Anorexia is the deadliest of mental illnesses. (Courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.)
Ever heard of thinspiration? Google it—actually, on second thought, don’t, unless you want to fall down a rabbit hole into the deeply disturbing world of explicitly pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia blogs and websites.
The pro-ana and pro-mia communities are, well, exactly what they sound like. They promote weight loss and maintenance though anorexic and bulimic behaviors, holding up self-starvation and purging as ways to become and stay beautiful, and to prove one’s self-discipline. In other words, they frame disordered behaviors as a lifestyle, and not as the symptoms of mental illness. The purpose of thinspiration communities is to support those who are suffering from eating disorders not in seeking help, but in being “better” anorexics and bulimics. In fact, they discourage seeking help, insisting that starving oneself or purging after eating is a healthy, admirable way to live.
Like I said, you probably don’t want to Google it.
This week, a Change.org petition was created urging Twitter to take steps similar to those taken by Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook to make it more difficult for the thinspiration community to use their services. Pinterest, the online image pin-board that is basically a thinspo-seeker’s dream come true, has already made it impossible to find boards and pins with the search term “thinspo.” If one tries, they’ll see the message, “Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening,” as well as the website and telephone number for the National Eating Disorders Association. As Nina Bahadur notes, after Tumblr and Pinterest implemented anti-thinspiration policies, many in the thinspiration community began using Instagram to share “thinspiring” images of skeletally thin women. Instagram, too, has now changed its policies to make this more difficult. Twitter should most certainly do the same.
For Twitter, the case for implementing a similar policy is strong: doing so is a matter of corporate responsibility and public health. Anorexia is the deadliest of mental illnesses, with a fatality rate higher than that of any other psychiatric condition. Surely Twitter doesn’t want to facilitate communities that teach how to be “better” at that condition, because this case, being better means being a few pounds closer to death. Then again, whatever Twitter chooses to do, it will not be a panacea: As we’ve already seen with their migration from Pinterest to Instagram, the thinspiration community, if they can’t operate on Twitter, will go elsewhere, or else find ways around the rules that Twitter puts in place. The community, much like the disorders it encourages and the larger culture of idealizing one sole vision of female beauty, is adaptable.