Magoosh GRE

Why is authenticity important in the pro-anorexia community?

| February 8, 2017


The main argument that is advocated in this paper is “rationality vs. irrationality” – that maladaptive behavior can be justified, sought after and conditioned by a process of ‘groupthink’ and internal shifts of power. As a result, authenticity plays a vital part in this behavior as the group will urge members to be true to their own beliefs and practices in order to further the individual’s search for a sense of concrete realism in a seemingly irrational world.


This essay relates to the lecture Beauty, Eating and Feminine Media which focuses on the embodiment of femininity and its representation in the media. This is done through world-wide concentration on beauty and eating practices that are expressed in media, and also explains some of the disorders that can appear as a result of these practices. It is argued that hegemonic femininity is not singular; thus creating multiple femininities. With this in mind, the paper will explore the extent that femininities are a product of patriarchy – a process of intergroup distinction in and of themselves, or a combination of both. The media’s representation of disorders and problems associated with feminine beauty and eating habits can act as a form of female ‘othering’ and distinction from its counter gender. Consequently, just how much these categories offer valuable sites of resistance is examined.
Moreover, this essay is related to the Body, Media and Society model, in order to examine ‘the body’ in society with a focus on the role of media in representing, stereotyping and medicalising ‘the body’ in society. It examines how social structure and ‘the body’ are inherently connected, how they interact and how that interaction impacts on both the body and society as a whole. The module draws on the disciplinary approaches of Sociology and Media and

Communications; specifically the sub-disciplines of the Sociology of the Body and Medical Sociology.

This essay focuses on pro-anorexia communities, and the
reasons why authenticity is important in such a community
. These reasons will be separated into respective paragraphs as such:

Characteristics of Anorexia Nervosa

•Excessive weight loss
•Food restraint
•Fear of gaining weight
•Obsessive vis-à-vis body image
•10 times more likely in women
•Affects young women & teenagers especially
•A religious heritage?
–Moral meanings
–“Thin as sacred” / “fat as profane”
(Boero and Pascoe, 2012)

Notions of Community

•Modernity and community
–Stable, structured and physical (along class, gender, occupational or ethnic lines)
•Postmodernity and community
–Fluid and contingent, increased movement, virtual, viral, not reliant on modern social structures (class, gender, occupation, ethnicity). Is this a community at all?

Pro-Anorexia Communities

•2001 –Time magazine -‘Anorexia Goes High-Tech’
–Identifies pro-ana websites
–Sites contain tips for weight loss, how to hide disorders from parents, deprivation diets
•2008 –Newsweek –‘Out of the Shadow’
–Pro-anorexia communities emerge
–Now interactive (Web 2.0)
–Appear on facebook, myspace, etc.
(Boero and Pascoe, 2012: 28)
•Media articles and commentary is critical of pro-ana communities, thus the relation to capital is negative

Pro-Anorexia Communities

•Non-recovery focused
–Weight-loss information
–Support (reinforcing anorexia rather than curing it)
–Non-judgmental towards the disorder (Boero and Pascoe, 2012: 29) A highly contentious point
–Challenges the image of isolated anorexics and “offers a view of anorexia built on interaction and, indeed, community” (ibid)
–Women “log in to share their struggles, goals, triumphs, and failures in living a pro-ana lifestyle” (ibid)

Where do Boero and Pascoe Direct their Critique?

•At traditional treatment:
–“most traditional forms of treatment do not emphasize developing a feminist identity or integrate feminist critiques of feminine ideals that emphasize thinness and body perfection” (ibid)
•At society at large
– “constructions of femininity and the thin ideal fundamentally constitute the disorders themselves” (ibid)

Considering that pro-ana communities harbor modern and post-modern characteristics, it will therefore be essential that the research undertaken for this paper covers a longitudinal frame of the history of ‘the body’ and specifically addresses the condition and the social representation of the female body in any given generation.

To begin with, the paper explores the genesis of hegemonic femininity, dating back to the 1800’s when women were seen as ‘others’ who were judged solely on their appearance, who were exiled for having any of the same attributes as a man. This social construct gave birth to the now widespread theory of the “female psychological disorder”, after such movements as the ‘witch-hunt’, or the possession of the early modern witch (who were of course, younger women). Due to the nature of this construct, the social consequences saw a paradox emerging: rationality vs. irrationality. Younger women were conflicted within themselves, and began processing the irrational fixations the world around them had constructed with wholly rational elements of ‘the self’. Pro-ana communities therefore could label justified blame on this ideology, as the process of ‘othering’ had begun.

This ‘othering’ soon led to a feeling a hegemonic femininity that wasn’t constructed by a universal form, but by the females themselves. Because women had already been distinguished and separated from their male counterparts, they began to slowly justify their appearance to a point of obsession; in order to regain control over themselves and indeed, the communities around them. Authenticity therefore plays a key feature of this construct, as it implies loyalty to the cause, righteousness of women all over the world and reinforces the distinction between man and woman in favor of the woman’s wants, and not the man’s.

The Rationality vs. Irrationality argument also serves to explain the Voluntary vs. Involuntary argument. Involuntary actions such as weight loss are vindicated and sought after by pro-ana communities as the group’s rationale is solidified as a result of the action. An element of hysteria defines this general attitude; in Freudian terms, this means the wide categorization of repressed and unconscious problems such as a sexual repression and patriarchal abuse. Whether this idea is still relevant or not today will be discussed in this essay, and also subsequently whether pro-ana communities can be judged as ‘communities’ at all; given their ideological state rather than their corporeal one. It could be said that pro-ana communities only really exist in member’s minds – media platforms such as the internet and gloss magazines give members the opportunity for collectivism, acting as mechanisms with which to forward their thoughts. (More on this later)

To further the history of pro-ana communities, the essay will also look at where self-starvation originated from, and how it preserved itself through the ages. Whether it be for spiritual practice or a political act, the process remains the same, and it is the authenticity of the act that gives it its weight. The essay will analyze why self-starvation implies power over the intended target (the opposite gender, governments, even God). Michel Foucault’s theory of power and knowledge will underline this deliberation, as will his book Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. In this book, Foucault defines the evolution of madness through the Renaissance, the Classical Age and the Modern Age, suggesting that in the first phase (the Renaissance) ‘mad’ people were represented in art as possessing wisdom and knowledge of the limits of our reasoned world. This gives reason for the birth of pro-ana communities. By ‘othering’ themselves from the rest of society, perhaps they feel that they harbor more power and knowledge over sociological conformities.

Foucault also argues that the conceptual distinction between ‘mad’ and ‘sane’ people was the forefront to what he has dubbed “The Great Confinement” – which saw ‘mad’ people being locked away in institutions and exiled from the rest of society. They were separated completely. But here we see pro-ana communities existing in plain sight, in media representation and even the wilful acts of its advocates. They wish to be separate; but in a way that renders them safe from total banishment, in a way that still awards them power and distinction through the authenticity of their actions.

This feeling of confinement seems to be also felt in schools. Rich and Miah (2010) examined how school life can affect female self-surveillance by distorting it and separating the person as a result. The ability to self- govern is also directly weakened by these public perceptions. Thus, this section of the essay will also concentrate on the distinction between the mind and the body – a theory first introduced by Descartes.

The essay will then move on to more contemporary matters such as the depiction of women in media and advertising, and specific problems caused by these perceptions such as the ‘yummy mummy’ label that has seen rise in recent years (Notably in 2007, with the creation of Liz Fraser’s The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide). This wave has seen even new mother’s going to extreme lengths to make sure they look as attractive as possible after giving birth. Easy-to-read books like this that are clearly aimed at housewives propel the attitude that pro-ana communities share. It is an obsession over appearance and an empowerment as a result of ‘buying in to the modern life’. What makes this matter more widespread and significant is its habit of ownership over people – For instance, when the press made Sarah Jessica Parker into public property, the general consensus was that she was allowed to be criticized, judged, labelled or complimented by anyone in the world that knew her name. In this scenario, the press are the ones that benefit, the population become uniform in their opinions and Sarah Jessica Parker is seen as sub-human; not real, not authentic… a picture in a magazine. The benefits of pro-ana communities therefore is that women can see each other for real, talk to one another and second-handedly urge each other to carry on the habit.

Pro-anorexia communities have since appeared all over the internet on mediums such as Facebook, Myspace, etc. This platform has enabled a new breed of networking that has never been seen before. Members of a community now have the ability to share and discuss their thoughts, struggles and even brag about their condition to other women in a similar situation. Pro-ana communities have become interactive as such, and owing to negative media attention, members have become more and more disassociated from the rest of society as they believe that they are the empowered ones struggling with being misunderstood. Their mal-adaptive behaviors therefore become real, authentic actions because rationality has been linked to them in the sense that they are now fighting for something against someone.

What makes these communities more disassociated and somewhat ‘mad’ themselves is that the websites they use have developed hierarchies of eating disorders, with anorexia at the top. Whether or not these hierarchies imply an order of power relations remains to be discovered, and will be something that will be un-veiled in the essay. Something that is clear however, is the fact that the online communities do seem to be heavily connected to a form of gender capital in favor of hegemonic femininity.

To demonstrate how important authenticity is to pro-ana communities, the essay will also focus upon the “wannarexics”. These are the frauds of the online communities; the ones that present pictures of themselves that do not correspond to their real-life bodies. They are the subject of ridicule in a pro-ana community, and show an apparent lack of respect for those that are truly anorexic and have chosen to be as a lifestyle choice. There are policies and rules that these communities have (like any other community) to police their membership. For instance, photos must be posted of member’s bodies, and so must they post food reports of what they have eaten on any given day. Group fasting is a growing fad too; including surveys and ‘weigh-ins’. This proves that being able to relate to one another is essential in a pro-ana community, and that authenticity is the key to their survival.

Self-policing is becoming a more well-known and collected movement as well (as it has been under the radar for many years before). Self-hatred is described as being as great motivation tool, as well as recounting such bodily effects as hair loss, the loss of a period and motivational insults (calling one another ‘fat’). This interaction, together with the previous point, makes up the primary points of why authenticity is truly important to pro-ana communities, and will culminate the main body of the essay.

These communities are also non-recovery based; meaning that the disorder is looked upon with sympathetic, understanding eyes and in a way that does not accept that anything is wrong. Cure is not an option, or even something that should be sought out. However, the pro-ana community does accept the glamorization of ‘thinning’, and this is what brings about the importance of authenticity for members. Women depicted in the media are not as real, not as flesh and blood as the people you personally know in a pro-ana community.

Whilst identifying the attributes of these communities, the essay will also examine the rise of eating disorders in the late 20th Century, and define the extent of social construction of such disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder for instance, could be argued to be a social invention put into women’s minds by the effect of media advertising; whilst on the other hand, anorexia nervosa could be deemed a legitimate medical condition.

To conclude a previous point that considered whether or not pro-ana communities could be judged as communities at all; we see huge differences in the definitions of modern and post-modern societies:

Modernity and Community
Stable, structured and physical (Along class, gender, occupational or ethnic lines)
Postmodernity and Community
Fluid and contingent, increased movement, virtual, viral, not reliant on modern social structures (class, gender, occupation, ethnicity)

The essay will conclude that pro-ana communities cannot be defined as ‘communities’ in the modern sense of the word, and will deliberate on how this came to be through the introduction of the internet, worldwide media etc. Furthermore, after listing the previous reasons as to why authenticity is incredibly important in pro-anorexia communities, the essay will reach a logical conclusion: that authenticity reinforces member’s power and knowledge of their gender and their gender separation – thereby allowing them to continue their hegemonic culture.


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