Colorado College Assistant Sociology Professor C.J. Pascoe has conducted the most extensive qualitative investigation to date into online pro-eating disorder, or “pro-ana,” communities. In the article “Pro-anorexia Communities and Online Interaction: Bringing the Pro-ana Body Online,” to be published in the June edition of the journal Body & Society, Pascoe and co-author Natalie Boero of San Jose State University argue that rather than recruiting young women to pro-anaorexic websites, these communities actively work to discourage those who are looking for quick weight loss or dieting tips, labeling those who do so “wannarexics.”
For the past 10 years, these online spaces have attracted much attention from the mainstream media and eating disorder advocates for their dramatic and often shocking view of anorexia as a valid and desirable lifestyle. Yet based on their analysis of more than 2,000 discussion threads on 14 pro-ana online discussion groups made up of more than 3,000 members, the authors discovered that many of these communities closely guard who can be accepted as a member by trying to verify that members are authentically anorexic and not simply looking to lose weight or engage in a fad diet.
Community members continually challenge one another’s authenticity by requiring participants to engage in a variety of online activities such as reporting their weight loss or gains, sharing daily food logs and posting pictures of themselves to document their weight loss. When community members fail to prove to the others that they are authentically eating disordered, they earn the label “wannarexic” and are mocked, ridiculed, and often forced out of these online communities. The study is available at: http://bod.sagepub.com/content/18/2/27.full