Support Groups for Self-Starvation

sources: batteredandbruised.tumblr.com, fruuitcake.tumblr.com

Carolyn Gregoire has an eye-opening report up at Huffington Post on how Tumblr has become the home to a secret obsession of thousands of teenagers who use the microblogging platform for ‘thinspo’–for posting images of super-thin women along with disturbing messages like one I found on Tumblr:

Summer isn’t far away, YOU BETTER STOP  EATING OR NOBODY’S GONNA WANNA SEE YOU IN A SWIMSUIT.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2011 study found that teenaged girls’ susceptibility to body image and eating disorders positively correlated with the amount of time they spent using social media.

Some of the teens couch their anorexia in terms of a ‘lifestyle choice’–as in “I’m just choosing to life a low-calorie lifestyle.” But eating disorders are nothing of the kind. The deadliest of all mental illnesses, anorexia is more of a deathstyle choice.

another gem from Tumblr #thinspo

To me, the saddest thing about this phenomenon is how the users form community with one another online even as they keep their eating disorder a secret from the people in their lives. It’s such a distortion of how God made people to live: in life-affirming communion with one another and with God, and in harmony with the rest of the creation–which includes eating.

It’s not at all hard to see how too little family time + too much isolated time online could possibly lead to distorted ideas about bodies and eating. Apparently, Tumblr is cracking down on these blogs, but it won’t be long before these poisonous ideas find another platform.

A few thoughts on preventing these support groups from claiming your loved one as a member:

  • Make family meals a priority–family meals are really important. Try to make them happen.
  • Forbid ‘delete history’–Unsupervised time online is almost never a good idea; forbidding ‘delete history’ is one simple, effective rule.
  • Curb your own ‘fat talk.’ Refuse to allow people’s appearance (your own or others’) be a topic of conversation.
  • ‘Interrupt’ dangerous messages. Openly critique the unrealistic images of bodies presented in print, online, and on TV.
  • Celebrate communion, and not just on Sunday. Talk a lot about food as an edible symbol of God’s sustaining love (or whatever metaphor makes sense to you.)

What are your thoughts? How else can we help young people find and form better communities?

4 thoughts on “Support Groups for Self-Starvation

  1. This is terribly sad, and seems to be a different manifestation of the same problem in girls posting YouTube videos of themselves asking, “Am I ugly?”

    I think you’re right on that this kind of community is so distorted from what God intends for us, and I think the counter to it is real, face-to-face community. When I was in high school/college I devised all kinds of ways not to feed myself, and what helped me the most were 2 things you listed here: family meals together, and I’ll add to that, family who cared enough to gently and lovingly ask me about my empty plate. As much as I wanted to keep my eating a secret at the time, I craved that love even more. And second, communion, and an understanding of the Incarnation. I had to learn that I worshiped not just Spirit, but the Word made flesh, and that bodies are not just disposable but sacred. The Incarnation was really the pivotal point for me.

  2. We need to ban weight stigma. We need to reconnect with her our hunger and satisfaction signals that are God-given. Ever try to feed a baby that wasn’t hungry? Impossible! We need to learn to respect the body we are in right now just as we are. We need to recognize that God created bodies that come in all shapes and sizes. Finally, we need to learn that Thin does not Equate Health.

  3. That first image reminded me of the old saying attributed to Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, “A woman can never be too rich or too thin.” taken one way, it’s a call to thinness. Taken another, it’s a lament about the pressures of society. Either way, it’s sad.

    I like your list of ideas. Interrupting dangerous ideas is something I did all the time with my kids, whether about food or any other behavior or idea that seemed to get glorified on TV, etc. Now that they are both in college, I’ve really been aware of just how prevalent eating disorders are with their peers.

    Good job again shining light on a difficult subject, Rachel.

    Tim

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