexia community, an online group who encourage and reinforce practices of eating disordered behaviours.

In 2015, pro-ana are a movement under constant attack by exterior forces such as ‘haters’ and ‘censors’ who seek to degrade and undermine the movement out of a sense of disgust at the discourse work performed in thinspiration. In April, the French Parliament released a law which criminalises thinspiration content, stating those found guilty of encouraging “excessive thinness” by promoting “prolonged dietary restrictions” will face up to a year in prison and a 10,000 Euro ($10,880 AUD) fine. Additionally, the platforms most commonly used by the group, Instagram and Tumblr now present lengthy content advisory warnings when certain at risk search terms are entered. Thinspiration is classed as one of these, and even other incarnations of the word designed to get around the content warnings such as “thinspoooo” or “thinsparation” return the same warning.

Unlike the friendly tone of many wellness blogs emerging in fitspiration and clean eating, thinspiration presents us with an almost militant textual language. Tumblr blogs and Instagram accounts contain manifestos on the user’s subjective and collective cause in conveying thinspiration to the world. As a movement which attempts to divert discourse about anorexia away from clinical interpretations, the pro-ana community appear constantly mobilised in the battle for representation. Account descriptions contain mission statements, commandments, odes and prayers written to the goddess “ana”; an omnipotent frenemy who inflects their lives with bodily suffering and weight loss rewards.

The user appears in constant anxiety over affirming and reaffirming what the “ana” experience is and what it isn’t but, despite its tone of collective militance, the community’s definition of this does not appear to be uniform.

Some sites take up the “ana” cause with a note of liberation; anorexia is not a disease, but a life style choice taken up by those equal to the Herculean task of self starvation. Here there is a worship of mind over body, an eschewing of corporeal needs and wants in order to gain an affinity with an alternative higher power, ana. 

In other blogs eating disorders are acknowledged as a clinical disease, but one that is revelled in due to the subversive status of being “ana”. While seeming to reject clinical ideas of the healthy body, these blogs still take up these as the norm and revel in the fact that they are not “normal”, rather than looking toward re-evaluating the “ana” experience as in the previous example. 

The third category of blogs heavily involve tones of self hatred. Where in the previous two examples, “ana” is a body state that is seen as obtainable if one follows the right rules, this area of the community appear to use Tumblr and Instagram to represent their distress at the impossibility of this “thin ideal”. However this is not done in an empowering fashion, akin to recent trends in “fatspiration” which sees curvy females posting images of themselves in celebration. Here, users express their frustration and distress at their failings, binges and doubts about the process of being “ana” and use thinspiration as an extension of their self hatred ie. “I will never be her”. This area of the community are perhaps the most concerning, however there appears to be more genuine offerings of support from other users within this section in ways that would be conventionally acknowledged as healthy.

Work Cited

Burke, Eliza. “Pro-Anorexia and the Internet: A Tangled Web of Representation and (Dis) Embodiment.” Counselling, Psychotherapy, and Health 5.1 (2009): 60-81. Print.

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