‘Thinspo’ underbelly: 'This shouldn’t be a TikTok trophy’
"Block don't report please".
That's the mantra on social media profiles across multiple platforms where the 'proana or proanamia' - the alarming moniker of those who consider themselves pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia - groups thrive with a single intention; to motivate each other to lose weight.
This is not the shedding of kilos because the scales say so. This is the endless pursuit of melting fat and skin to the point of vanishing because a mental illness is driving you.
The problem is many of these women don't recognise eating disorders as an issue but rather a condition they will live with or die from. And these groups give them the tools to do just that.
They post 'thinspo' and 'meanspo' (sanctioned fat shaming) to encourage each other and if someone asks for help to get through the last few days of a dangerous week-long fast, all they receive is positive encouragement.
The 'block, don't report' signals some self-awareness but you would think it would also be a sign to the social media platforms that these are the profiles to delete.
Instead it is stupidly easy to find the groups and most of the platforms make a token effort to resist them.
I have spent the past few months lurking in the background of the social media communities. I watched on the sidelines of 'inspirational' Facebook groups that have an illusion of health but are the antithesis of that. Places where the subject matters are on a continual loop; exercise, calories, fasting.
I followed profiles and influencers on Instagram where a photo of a hand could almost be that of a corpse but is in fact considered thinness inspiration.
I have seen TikTok videos of teenagers with their feeding tubes slung from their noses like trophies.
As a former 'proana' said to me - it is about glamorising being "sick enough".
While most of the platforms make some sort of attempt at monitoring their content it is easy enough to find if you know where to look and know the right hashtags.
One of the groups I belonged to on Facebook was shutdown and immediately reinvented itself under another name but on Instagram - which a commentator described to me as the 'wild west' - has very little filters. This is where you'll find a ready-made community of people poised to help you sink further into the proana "lifestyle'.
Anorexia and bulimia are not by-products of the social media age - but boy is social media ripe for creating and sustaining them.
The selfie culture and social media obsession (remember when being vain was considered a bad thing?) has spawned a whole new focus on body image and careers of 'influencers' who have their own cult followings.
If nothing else hopefully bringing awareness to this online underbelly alerts parents and care givers that you may think your teen is safe in their room scrolling on social media but they could well be deep in a virtual community that is designed to make them sicker.
This content may be "triggering" for some people. Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact the organisations listed below.
Butterfly National Helpline: 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline: 1300 550 23
For urgent support call Lifeline: 13 11 14
Originally published as 'Thinspo' underbelly: This shouldn't be a TikTok 'trophy'