Social media – a place to share, inspire and befriend. But put ‘thin’ in inspire and you’ve got a whole new ballgame.
In an era when Deliveroo is all the rage and Domino’s dish out free pizza to poverty-stricken students, why is it that some of us find ourselves turning down these offers? Not because it’s not gluten, dairy free or vegan. Often it stems a little deeper than that.
Poking lasagne around her plate and worrying that just inhaling the smell would cost calories, was a routine that Ella was only too familiar with. She was shackled down by anorexia. As her parents eyed her suspiciously from across the driftwood table, she couldn’t bare another bite, she’d already eaten an apple today. The constant grinding of her stomach inflicted the most terrible pain as it growled for her to eat while her brain craved skinny. And she’s not alone. According to BEAT, an astonishing estimated 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders.
Defined as illnesses characterised by irregular eating habits and severe distress or concern about body weight or shape, eating disorders can severely damage our health. With the constant propaganda of the ‘ideal body’ and ‘perfect diet’ across social media, it’s no surprise they are on the rise.
Florida-based psychologist Dr Stacey Rosenfeld reveals that while social media isn’t the main cause of this growing problem, it certainly plays a part. “I’ve had patients seeking out hashtags such as #thinspo, and using accounts in disordered ways by following the diets of anorexia sufferers and ‘healthy’ eating obsessed bloggers and then using it as inspiration for their own diets.”
And it is these bloggers, who label themselves as certified ‘nutritionists’ after taking a short online course, who are fuelling the trend, sugar coating their obsession with kale, quinoa, and all things calorie dense, as a healthy lifestyle choice. When in fact, it is a disorder.
The issue is, we fall victim to their advice, which Huffington Post columnist, Carrie Armstrong knows too well. After innocently scrolling through blogs in hope of picking up tips to boost her health following a battle with alcoholism, she became obsessed. In the space of 18 months, she’d cut out meat and all carbs and resorted to eating just organic watermelon.
I was told only eat fruit because everything else will poison you.
Only when her hair and teeth began to fall out and she dropped to a staggering 6 ½ stone, did she recognise that she had a problem and accepted that just maybe, these bloggers whom she idolised, weren’t telling the whole truth.
“Most of the people who write these blogs do not spend their lives sipping green smoothies and eating salads as they claim to or they’d all be incredibly ill, I ate like them long term and I was in a wheelchair.”
What’s worse, is there is a darker side to social media where this behaviour is not accidental. Welcome to the world of ‘Pro Ana’, where behind the lens of her iPhone, lies a malnourished teen, arching her back to capture her protruding collarbones under the light as she twists her tiny legs inwards to get that thigh gap just that little bit wider. She’ll then post it on Instagram, and tell people how she became so thin and ‘beautiful’, encouraging them to be more like her.
Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers die from their illness, so you’re probably wondering why she’d do this. Sufferers often become so consumed by their illness they have no desire to get better and instead, want to thrive in a community where their behaviour is ‘normal’.
Chatting away to a Nordic girl on a ‘Pro-ED’ Kik
forum, it became clear. “If people want to get thinner I’ll help them, as I got help too, yes, I do feel guilty sometimes as I’m encouraging them to be iller, but it’s their own choice.”
However, in this turmoil, is the right to choose how we use social media, which can make all the difference to how we perceive the world and ourselves. But to those of us who haven’t quite figured ourselves out, or struggle from low self-esteem, social media acts as a breeding ground, triggering negative thoughts about body image. The only way to prevent this is to ban the content, rather than a single warning that pops up on your phone screen, which let’s be honest, none of us read.
A day in the life of an anorexia sufferer
This Snapchat story captures a typical day of an anorexia sufferer. It shows the struggles of an extremely low-calorie diet and some disordered habits, such as excessive exercising and anxiety in social situations involving food.