Anorexia and bulimia are both devastating illnesses, and more often than not, they are disorders that sufferers do their best to conceal. Now, a new study in the journal Health Communication offers insight into why so many of these women are turning to the internet to express their thoughts about their conditions.
It may be perplexing to some that the internet is awash with blogs and support groups that actually promote eating disorders. Often dubbed "pro-ana" and "pro-mia" for the anorexic and bulimic condition they support, these web entities provide a place where bloggers can chat and exchange tips on how to sustain their eating disorders, and to talk more generally about their personal experiences. They often feature images of emaciated women for inspiration, and suggestions on how to hide the lifestyle they simultaneously promote.
For the study, Indiana grad student Daphna Yeshua-Katz and her co-author Nicole Martins interviewed 33 female bloggers aged 15 to 33 who were creating web content about their eating disorders. The results reveal a population of women desperate for a community that understands and accepts them, according to BuzzFeed.
One blogger writes of finding an understanding audience online.
"Nobody 'normal' understands why you want to starve yourself for days on end. Nobody 'normal' can understand your frustrations when you fail and your gleefulness when you can go through a day of fasting or a day of perfect restricting — only people like myself would."
Another writes, "I wanted to have a voice that I didn't have to censor for fear of upsetting people I knew or having them judge me. For me, writing my blog was the only way I could have a shoulder to cry on or a way to celebrate my successes."
Some study participants admitted their online interactions weren't healthy.
"I tend to find the wrong kind of support online. When I don't want to get better, and I want permission to keep this up, I go online."
Martins and Yeshua-Katz offer a surprising conclusion. They say that while these blogs and websites do promote a diseased lifestyle, censorship may not be the best solution given the absence of effective treatment methods for these women (successful recovery rates after a year of therapy hover around 23 percent).
They also suggest there is a need for better internet resources for eating disorder sufferers, as it would appear that the internet is where these women are most comfortable being themselves.
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