When I first began this project, I feel it was very much an act of self help. I started by putting myself at the centre of the project so I could remove it later, a choice which I explored a lot in my first precursor. Additionally I felt a personal connection was behind my idea for the project, having a little sister active in an environment where she may be hypothetically exposed to this imagery, popular with girls her age. It was out of a sense of strange protectiveness that I embarked on a process of digitising my younger self.
I was grappling with a research question which I didn’t know why I wanted to spend a year of my life researching. What I wasn’t doing was grappling with an eating disorder. Much literary discussion of eating disordered behaviours through the lens of cultural theory is written by women who have been through these illnesses. Probyn is an example of a famous theorist who has made a large contribution to our understanding of the social meanings behind anorexia, who states explicitly she is a surviver of the illness and embeds it into her discussion of the physical experience of the disorder. I have not ever experienced eating disordered behaviours in my life yet I have spent a lot of my life being absolutely fascinated by them. Conducting the kind of micro ethnographic study I have done through my observation of the interactions between followers of pro ana in this precursor I believe is further validation of this morbid fascination I have always held.
Like any rational person, I view lots of this stuff with abject revulsion. That’s one of the things doing this precursor project in both its incarnations has really affirmed for me. This has been an important realisation for me as it has made me reassess the gaze I’m placing upon these images. I’m not sure how I can remain objective in my research if I am still imposing my own personal feelings of anger and revulsion at these images. I don’t think I ever can remove these feelings from my process of viewing thinspiration but what I’ve realised along the way is in no way can I make conclusions at this level of study about the actual physical, offline process of the user who views these images. I simply can’t. It’s easier to remain a bit objective once I figured out the research method I’m using is discourse analysis, looking at the language used by contributors to thinspiration and making claims as to how this is reflective of social values. My approach means I am able to reassess the gaze I’m placing on these images as now I evaluate them as symbols/signs of society reproduced in small on a social media platform. I cannot claim they are anything else in one year of study.