A decade ago, reports surfaced of a disturbing new web trend referred to as "pro-ana" for pro-anorexia—the disordered obsession with and dedication to all things skinny. "Thinspiration" (nicknamed "thinspo") sites were popping up around the Internet with photos, tips, and community chat areas for women to share their all-consuming desire to lose weight.
Many of these pro-eating disorder sites were shut down between 2001-2004. AOL removed several sites under its policy prohibiting "material that defames, abuses, threatens, promotes or instigates physical harm or death to others, or oneself," and Yahoo took similar steps under their own policy againt "content with the sole purpose of creating harm or inciting hate."
The trend has never completely died away—many sites disappeared briefly, then re-emerged under different names and on different domains—but pro-ana is experiencing a disturbing new revival, thanks to the popular social media site Tumblr.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform that makes it extremely easy to share content (images, video, text, etc) with other people. Each day, hundreds of Tumblr users are posting photos of rail-thin models, tips on how to control hunger, and journalling their own weight loss progress.
The issue certainly brings up a lot of questions. Do people have the right to post what they want, even if it isn't good for them? How do you differientiate between a disordered-thinking, harmful blog, and a "healthy" weight-loss blog? What if someone posted nothing but photos of overweight people and tips for gaining weight, would that be different?
Tumblr's terms of service ban content that "is libelous, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harassing, hateful, offensive or otherwise violates any law or right of any third party." Can this apply to Tumblr-hosted thinspo sites?
I don't think it should. Which isn't to say I don't think they're dangerous, because I do.
On fashion forum LOOKBOOK, a user recently posted:
"…I have felt myself get roped into the whole thinspiration thing multiple times. That stuff is horrible. It's all over tumblr, which I frequent. Just seeing it all over makes me begin to hate my own body, wish I was thinner, etc. I've had issues with my body/weight/self consciousness since I was very little so seeing that stuff all over the internet triggers things in me that aren't good."
Eating disorders are nothing new, the modern twist is in the community aspect—and the ability to see more clearly into the disorder than ever before. I wonder if these new sites should again be shut down, or if experts should try instead to listen . . . in order to figure out how to help.
Let me be empty and weightless and maybe i'll find some peace tonight—tagline to "thinspox" on Tumblr.
What do you think, should Tumblr be responsible for removing these types of sites?
Image via Flickr/Janine