Disordered Eating in a Digital Age: Narratives of Withdrawal From Pro-Ana/Mia Forums by Regular Site Users
Background & Aims: Studies estimate that over 500 live Pro-Ana websites are in existence (Hansen, 2008). Broadly speaking they advocate that eating ‘disorders’’ are a ‘life-style’ choice rather than a mental health problem requiring treatment (Bardone‐Cone & Cass, 2007). To date, content analyses (Borzekowski, Schenk, Wilson, & Peebles, 2010; Harshbarger, Ahlers‐Schmidt, Mayans, Mayans, & Hawkins, 2009), covert observations (Brotsky & Giles, 2007) and experimental designs (Bardone‐Cone & Cass, 2007; Jett, LaPorte, & Wanchisn, 2010) have been used to investigate the impact of the Pro-Ana movement on individuals. Findings suggest that the sites can maintain and worsen eating difficulties and pose a significant obstacle to recovery. Yet remarkably, no study has investigated accounts of Pro-Ana withdrawal and its associated impact. This study sought to address the literature gap. Methodology: Six women formed the sample (two British, four American). All identified themselves as previously using Pro-Ana sites regularly and also reported experiencing eating difficulties. Using semi structured interviews; Pro-Ana experiences were explored, focusing particularly on site disengagement. Narrative inquiry enabled the content, structure, context and performative aspect of all accounts to be considered. Analysis & Findings: A brief narrative summary was presented for each participant, along with the emerging storylines across accounts. The strongest storyline of coming to Pro-Ana was aspirations for further weight loss and a search for a connection. The strongest storyline of withdrawal involved a quest for recovery, though accounts varied widely in agency surrounding this act and for a small proportion disengagement was actually a sign of things getting worse. Notably, storylines of strengthening different identity aspects and connecting with different social support systems featured heavily in most recovery accounts. The findings are discussed in relation to their clinical implications, the strengths and weaknesses of the project and direction of further research.
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