Social Media is allowing young women new ways to perform and represent body image. Through the use of the hashtags clean eating, thinspiration and fitspiration on Instagram and Tumblr, young women appear to be participating in communities that validate eating disordered behaviours. My thesis seeks to use Mary Douglas’s anthropological understanding of purity and danger as a way of articulating how social media is being used to perform identity in the context of these disorders.
Douglas’s influential theory posits an idealised notion of the body as a pure object, but since such absolute purity is unobtainable, the body is regarded as a defiled and dirty object. In a bid to get closer to an impossible notion of purity, Douglas contends that rituals of privation are performed upon the body in order to purify it. Using Douglas’s theory as a framework for my content analysis of the use of the three hashtags on Instagram and Tumblr, I seek to examine how the use of social media by young women is one of these rituals of privation.
It is my hope that understanding these practices critically may provide insights to change how we communicate health education campaigns seeking to promote positive body image for young women.