Many anti-anorexia messages just punish the sufferer
// Claire Vulliamy

“I’ve seen plenty of stomach-turning things on the Internet that have haunted me, like a .gif of a woman fucking a horse, a picture of anal prolapse, various Google image searches of skin ailments, and a video of a man killing himself at a televised press conference. But I've never seen anything like this pro-ana porn,” writes Jezebel-contributer Tracie Egan Morrissey, on viewing anorexic porn website Skinnyfans.com.

The website Skinnyfans circulated around the media when the story of one of its models, Romanian Iona Spagenberg, was reported on by the Daily Mail. The 30-year-old model, who is 5’6”, has a waist measurement of just 20 inches.

The story was picked up by the website Jezebel of the Gawker network, which generally provides a feminist spin on pop-culture news. Morrissey's comment to Spagenberg and the Skinnyfans website, that the content was disturbing due to the fetishization of “the physical manifestations of an illness,” are fair, as the women are seriously underweight, and their condition is being exploited.

However, the tone of disgust is also directed towards the women themselves. Morrissey closes with, “I didn't need to see this shit on a Monday.” These negative messages are not directed appropriately, they do not solve anything, and they even have potential to make conditions worse.

In a 2008 UK study, psychologists measured the level of “shame” in women with eating disorders. Defining shame in a psychological study is a challenge; however, the researchers introduced the term with references to other psychological texts and determined that it is a feeling “associated with a fear and anticipation of eliciting disgust in others.” They found that even compared to other patients with anxiety or depression, the levels of shame in women with anorexia and bulimia were markedly higher.

This may begin in childhood, but these feelings of inadequacy are reinforced by multiple sources. Girls with anorexia, bulimia, or who display any of the other symptoms of an eating disorder are often portrayed as shallow and stupid; their weight is often seen as more of a fashion statement than an illness.

Pink’s video “Stupid Girls” aims to parody shallow female celebrities and promote girl power, with Pink singing, “What happened to the dreams of a girl president?” In the middle of the video, there is a sketch where Pink, playing the part of an aforementioned “stupid girl”, trots into a washroom, saying, “ Oh my god, you guys, I totally had more than 300 calories. That was so not sexy.” When her companion pukes in the sink after gagging herself with a toothbrush, Pink’s response is, “Good one, can I borrow that?” and she proceeds to do the same. In this situation, “bulimic” and “airhead” are seen as synonymous.

Part of this is a lack of understanding about eating disorders. The symptoms of bulimia or anorexia are often the focus of much more attention than the root of the illness. Much of the media reaction to anorexia discusses the shock value of the sufferers' bodies more than anything else.

In harnessing that shock value, the late Isabelle Caro, a severely anorexic model, teamed up with fashion brand Nolita and posed naked on Italian billboards to raise awareness of the illness during Milan’s fashion week. The billboards read “No Anorexia, No-l-ita.”

In an interview with CBS news, Caro, who weighed 66 pounds at the time, explained that she does not have any delusions about her body. “No young girl wants to look like a skeleton. It’s horrible. It’s ugliness. You can’t believe anyone would want to look like that,” she said.

Caro credits her eating disorder to a terrible childhood, saying that she starved herself as an act of protest. Indeed, eating disorders are often related to a sense of self-control in the sufferer’s mind.

Just as those suffering from addiction, such as Britney Spears or the late Amy Winehouse, become portrayed as laughable and out of control, sufferers of eating disorders are blamed for their behavior and often portrayed as vain and dumb.

The real issue, however, is that the causes of disordered eating are not fully understood, and therefore, often not taken seriously. They are more often looked at as behaviours that the individual can control, rather than a legitimate disease. Because of this societal perception, there is a pronounced focus on the bodies of the sufferers, rather than their humanity. And this is at play whether one is aroused by pornographic images of anorexic women, or disgusted by them.

//Claire Vulliamy, arts editor
//Graphics by JJ Brewis

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com