Online communities for those with eating disorders have been around almost as long as internet access, but have been a topic of discussion recently with coverage at Jezebel, Junkfood Science, and the news (due to the recent closing of some sites). It’s a difficult issue to cover, as I don’t want to link to the sites in question. From browsing a few of them, however, the messaging is disturbing – users (seemingly mostly young girls) share fasting tips, brag about how little they’re eating, and document their constant goal of a lower weight.
Last year, Feministing noted a study that suggested these websites were harmful, but what can be done? Some web hosts have tried to shut down these sites as they find them; Microsoft recently removed four such sites in Spain following complaints that they were endangering girls’ lives. One recent essay describes the lengths “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia, or supporting anorexia-related behaviors) and “pro-mia” (pro-bulimia) website creators go to in order to avoid detection and deletion. Other “pro-ana” websites remain, and online giant YouTube seems to allow the posting of “thinspiration” videos that are intended to encourage people in their quest to shrink as much as possible.
It seems nearly impossible to shut down all of the sites of this nature, and I suspect that doing so would do little to address the root problems of the eating disordered individuals who frequent them. It’s also practically impossible to try to reach all of those users and help them find tools for recovery. What’s your take on this dilemma? Should web hosts shut down the sites? How does that square with free speech concerns? What’s a better solution to this problem? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Some eating disorder resources:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- MedlinePlus: Eating Disorders – info from the National Library of Medicine
- Something Fishy – popular recovery-focused website
In other news: