Yet, at the same time, they gave me a glimmer of empty hope that one day my ribs may protrude like hers. One day, my hip bones may sharpen and stick out, my collar bone may reveal itself to the public, my thighs may one day stop touching.
At 13, I found myself sitting in my living room, my eyes glued to the screen of my family’s clunky, black desktop as I fantasized what it would be like to be this 18-year-old goddess whose long, wavy dirty-blonde hair hung limp and dry from her scalp in that sexy, I-don’t-care fashion, framing her thin, pale, drawn-out face, made paler by her piercing, bright blue eyes encased by her dark bags and heavy black eyeshadow.
I want to be her. These thoughts flew through my mind as I scrolled my mouse over the “tips” button, written in a friendly, script-like, purple font, and read, as though they were the holiest of texts, the long list of tips which would give me the emaciated body I longed for. Don’t eat. That was tip number one, right before the second most important tip: Don’t get caught.
On the few occasions pro-eating disorder websites are discussed, the focus seems to lie within the thinspiration photos and tips offered. As a recovering bulimic who, at one point, found herself obsessively frequenting these websites daily (or hourly), I can say it was not the photos or the tips which trapped me into the depths of these sites — it was the ever-growing sense of community.
During my eighth grade year, I would return home from school each day, toss my bag on the floor, and leap straight on the computer, cautious and ready to pounce on the red X on the upper-right corner of the screen should my mother or sister walk into the room. Although I spent a great many hours staring at emaciated women and rereading tips I had already memorized to achieve such a worthy, righteous body, I spent an even greater amount of time pouring my heart out in a brightly colored font to the many faceless strangers spread out across the country.
I sought and found comfort in the stories posted by other girls, stories of their descent into starvation and endless purging, stories of cutting and scars, stories of isolation and depression and thoughts of suicide. Their stories were much like my own. As I read of their fears of being fat, of being imperfect, of being unworthy of the world, I felt as though I had found a place where I no longer needed to hide who I was. I shared their fears, their sadness, their anger, their self-loathing, and could finally admit to all of it. It was not the photos I yearned for as I visited these sites. It was the girls in whom I saw myself.
As years passed and I began my long and painful journey upon the road of recovery (a road, I’m sorry to admit, I have yet to truly complete), I found it nearly impossible to break away from the hypnotic hold these websites held over me. Although I had never met these girls in person, they were no longer mere usernames and profile pictures. They were my friends. My best friends. They had let me into their lives, told me of their families, their friends, their backgrounds, whatever abuse they had faced.
I knew their favorite books and movies and what Backstreet Boy they had proclaimed their love to during the ‘90s. I knew more about them then I did about my friends from school, and they knew more about me. They trusted me with their lives; they lent an ear and emotional support as I told them of my own fears and problems. To turn my back on the websites was to turn my back on them, and how, after years of true kinship, could I be so cold as to turn my back on them?
Eventually, I did. And although breaking away from pro-eating disorder websites aided my recovery, I still live with a nagging, constant guilt for running away from the girls who had welcomed me into their world with open arms, with accepting words. They saw me at my weakest points and passed no judgment. From them, I sought advice, and they gave it. What became of these girls, I do not know and never will, and it is this which causes my deep sense of guilt. Did they get better? Did they get worse? Could I have talked them out of their disorder, into getting help, as I was starting to get? Again, I will never know.
There is a reason people (not just girls and women, but boys and men, too) turn to thinspiration websites. It is not merely for the tips and the photos; it is for the sense of acceptance, something those with eating disorders lose as they fall deeper within the disorder. There seems to be a lack of awareness of the dangers of these websites, something which must change in order to aid in the recovery of those with eating disorders. Perhaps if those with eating disorders felt acceptance and love in the outside world, they would be less likely to seek refuge within the disordered minds of the online world.