Eight years ago, I started a blog with the goal of starting a dialogue around women’s struggles with food and weight. It became a popular interactive community of people impacted by self-esteem issues and poor relationships with food and their bodies. Ultimately hundreds of these eating disorder blogs and online support communities flourished.
Clearly, there was a need.
Has anything changed since the blog boom?
Not really. In fact, recent reports have alarmed us to the dangers of social media (including blogging) in promoting eating disorders and a more general disordered mentality.
We've learned that exposure to Facebook; certain Twitter hashtags; and images on Pinterest, Instagram, and blogs can trigger symptoms in those who are predisposed. Terms like pro-ana, thinspo, fitspo, thigh gap, and food porn have become part of our vernacular.
Social media can be difficult for those with clinical eating disorders due to the sites' promotion of the thin ideal. Most people are posting only the best, most flattering pictures of themselves, raising the bar for beauty and appearance.
Men and women with eating disorders then compare themselves against others' best, edited selves — and technology permits a virtually infinite comparison group.
Plus, social media feeds often read like diet directives. Those we connect with online post often on their weight loss victories, their marathon training, the cleanses, diets, and juicing they are trying — all of which can be triggering for those susceptible to disordered eating.
This is not to say all the weekend warriors and healthy eaters need to censor their posts. Ultimately, the onus falls on the social media “consumer” to figure out what content (and people) are triggering for her so that she can remove these posts or block certain feeds. But, it’s important to know that this type of sharing can be triggering to those who already struggle with these issues.
Moreover, many sites run ads promoting the thin ideal, which can further body dissatisfaction. Ads pop up on users' screens for diet plans, exercise programs, and "fitspo" images, all of which can reinforce unhealthy ideas about food and weight.
But social media can also be an incredible ally for recovery, growth, and change. And that is why I blog.
At the International Conference of Eating Disorders in March 2014, Australian health psychologist Phillipa Diedrichs said that through our use of social media, "we become the media."
When we speak of all the evils of the media with regard to eating and body image disturbance, we must recognize that there are powerful counter-culture voices in the mix, louder than ever before.
How exactly are we impacting the world around us in a positive way? Here are a few examples: