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June Lunchtime Seminar: Anorexia and Social Media: Ethnographic Exploration...
Wed 8 June 2016, 13:00 – 14:00 CDT
Anorexia and Social Media: Ethnographic Explorations and Clinical Implications
Anna Lavis, Lecturer in Medical Sociology, University of Birmingham
Drawing on ethnography and interviews with participants to pro-anorexia websites, alongside those with young people in treatment for eating disorders, this paper reflects on ‘pro-anorexia.’ It asks what a desire to maintain one’s existing anorexia is, how it is enacted, and what might underpin it.
Whilst interactions around pro-anorexia on social media offer insights into lived experiences of anorexia, I argue that to understand pro-anorexia online it is necessary to engage with the meanings of the illness itself, and recognise the function it may serve for some young people.
Participants’ descriptions of anorexia as a ‘friend’ that ‘looks after you’ problematise taken-for-granted boundaries between health and harm, illness and care. Anorexia is described as offering a way of being in the world that both responds to and ameliorates distress; some individuals recount living, albeit painfully, through their illness. These narratives challenge any assumption that a desire to maintain anorexia is primarily about being or becoming thin. In so doing, they invite re-consideration of depictions of bodily emaciation in pro-anorexic social media spaces, and their layered meanings.
In suggesting that pro-anorexia, both online and off-line, be approached in ways that take account of the complexities of lived experience, this paper intersects with wider discussions around treatment resistance. It asks how pro-anorexia might be engaged with ethically in both analysis and therapeutic practice. Participants’ narratives suggest a need to reposition attention away from anorexia itself, to the distress and life events that may underlie both the illness and the desire to maintain it through mediated self-starvation.