Support Groups for Self-Starvation


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:


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?


Tracey Gold’s ‘Starving Secrets’

Remember Tracey Gold from Growing Pains? A recovered anorexic, she’s now hosting a new Lifetime channel reality show: ‘Starving Secrets.’

Even this People magazine photograph portrays Gold’s anorexic body as glamorous.

The show, still in its first season, follows women with serious eating disorders, and gives them the opportunity to a enter into a treatment program. Critics of the show point out that it follows in the genre of made-for-TV movies like The Best Little Girl in the World, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and For the Love of Nancy–which probably fueled more eating disorders than they discouraged.

I remember watching The Best Little Girl in the World in health class in 8th grade. It starred Jennifer Jason Leigh and generally made anorexia seem alluring and glamorous, if a bit frightening. It, and media like it, have been thinspiration–unintentionally functioning as eating-disorder inspiration. For girls and women struggling to find their story–to make meaning of their lives, an eating disorder can provide a macabre but compelling narrative.

On the other hand, some point out, insurance companies in the US provide such wimpy coverage to mental illnesses in general and eating disorders in particular (a 30-day per year inpatient cap, for example) that, for some people, participating in a ‘reality’ show represents a viable shot at obtaining treatment.

What’s your take? Do shows like ‘Starving Secrets’ do more harm than good? Do they really help anyone? Or is it just more sordid television?