Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When Getting Thin Goes Too Far

Recently, there has been a growing concern about blogs encouraging women to become ultra-thin posted on Tumblr.com. The argument is whether or not they are considered a form of free speech. These sites pose as 'support sites' where women can come to express their sickness without judgment and with encouragement. They discuss losing weight through starvation methods and exercise, and diet tips, no matter what the cost. Sadly, the age ranges of women that post on these sites are in their late teens to early twenties.

One of the largest and most popular websites is called “PrettyThin”. The pro-ana, pro-mia (anorexia, bulimia) website provides pictures of skeleton-like women so malnourished that bones can be seen through the skin. Attached are quotes such as, “I want to show bones” or “An imperfect body reflects an imperfect person.” For teens experiencing peer pressure to look thin and “perfect”, stumbling across one of these sites is like opening Pandora's Box. With key words like, “ipretendhappiness-idontfeel”, “thin-k perfection”, and “fattyonthemove”, these could solidify and possibly justify the feelings of inadequacy that a young teen is battling with her body image.

Being curious, I checked out some of these sites and looked up some of the ‘handles’ the girls had. What I found was very disturbing. Pictures of themselves super thin wearing very little – if nothing at all, showing their ribs and pelvic bones with statements like, “I want to take a bath. A nice hot bath. I want to push myself under the water, until I can’t breathe. I want to resurface and see that my fat is no longer a part of me. I want it to float in the water like a shed skin. I want to run my hands over my wet body and feel collar bones, hip bones, ribs a dip in my belly. I want to put my fingers around my thighs. I want to be BEAUTIFUL.” Another is “5kin-ny” who posted a picture of a ripped piece of paper that had “I don’t want to be thin, I want to be SICKLY THIN”, scribbled on it. Her comment below it stated, “So thin on the verge of death.”

Sometimes it doesn’t end with just trying to become thin with an eating disorder. Sometimes it continues on a more severe path such as cutting and burning one’s body with either razors or cigarettes. One blog named, “dying to be thin” talks candidly about her eating disorder, how she began cutting herself and why, and that she spends periods in a mental hospital. She is only seventeen. Extremely disturbing, both emotionally and mentally, she documents her days of hiding food, cutting herself, and the confrontations with her parents on her poor body image and feeling of worthlessness and disgust. She elaborates in raw text how cutting relieves the pain and makes her feel ‘better’. She knows it’s not right, but has a deep desire to continue it.

In one post she provides information on self-injury awareness day and several links to click on for further information and support groups to provide help for people who want to stop hurting themselves. Self-Harm awareness day was on March 1st. According to Self.com it is defined as, “a day meant to call attention to the disturbing number of people who deliberately harm their bodies in an attempt to numb emotional stress. Self-injury (SI) can range from cutting, burning or hitting oneself to simply picking at skin, pulling hair or pinching. At its most extreme, SI can lead to bone-breaking and other more serious injuries.” Most feel that this type of action is just to gain attention from peers or family members. However, according to Self-injury.org, it is actually a coping mechanism, a way to gain relief from otherwise overwhelming emotions. So even though she posts about her sickness, she is also concerned for others who have the same struggles.
Statements and situations like this are just horrific. There may be young girls out there on the brink of an eating disorder and finding such sites as this may see that it would be OK to attempt. Not realizing that this is an actual sickness and not just something cool to do. One post from “minaturegirl” states, “I never thought I would be the girl with an eating disorder.”

In response to this recent outcry, Tumblr.com has posted a draft of what they will be enforcing within the next couple of weeks that pertain to self-harm and pro-ana/mia blogs. Tumblr states: “Active Promotion of Self-Harm. Don’t post content that actively promotes or glorifies self-injury or self-harm. This includes content that urges or encourages readers to cut or mutilate themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seek counseling or treatment for depression or other disorders. Online dialogue about these acts and conditions is incredibly important; this prohibition is intended to reach only those blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification. For example, joking that you need to starve yourself after Thanksgiving or that you wanted to kill yourself after a humiliating date is fine, but recommending techniques for self-starvation or self-mutilation is not.”

In addition to the new policy, Tumblr.com will start showing PSAs on search results for related keywords. “In addition, we plan to start posting “public service announcement”-style language whenever users search for tags that typically go along with pro-self-harm blogs. For example, when a user searches for tags like “anorexia”, “anorexic”, “bulimia”, “bulimic”, “thinspiration”, “thinspo”, “proana”, “purge”, “purging”, etc., we would show PSA language like: Eating disorders can cause serious health problems, and at their most severe can even be life-threatening. Please contact the [resource organization] at [helpline number] or [website].”

So this leaves us with the lasting thought, are these websites a form of free speech even if it could be physically and mentally damaging to others?