The words “perfection” and “beauty” plead for my attention as I skim through my dashboard. I pause, immediately regretting my kill-the-cat type of curiosity. What I see is a black and white photo of an emaciated woman. My stomach churned, as if doing somersaults just to torture me. Despite never suffering from an eating disorder myself, I knew what the picture implied. Somehow I couldn’t stop staring, and I knew I had to share this with someone-anyone.
Tumblr is my home away from home. It’s a place that allows me to cry over fictional characters, look up cheap recipes to fit my very tight budget, and to interact with other people that actually share my interests (it still amazes me how many other people enjoy NBC’s Hannibal, to be honest). It does, however, have its sinister side. I’ve tried to keep myself in the dark, but it’s becoming hard to ignore. And perhaps it should be talked about instead of kept hush hush, anyway.
It’s no lie that eating disorders are deadly. Among the many eating disorders, anorexia, bulimia, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) are among the most popular portrayed on tumblr. Anorexia is categorized by self-restricting type and binging/purging type. We often think of it in terms of self-restricting type, meaning the person barely eats which causes excessive weight loss. The lack of nutrients supplied to the body can lead to things such as brittle bones, hair loss, and even death.
In contrast, bulimia involves episodes of binge eating. Excessive amounts of calories are consumed and then discarded by vomiting. EDNOS means its namesake, meaning that the person can display symptoms that fit into multiple categories.
What they all have in common is intense anxiety over losing weight and distorted body image. Use of laxatives to avoid weight gain and excessive exercising may be present as well.
Many sufferers turn to social media for diet tips, motivation, and to share pictures of their progress. Unfortunately, this only adds fuel to the fire to those that really do have an eating disorder.
In early 2012, tumblr announced the banning of eating disorder and self-harm blogs(Zafar,2012). The infamous blogging platform now provides links to help when trying to access tags such as #thinsperation, #thinspo, #pro ana, and #pro mia. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people from romanticizing such bold subjects.
In one study, 15 pro-eating disorder blogs on tumblr were analyzed. Each blogger was anonymous and identified themselves as female. “Results indicate that although each individual blog is unique to its owner, common concepts existed among the majority” (Gies & Martino, 2014). This shows how influential and powerful social media can make one idea. Some users see eating disorders as a lifestyle, which is a big no-no.
Tumblr isn’t the only social media platform that has the same problem. A UC Davis study analyzed content that appears on twitter and pinterest under the tags #thinspiration and #thinspo.
Seeing that a picture has 60 likes, for example, may be a form of positive reinforcement (Scutti, 2015). Think about it this way. Wouldn’t you rather have 4 cookies instead of 1? And the more cookies you eat, the more satisfying it is to your sweet tooth.
Luckily, tumblr has something called tumblr savior that can blacklist tags so that you can often avoid this type of content. It can be downloaded at the Chrome Web Store and added on to Firefox. There is also a mobile app called whiteboard, which serves the same purpose. But is this type of application enough or should parents be monitoring more of what happens on social media? Is it just teenage girls that can fall victim to these grotesque images and sayings, or is there an impact on more audiences than we realize? Could those that view it as a lifestyle end up developing an eating disorder?
Gies, J., & Martino, S. (2014). Uncovering ED: A qualitative analysis of personal blogs managed by individuals with eating disorders. The Qualitative Report, 19(29), 1-15.
Scutti, S. (2015, May 11). Body Image And Social Media: Scientists Analyze Harmful ‘Thinspiration’ Photos Of Women. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from http://www.medicaldaily.com/body-image-and-social-media-scientists-analyze-harmful-thinspiration-photos-women-332830
Zafar, A. (2012, February 24). Tumblr Bans Pro-Eating Disorder and Other Self-Harm Blogs. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/02/24/tumblr-bans-pro-eating-disorder-and-other-self-harm-blogs/
Edited by: Katherine Kouma