THE HUNGER BLOGS: A Secret World Of Teenage 'Thinspiration'
"[Modeling and fashion] was one of the original reasons I started looking at thinspo," she says. "I had an interview with a very, very tough agent in ninth grade and they told me that they would be happy to represent me because of my height and my facial structure. But they wanted me to lose 25 pounds. I wasn't overweight at the time -- I was probably average for my height. It was a big shock for me and that's what really pushed me in the direction [of pro-ana]."
And, just as the fashion world has of late embraced street-style photography alongside its runway models, tapping into the public's taste for reality-based entertainment, Tumblr thinspo blogs, which deeply admire the fashion community, have themselves come to feature more and more photos of "real girl" subjects. But it's not always easy to differentiate the models and the real girls.
Just this month, 19-year-old supermodel Karlie Kloss -- whose photo was pulled from Vogue Italia's website last month after it started appearing on pro-anorexia blogs -- began her own Tumblr page. Titled "Kloss Gloss," the blog is devoted to photos of Karlie and her model friends living the fabulous life in New York City, with an authenticity that makes Kloss come across less as a supermodel with a six-figure income and more like a beautiful, glamorous, real (though frighteningly thin) teenage girl.
"I love Karlie Kloss so much, and Miranda Kerr," says Kate. "Victoria's Secret models are almost inhuman -- they're so perfect."
And just as women's magazines often set unrealistic ideal body images for women through their use of photoshop, so too do thinspo blogs, which feature "real girls" that have been doctored and fetishize rib-visible, emaciated subjects.
"I love 'real-girl thinspo,' which is thinspo of girls in everyday situations who aren't models," says Natalie. "It's girls at the beach with their friends, at school, and crossing the street."
One blogger set up the following motivational 'real girl' scenario: "Imagine… you wake up and slip on those size-zero jeans with ease, and they're a little baggy. You put on a plain white tank top, it looks amazing. You go into the bathroom, you brush your hair, which is long and down to your tiny waist. You decide to just put some lipstick and mascara on because you already look beautiful. You leave your house and as you're walking down the street, people turn their heads to look at you. That thought is enough thinspo for me to succeed with this."
'IT'S MY CHOICE'
Teens spend an average of 53 hours per week consuming various media. Unsurprisingly, this can affect their health and self-esteem. A 2011 study conducted by researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel found that the more time teenage girls spend on social-networking sites, the more prone they are to negative body image and eating disorders.
Many thinspo bloggers, like Kate, describe their eating disorder as a "lifestyle choice."
"I feel absolutely horrible introducing someone else to the lifestyle I've created for myself," she says. "But if a girl comes to me and she's trying to shove her toothbrush down the back of her throat, I'm not going to tell her to stop because [...] it's just going to drag her further away."
CJ Pascoe, a sociologist at Colorado College and co-author of the upcoming book Anas, Mias and Wannas: Pro-Ana Communities and Identities Online notes that many pro-ana blogs -- like Kate's -- have co-opted the language of second-wave feminism that touts personal choice and freedom.
"They say, 'You know, this is my lifestyle -- I live an extremely low-calorie lifestyle and this is my choice,'" says Pascoe. "And what goes along with that is all sorts of personality traits that they're very proud of. They have an extreme amount of self-control, dedication and willpower. And when they talk about it, they seem like these extreme athletes who run a hundred miles in a shot or do these 24-hour races.”
Twice, Kate has tested her willpower with the common 50-day "anorexic boot camp" (also known as the "ABC diet"), a highly restrictive nutritional plan that varies daily caloric intake between zero and 500 calories. Once, she completed the 50-day program and lost 25 pounds, but the second time she only made it to day 35 before she was forced to up her food intake.
"I had no energy and I became a major caffeine addict," she recalls. "I couldn't sleep, I couldn't focus in school. It was pretty rough."
Facebook and other social-media companies are starting to take notice of how their platforms are being used to aid disordered eating and unhealthy lifestyles. NEDA is now providing counsel to Facebook, helping the site to establish guidelines with respect to the reporting, flagging and removing of users and groups -- including individual posts and images -- that promote anorexic behavior and self-harm.
"We take it really seriously," says Katherine Barna, communications director for Tumblr. "We're reaching out to experts and activists in this area to understand the best approaches for us to take, and we're still in the process of determining what that is… We're not interested in Tumblr promoting the acceptability of damaging practices."
Despite the popularity of the thinspo community, Mysko notes that many young female bloggers are speaking out against the blogs and a culture that gives rise to these types of disorders.
"Rather than internalizing all these messages about how we're supposed to look, or what we're supposed to eat and how often we're supposed to work out," says Mysko, "teens are actually starting to get frustrated and are talking back to mainstream media."
But for vulnerable girls struggling to figure out who they are, a community of extreme-weight losers, hunger stavers, and collarbone admirers is waiting in the wings, ready to offer words of thinspiration.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders helpline at 1-800-931-2237.