I have chosen to research the pro-Ana and pro-AnaMia online community. For those who are unfamiliar, Ana refers to Anorexia and Mia refers to Bulimia and the community celebrates and encourages disordered eating. Such sites and the online community were quite popular some years ago, but in the past few years they have become fewer and farther between, enjoying less popularity and more censorship. The reason I chose this topic was because I was interested in exploring something controversial. More central to this choice was an interest in the way the online, virtual location of the community, was a place/space in which bodies, their symbols and meanings can be renegotiated in very specific ways. Such negotiations are close to impossible in actual world. The celebration of disordered eating and of unhealthy body image seems an important place to focus research because it highlights and gives insight into the mind and body that suffers from a prevalent health issue. They also provide a place for people who are suffering, likely feeling immensely lonely, a place to find people who share a common struggle. I want specifically to look at how this online community is constructed, how it is used and how interpersonal connections are made; I am interested in the function and desires it serves as well as the social dynamic that such sites produce.
As you may have assumed, a choice for methodology that considers the ethical concerns of this research has been difficult. From my own perspective, I find going to these sites incredibly challenging as their content is shocking. Of course I would like to think that I would be able to remain neutral, but I admit, I do feel strongly about issues concerning eating disorders and body image. For this reason, the way in which I choose to 'participate' warrants considerable thought and sensitivity. It is difficult then to engage in forums or chats and not disclose my position as an 'observer' or researcher. If some young girl were to engage with me, asking who I am, I think I would feel very uncomfortable responding. For this reason, I have contacted individual blog authors as well as many of the 'webmistresses' of these sites requesting interviews via e-mail. So far, I have one respondent willing to collaborate.
To start, I have taken an inventory of as many of these sites and blogs as possible. Many links are dead and many sites are simply no longer active. For the ones I have accessed I have made lists of their component parts, cross listing similarities and differences (so many of these sites contain the same information) in order to compile and analyze what elements create cohesion and community for its members. I hope that through textual analysis, interviews and observing interactions I can begin to make some headway.
On a more personal note, I have found myself deeply saddened by the content of these sites. I think this an aspect of research I did not anticipate. The initial shock I felt confronting such sites is over, and now, I find myself emotionally confused over their content. The exhaustion I feel when looking through pictures of 'thinspiration', looking through daily menus that do not exceed 400 calories, tips on how to starve onself, or purge effectively in private and silence, or reading teenage poetry has been overwhelming to say the least. Perhaps I need to reassess my own position. Any thoughts?