Monday, February 25, 2008

Me and mia, Ann and ana

Isn't it ironic how National Eating Disorder Awareness Week comes on the coattails of the Oscars, of which I spent most of drooling over the skinny gorgeousness of Keri Russell and Marion Cotillard? But it is NEDAW, and that means more anecdotes!

Jezebel just put out an article about pro-ana websites and Facebook groups and the responsibility the webmasters have of curtailing their power. I use Livejournal to stay up-to-date on my Mary-Kate and Ashley fashion, but I know that a lot of girls use it as "thinspiration." I've always been fascinated with the pro-ana mindset: Thin is IN and all that. And yes, I do tend to think the more emaciated you are, the more beautiful you are; I liked Mary-Kate better when she was swathed in layers and looked like a brisk wind might tip her over. That being said, I admit that it's probably due to a lot of cultural and societal mindfucking, and I know that anorexia is a serious disorder (look no further than the award-winning HBO documentary Thin to understand that). But the issue of pro-ana content on websites is particularly dangerous territory.

At the beginning of senior year I became obsessed with being thin. Catabolic foods? Check. Thinspirational photos of Mary-Kate Olsen and Nicole Richie? Check check. Controlling what I ate became this part of my OCD that seemed safe and comforting. It was also secret: it only lasted for a month or two before I got sick of it, but I definitely had a budding, well, thing about food. And looking at pro-ana websites definitely helped me stick to my guns for the few weeks I decided I wanted to do this thing.

The insecurity, the shame, the awfulness of eating disorders is laid out like holy literature in sites like these. Girls lament the fact that they've gained an ounce, discuss ways to hide their disorder, and share dangerous dieting tips. It's a bizarre little world that they've created for themselves, and celebrities with gaunt frames are the secret torch bearers of places like these. In this way, the media has a hell of a lot to do with the rampant eating disorder epidemic; but it's not just that. The internet has transformed communication and created subcultures and enclaves for people to not only discuss their problems, but to exacerbate them.

That being said, I don't think Facebook has a responsibility to stop these groups. This is America. People have a right to talk about their sicknesses, even if it makes their sickness worse. In the end, it's up to peoples' families to help them overcome their eating obstacles. The internet might always be dangerous in situations like these: from learning how to build bombs or bullying people via Myspace to the progression of a very serious illness that affects people both physically and psychologically. Perhaps because Anorexia is so rooted in the psychological, these groups do create tremendous harm; but I don't think that they shouldn't be allowed to exist. I wish they didn't; maybe then my little foray into the world of EDs would have been even more shortlived than it was, but the fact is: we as humans have agency, and if that agency leads us to a place that is dark and sad and perpetuates a sickness... then maybe we just have to live with that.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please go here.

I myself am going to go eat a panini.


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