Story by Jade Horrobin
SITTING on a balcony complete with plastic windows and rusting metal bars, Maddy scrapes the butter off her prescribed sandwich, defeat sweeping over her face as she takes another bite.
After countless admissions to hospital, weekly doctors visits and forced weight maintenance programs, Maddy Connor once again finds her self confined to Bed 1, onFloor J: in the Adolescent Mental Health Ward of the Royal Brisbane Hospital.
Four years into her battle with anorexia, she still wakes every morning to the sound of the same monster in her thoughts; a monster she doesn’t want to destroy. With high school peers on fad diets and counting calories, Maddy found herself constantly surrounded by “people who thought they knew it all”.
“Doctors say it’s not normal to be thinking so much about food, and the dieticians tell me I shouldn’t be caring about how many calories something has, then you walk outside the classroom and everyone else is talking about it.
“The disparity between what other peoplesay, and what the doctors say is difficult to cope with.” says Maddy.
“I knew girls at my high school who didn’t have a legitimate eating disorder, but ran thinspiration (thin inspiration) blogs on Tumblr, which verged on being pro-anorexia.
These stupid blogs make eating disorders sound like a lifestyle choice, not a mental illness. Being surrounded by that everyday really minimized the struggle I was going through.” she said.
With empty stomachs and a desire to be thinner, calorie counting teens and eating disorder sufferers look for inspiration and likeminded souls in all corners of the internet.
Notated with a simple hashtag, inspiration for a healthy body morphs into the destructive rabbit hole that is “thinspiration”, where a community of starving girls strive for skinny, and pine over the emaciated bodies of women who haven’t eaten in a week.
“There’s a sick pleasure you get from an empty stomach,” says 16 year old Jacqueline in a post on her Tumblr blog.
Hunger Blog’s Jacqueline, whose last name and tumblr URL will not be mentioned to protect her identity,suffers from anorexia and bulimia, and turns to Tumblr for the support she feels she’ll never get in the “real world”.
“When I feel hungry, I log onto Tumblr to remind myself of all the reasons why I cannot eat. When I see those skinny girls, I don’t hesitate to compare my fat body to theirs. I know it’s wrong, but that’s what I love about it.” she said.
Although she’s found herself lost down the rabbit hole of thinspiration more than once, Maddy Connor still maintains a distinction between pro-recovery and pro-disorder, and struggles to sympathize with those who romanticize her illness.
“I don’t understand how they can support something that tears peoples lives apart. They advocate and advertise it like it’s such a good thing, and it’s just horrible. These websites say things like ‘it’d be better to be dead than to be fat’, and those are thoughts I just don’t need reminding of.” she said.
Above all things, Maddy is self conscious when it comes to her disorder, hiding her figure in big baggy jumpers and expertly dodging questions regarding food.
When the attention is turned to Tumblr, girls like Jacqueline and 17 year old Anna are proud to broadcast the specifics of their illness for all to see.
Like most thinspo devotees, anorexia and depression sufferer Anna, proclaims her SW (start weight), CW (current weight), and GW (goal weight) on her blog as well as proclaiming her love for thin, dainty bones.
“I like to see collarbones, hipbones, flat stomachs with no rolls, a thigh gap, knobby knees and tiny ankles. Just skinny, pretty girls- that’s everything I want.” she says.
A study conducted in the International Journal of Eating Disorders provides the first systematic evidence of the negative consequences of thinspiration blogs, by revealing an “increased negative self-comparison” as well as a much higher likelihood to eat less and exercise more after viewing these detrimental sites.
Psychiatrist and body image specialist Dr Matthew Bambling believes thinspiration and pro-anorexia websites are significantly more damaging to those predisposed to negative self thought.
“These sites can have a very negative impact, amplifying existing insecurities about selfimage.”
The online groups can take on cult like overtones where people do extreme things to win over more and recognition for their eating disordered behaviour.” he says.
Although Jacqueline is well aware of the impact her daily updated blog has on her mental health, she’s obsessed with documenting what she calls the “beautiful brutality” of eating disorders.
“There is an art form related to these disorders. It’s the art of starvation, and I am infatuated by it. We come to Tumblr to be reminded that others feel the same way, and that it’s okay” she says.
The founder pro-recovery community Mentor Connect, Shannon Cutts, is fighting against the societal values which convince young people that thinspiration is normal and acceptable.
“I personally feel like thinspo is as much a product of our thin-obsessed culture as it is anything else. Our entire culture is hooked on thin.”
This societal pressure is the foundation of the pro-anorexia community and is amplified tenfold when a personal collage of stick-like figures are added to the equation.
“I think women have a duty to be attractive, and people who aren’t are downgraded. I think it’s terrible; it’s pure hatred.” says Jacqueline of the thin obsessed culture she is
Dr Bambling believes thinspo obsessed teens are a inevitable product of society’s obsession with beauty and thinness.
“Thinness is regarded as attractive, and in our society being attractive is regarded as being a good and worthwhile person. Young girls often believe that being attractive and consequently desired makes them worthwhile.
It is a sad thing that as a society we have allowed females to define themselves in such a way.” says Dr Bambling.
For an audio and visual representation of the above investigation, and an insight into the world of thinspo, please visit http://www.the-hunger-blog.tumblr.com.