Friday, February 6, 2009

Getting Started

I suppose it is about time to share my research topic and some of my initial questions and issues. 
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?


  1. I was really looking forward to hear more about your research project when I learned about your topic in class. Eating disorders and body dismorphic disorders are topics I am very sensitive to and which I am exploring in my own (larger-scale) research. I have never actually heard (or though of) communities actively promoting eating disorders, and needless to say, I find it quite saddening.In a sense, we are studying extreme opposite communities (as neo-burlesque values body diversity, and is even used as a subversive medium by certain fat activists). On the other hand, I think our research communities might share more commonalities than what may appear... But let's talk more about that later... I'm really looking forward to hear more... Good luck with your research project!

  2. I as well was quite interested in the topic when I heard the prof mention it in class. It must be an obstacle to try and observe but yet still having your subjective opinion. I have heard of these sites. It is sad, especially when you see younger girls with eating disorders. What age group participates on these sites? Good luck to you with your research, I know I would not be able to tackle this topic! If this helps, I was watching Oprah on t.v this past friday and in Mauritania (Africa) the body image is complete opposite to western body image. Women are suppose to be "plump". The men believe "the bigger a woman the better". Mothers do something called "gavage" which means because they want there girls to grow up to be "plump" they force feed them. Even if a child says she is full from eating they keep feeding the child regardless of if they throw up. Very sad. Here is the website where you can find some info if your interested

  3. I've been plugging Jenny Ryan's site all over, but if you haven't already checked it out I highly recommend it:

    That page in particular is one of her presentations dealing with such communities online. Very challenging topic.

    It sounds like you are dealing with the ethical issues well. I'm sure more will come up and I hope you'll keep sharing how you accommodate them.

  4. One question you might consider asking people you speak to is why you should not be shocked by them or what they advocate. In other words, ask them to convince you, without judging them. Find out what inspires them and why, and whether the Internet is just an auxiliary tool, or a central one. For example, I know students as Facebook friends, but that is clearly auxiliary as we meet on campus more than we chat online.

    Also, what role do video and photography play in their self-representations?

  5. Sounds like you are in for a hell of a ride. This stuff is pretty heavy. Good luck.