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June Lunchtime Seminar – Anorexia and Social Media: Ethnographic Explorations and Clinical Implications

8 Jun 2016 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM


Holdenby, Room H39

the University of Northampton

Hosted by Centre for Applied Mental Health Research

Presentation by Dr Anna Lavis, Lecturer in Medical Sociology, University of Birmingham

Drawing on ethnography and interviews with participants to pro-anorexia websites, alongside those with young people in treatment for eating disorders, this paper reflects on ‘pro-anorexia.’ It asks what a desire to maintain one’s existing anorexia is, how it is enacted, and what might underpin it.

Whilst interactions around pro-anorexia on social media offer insights into lived experiences of anorexia, I argue that to understand pro-anorexia online it is necessary to engage with the meanings of the illness itself, and recognise the function it may serve for some young people.

Participants’ descriptions of anorexia as a ‘friend’ that ‘looks after you’ problematise taken-for-granted boundaries between health and harm, illness and care. Anorexia is described as offering a way of being in the world that both responds to and ameliorates distress; some individuals recount living, albeit painfully, through their illness. These narratives challenge any assumption that a desire to maintain anorexia is primarily about being or becoming thin. In so doing, they invite re-consideration of depictions of bodily emaciation in pro-anorexic social media spaces, and their layered meanings.

In suggesting that pro-anorexia, both online and off-line, be approached in ways that take account of the complexities of lived experience, this paper intersects with wider discussions around treatment resistance. It asks how pro-anorexia might be engaged with ethically in both analysis and therapeutic practice. Participants’ narratives suggest a need to reposition attention away from anorexia itself, to the distress and life events that may underlie both the illness and the desire to maintain it through mediated self-starvation.

To reserve a place:

*** A Sandwich Lunch will be provided ***
If you have specific dietary requirements please email healthandwellbeing@northampton.

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