In a piece for xoJane.com, Lesley Kinzel argues that the outrage over blogs that promote anorexia – i.e. the efforts by Pinterest and Tumblr to take down “pro-ana” or “thinspiration” pages -- is actually making things worse.
Shame, Kinzel points out, is a driving force behind eating disorders. So shaming anorexics by rushing at their blogs with flaming torches and scarlet “A”s may only encourage them to retreat further into the shadows, and away from recovery. She sites a recent Indiana University study that suggests these sites may actually provide people with eating disorders a support network, not just encourage their unhealthy behavior.
“ED sufferers are both discovering and building the pro-ana underground out of a need to have a space in which their illness is understood and their experiences are shared,” Kinzel writes, “a need to feel less alone.” But there’s a big difference between support for sufferers of a disease and pages that cheerfully provide tips for how to hide the disease from loved ones, and stories about feeling shame over having eaten a small meal.
The issue here is that anorexia needs to be discussed out in the open as a problem that can be overcome, not as something disgusting that should be hidden. The stigma is what drives sufferers together, but these sites are less like support groups and more like rehab clinics run only by addicts – it’s no surprise that the conversation quickly turns from recovery to tricks of the trade.
The main push behind Kinzel’s argument against the anti-pro-ana crusade is that eating disorders aren’t generally recognized as the mental disorder that they are, and are therefore unduly stigmatized.
But what would happen if there were pro-schizophrenic pages popping up on Pinterest, encouraging the mentally ill to stop taking their medication – promoting the idea that the more delusional, the more beautiful? Would we be talking about how they’re important safe spaces, or would the CDC jump all over them for posing a danger to the mentally ill and to society at large?
One important thing that’s missing from Kinzel’s plea to let the pro-ana sites be is that while anorexia is a mental illness, it can be learned; unlike so many other mental disorders, which occur organically. That means that regardless of the debate over whether “thinspiration” pages help or hurt people already suffering from anorexia, they pose a very real danger to impressionable young girls looking for an outlet for their anxiety, shame, or depression.
I agree with Kinzel that it’s dangerous to act like anorexia sufferers are disgusting freaks who should hide in their closets with buckets of fried chicken until they’re bearable to look at. But it’s just as dangerous to act like anorexia is a perfectly reasonable lifestyle.
Images courtesy of smh.com.au, wikipedia.com, and anorexicmodel.com