I didn’t think myself naive when I started my first real engineering job nearly a quarter century ago, yet I was quickly introduced to several new terms by a fellow engineer a couple years older than me. I learned the term ‘MILF’ and the expression ‘mind the gap’ which referred to the space between a woman’s upper thighs indicating she was thin and had proportionally wide hips. Neither or these were particularly respectful terms nor anything I would ever find myself using, but sadly they were two of the kindest expressions that I recall hearing from this engineer (misogynist and sexist don’t begin to cover it). Anyway, that was my context for ‘mind the gap’ …
Over the holiday break I encountered an article talking about difficulties at image sharing sites such as Pinterest dealing with eating disorder relating groups. As someone who lost nearly 100 pounds in the last year the term ‘thinspiration’ sounded great to me … until I saw the images associated with it! The terms ‘Pro Ana’ (for anorexia) were terribly shocking … but nothing in writing prepares you for the ghastly pictures of these young women (because it IS a predominantly female problem) who have starved themselves beyond recognition. Apparently ‘mind the gap’ now involves becoming underweight to the point of maximizing the gap between your thighs regardless of your hips of body type.
It isn’t just Pinterest, they were just the last to adopt new content rules prohibiting Pro Ana groups. Other sites such as Tumblr already have such rules in place, or like Instagram have warnings in place for when you search certain tags.
In the last couple of days the topic has come up again at HelloGiggles and more disturbingly at BuzzFeed. Each points to the rampant increase in the content in spite of the rules from the sites, with HelloGiggles noting:
Instagram, the popular social media photo-sharing app, has recently brought a very serious issue to light. It seems that some people (mostly teenaged females) have been using the photo service to share ideas and images that are pro anorexia. [snip] Once you click “see images”, a sea of images bombards you. Over 306,000 and counting for #Ana alone.
Over at BuzzFeed they look at how weight loss programs and sellers are specifically TARGETING these Pro-Ana keywords on social sites in order to push their goods. Here is some of what they have to say:
Tumblr (and Pinterest) have grappled with how to handle its pro-ana community, and both ban the content, deleting it when it’s brought to their attention. But ads for FatLossFactor.com, a site that sells a weight loss program, continue to be posted by stock accounts against targeted keywords (tags) associated with pro-ana content, like “thinspo” and “starve,” so they appear beside images of extremely thin young women.
Looking at the program (FatLossFactor), BuzzFeed finds that it really doesn’t stand out in too many ways from the other myriad weight loss schemes – they push their service through a variety of advertising methods, bombard social media, and even (like the infamous MyPadMedia) associate positive reviews with web searches for ‘FatLossFactor scam’. The site uses affiliate marketing methods who are incented to drive traffic regardless of the methods.
The other truly disturbing thing is the association of ‘cutting’ with the Pro-Ana groups. It is (unfortunately) not surprising, as both of these things are more related to control than anything else … but it is tremendously sad to think of beautiful young women doing such damage to themselves. Both of my high school aged boys know girls who either had eating disorders or who have engaged in cutting or other self-destructive behavior. It is horrible for them to have watched these friends in such terrible states, and I can only imagine the impact on the girls and their families.
These groups have been around longer than the internet, and those looking for them will eventually find them. But with social media and visual social media in particular, the ability for these ideas and images to propagate quickly is easier than ever. And … more dangerous. If you have kids, even in elementary school, it isn’t too early to start talking to them about body image and reinforcing that beauty comes from within, not according to a scale or (Photoshopped) magazine image. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes.