The above quote is from a comment I received several years ago, in response to something I’d written on my old blog regarding the glut of pro-anorexia (also known as “pro-ana,” or “thinspo”) sites. I took issue with these sites, and expressed my belief that they were dangerous, detrimental, and for the most part quite mean-spirited, despite what they all seemed to say about being a supportive community of like-minded people. I got responses ranging from polite assertions that I “didn’t understand them very well” (absurd, considering my own well-documented struggles with addiction AND body image) to insults like the aforementioned, which only served to further prove my point.
These sites are still around. Twitter and Pinterest have only increased their visibility. I’m not going to link to any of them, because they don’t need the traffic, or the attention.
Understand, here, that I have no problem with people who want to be healthier, and track their progress online. Many of these sites are undeniably inspiring, such as my friend Sheryl’s. Sheryl lost weight gradually, healthily, and along the way learned very valuable life lessons, which she has been brave and generous enough to share. The difference between Sheryl’s blog, and the many pro-ana sites that I’ve come across over the years, is a true spirit of self-acceptance, and JOY in discovering what the human body is capable of when treated well, and respectfully. Starvation is not respect. Depriving your body, brain, and spirit of the sustenance they need in order to function, in favor of some arbitrary number, is not admirable, nor is it emblematic of some superhuman display of “willpower.”
Years ago, I read an article by Mimi Nguyen. This quote has stuck with me ever since:
Who has the luxury…to go hungry…and for whom is hunger not a strategy but a normative condition, the way they exist from day to day?
Nguyen was questioning the validity of hunger strikes as a form of protest, but I do think it’s applicable in this case as well. For the pro-ana set, food’s only interest lies in how little of it they need. It’s only interesting if it’s been refused, or studiously ignored.
Here’s the thing: they have the luxury not only of having ten dollars in the first place, but also of getting to choose whether or not they’ll spend it on food that day. The homeless woman panhandling in front of the 7-11 does not have that choice. I think that once you come to understand the “politics of hunger,” as Mimi put it, you realize how hypocritical it is to starve yourself to prove a point.
People who actively starve themselves continually decry the rampant gluttony of Americans as a whole, and while it’s arguably a valid observation, I find it hard to take coming from someone for whom starvation is just as self-gratifying as buying and eating a bag of potato chips is for someone else.
I question the motives of a group of women who claim to be supportive of one another, but turn around and mock other women who are comfortable with themselves exactly as they are. Because in addition to the photos of thin women they post as “inspiration,” there are an appalling number of photos of “plus-size” models, or – worse still – candid shots of regular women they use as (cleverly enough) “reverse thinspo.” Basically, they are saying: “Oh my God – look at how disgusting she is.” And while I have innumerable issues with pro-ana websites, this is probably the thing I find the most abhorrent, demeaning, and downright evil.
When I first talked about this years ago, I honestly did not expect the vitriol I got from the pro-ana camp. Now? Bring it. Tell me I’m wrong, tell me I “don’t understand” you, tell me I’m fat. I’m not wrong, I understand you better than you think I do, and I frankly don’t give a shit if you think I’m fat or not.
You want to starve yourself, fine. But don’t you dare bring other women into it without their knowledge or consent, particularly if your intention is to berate them. That’s not being supportive, that’s bullying. And it is far uglier than any body type you’re trying to avoid.