One of the most shocking and confusing things about analysing pro ana is the communal aspect of user’s interactions. They appear to express a genuine wish to support each other and it is easy to assume that there is a sympathetic aspect to the movement when you imagine a group of vulnerable young girls who find solace in friendships realised online. Many of the accounts I perused last night used language of suicide, suffocation and self harm in relation to ‘ana’. What was interesting was the comment sections of their posts where sympathetic language was used to address other users commenting on their images. Users referred to each other as “lovely”, “babes”, terms I myself use to address close friends. They offered messages of love and support to each other ie. “Remember you are beautiful and I love you hon” which at first glance seem a bit out of place with my own assumptions about the community. I guess I expect these girls to be constantly putting each other down, not affirming that the other is ‘beautiful’ as she is. I have to keep reminding myself that these messages of support aren’t actually genuine lifelines to steer girls on a path toward healthy mental states, they are reinforcements of eating disordered behaviours.
This post is a case in point. I came across the hashtag “anabuddyneeded” on a few popular accounts. It is used either by girls starting out their ‘ana journey’ or by established accounts using their influence to draw potential ‘ana buddies’ to accounts that don’t have as many followers. This one depicts an account by a user with only a handful of followers who is looking to advertise for an ana buddy, a virtual friend who will fast in real time with her for the established target of 4 days. A number of accounts volunteer, as you can see, providing a ‘kik’ username (kik is an IM site popular with young girls where anyone can contact you if they have your username) to extend the discussion privately.
This comment section discusses the user’s fear of their families finding out about their instagram accounts, which all repost imagery of suicide, eating disordered slogans and imagery, tips on fasting and maintaining secrecy. The four different accounts share stories of their visceral fear at discovery by a family member. It’s interesting how brazen and open thinspo accounts are, documenting everything about their lives down to a potential date of suicide, but the language of these comments hints at the fear, anxiety and shame the girls feel at the threat of discovery. They sound vulnerable and its a reminder that the stuff I’m looking at is created by a vulnerable tween and not a monster. I’m forgetting that and perhaps letting my own hatred and fear of thinspo cloud my study of it.