Here is what the commenter (Lisa) had to say:
Skinnygossip isn’t a pro ana site, it’s a pro skinny site. The owner of SkinnyGossip doesn’t encourage mental illness and there is a support group for girls who suffered from eating disorders on the Skinnygossip forums. Some of the “starving tips” may seem dumb but they don’t encourage you to harm yourself in any way, the term is just used to get more attention. SkinnyGossip is more about fashion and models then it is about losing weight.
Really? I thought to myself, taking another look at the site. And yes, Skinny Gossip was just as I remembered. It’s the classic case study of a pro-ana blog and demonstrates all the insidious ways such sites operate.
Pro-anorexia (pro-ana), pro-bulimia (pro-mia), and pro-eating disorder (pro-ed) blogs are “how to” guides encouraging and promoting eating disorders. I’m going to refer to them jointly as pro-ana blogs. According to the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA’s) Media Guidelines For Responsible Coverage of Pro-Anorexia/Pro-Bulimia/Thinspiration:
Pro-ana/pro-mia/thinspo refers to web content that intentionally encourage or glorify dangerous behaviors characteristic of those who struggle with the eating disorders Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, which can be life-threatening.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) notes:
On these sites, users are instructed and motivated to lose weight to be part of an “elite,” though hazardous, online community. Some initially appear friendly and benign. However, they can pose a serious threat to some individuals, not simply because they promote eating disorder behaviors, but because they build a sense of community that is unhealthy. They lure the impressionable and persuade them that the Pro-Ana community is providing caring and nurturing advice.
That’s perhaps the most dangerous part. These websites aren’t necessarily going to come out and say I’m going to teach how to have an eating disorder, even though it’s bad for you. Some are overt, unapologetic and defend the “lifestyle.” Others, however, are more subtle and sinister. According to ANAD:
It’s also increasingly more difficult to detect Pro-Ana sites. Many are disguised as positive sites where people help each other lose weight together. They come together under the banner of “thinspiration,”dispensing tips and tricks to lose weight. Some begin innocently enough but quickly descend into full-fledged Pro-Ana. In June 2010, researchers from Johns Hopkins studied the content of 180 sites they discovered while searching for terms like “Pro-Anorexia” and “thin and support.” 83% of the sites they viewed contained suggestions for engaging in eating disorder behaviors. A minority provided information on recovery, but also encouraged eating disorder behaviors. Contradicting information like this may influence innocent and impressionable site users, like children, adolescents and those who already feel isolated.
ANAD provides a list of the key characteristics of pro-ana blogs. Let’s take a look at some of these and see how Skinny Gossip measures up:
Glamorize/idolize images of emaciated or very thin individuals
Skinny Gossip is all about using “thinspiration” (a key pro-ana buzzword) to motivate its readers. You can see examples here, here and here. It also encourages readers to publish thinspiration they find on their own in their forums.
Commenter Lisa says “SkinnyGossip is more about fashion and models then it is about losing weight.” The website itself debunks this notion, telling readers to pretend to concerned family and friends that thinspiration isn’t what it appears to be in its bluntly named “Starving Tip 82“:
Have photos of your favorite models in beautiful, editorial shots on your bedroom wall. Then when people ask, it’s not thinspiration, it’s your interest in fashion photography and the surrounding arts.
And Skinny Gossip drives home the point in more of its “Starving Tips” that these pictures are to motivate readers to get as thin as possible:
Thinspo is your best friend. You think you’ve lost weight? Check out some fashion models or skinny celebrities online and you’ll realize that you can probably do better.
Thinspiration is key to skinny success. Keep a thinspiration notebook and thinspo pictures everywhere you can. Keep a little picture in your purse for a constant reminder. Also, keep one right behind your credit card so that you are reinforced each time that you buy something, especially food.
Encourage and teach dangerous eating disorder behaviors
Commenter Lisa says that Skinny Gossip’s “starving tips” are “dumb but harmless.” But here are just a few of the harmful things Skinny Gossip advocates:
- Hide your eating habits. Having to hide your eating habits is an immediate red flag. Skinny Gossip not only tells readers to be “careful who they tell” but suggests doing things like cutting up your food and moving it around your plate to make people think you’ve eaten it (Starving Tip 26) and pretending you have an ulcer to get out of eating (Starving Tip 87). It also recommends leaving empty food bags around to convince family and friends you’re eating more than you are. Skinny Gossip has a bag of tricks on how to mislead those who care about you.
- Avoid Eating. According to Skinny Gossip “if you must eat, ONLY eat when people are watching you. All other calories are eaten in vain.” (Starving Tip 3) It also recommends water, cough drops, and Chia seeds (yes, like from the illustrious Chia Pets) in lieu of food. Skinny Girl also suggests that one embrace stomach hunger pains here.
- Have an intense fear of weight gain. Skinny Gossip does this by shaming celebrities who have gained weight and making fun of “fat” women. Readers will then fear becoming like these objects of ridicule and do everything in their power to avoid that. See this article snarking on a supposed weight gain of Barbara Palvin, this one comparing Christina Aguilera to Miss Piggy and this one negatively commenting on Kristen Bell’s eating/food choices.
- Compulsive Exercise. This sums Skinny Gossip’s approach to exercise best:
Take every chance you can to exercise and burn calories. Fidget whenever your are [sic] sitting down, wiggle your foot, tap/clap your hands, play with your pen. Clench your butt muscles, or go up and down on your toes while waiting to cross the roads etc. Stand up whenever you can. Pace up and down while you wait for the bus/train. Take stairs not the elevator and go up them two at a time. If you walk to work/school/the bus stop etc leave later than you need to so you’ll have to rush (which makes your heart beat faster and burns cals). Try to do a walk that takes 20 mins in 10 etc. Every time you go to the bath room do 5 – 10 star jumps or push ups against the door – and drink lots of water so you’ll have to go often NEVER sit still.
Attempt to mask toxicity by being exclusive and elite
Shrouded in secrecy, the author/moderator of Skinny Gossip operates in complete anonymity. She hides, acknowledging that what she is doing is “controversial” (a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one). The site has public forums, private forums, and even an elite and exclusive “Gurl’s Club”:
Now, a little info on the “Gurls Club” which is for my favorite gurls only. You know who you are – you’ve been supporting me forever on this blog. Commenting, keeping it real, reminding me when I’m slacking, etc. So I have created this Club for my besties, and you’ll have special karmic powers, access to secret areas, public recognition of your superior status, and – you’ll hopefully get lots of inside gossip. Why inside gossip? Because it’s going to include a lot of girls who work in the business (models, actresses, others in fashion & entertainment) and who I know frequent the site. (In fact, I’ve reached out to some of you personally already.) So anyway, send me a private message on the forum for further info – because some of you are shoo-ins!
In February 2012, NEDA announced that it was working together with Tumblr both to flag these sites and “to create language for directing individuals (who are using key search terms associated with these sites) to resources and help.” You can read Tumblr’s policy against self-harm blogs here. Hopefully this initiative will make strides in both eliminating some of these sites and getting help to people who need it. It’s a tough fight though. These sites keeping popping everywhere, are hard to police and contain, and are incredibly harmful.
So, Lisa, I’m sorry to say that Skinny Gossip isn’t deserving of your loyal defense. I didn’t see any “support group” for women with eating disorders on the site, which would utterly contradict the rest of its content. Instead, the site promotes eating disorders. Skinny Gossip’s author may claim otherwise, but I call bullshit.
I’m a recovered anorexic/bulimic and I see how triggering this site’s content can be. This post isn’t meant as a criticism of you or any of Skinny Gossip’s readers. Instead, I recommend that you take a critical look at the site, educate yourself, and seek out helpful resources for you and any of the women you know on the site. NEDA and ANAD have great resources.
I want nothing but to see all women happy and healthy. Lisa, I urge you to take care of yourself, and wish you all the best.