#bodycheck

#bodycheck is a collaborative project with Katherine Frazer that investigates individuals who have eating disorders and the online communities that they form. Our interest is derived from a desire to better understand how people, who may be marginalized by mainstream culture, or choose not to live by society’s rules, build and find solidarity in their own online subculture communities.

Book • Print

When this project first began, we were drawn to the idea of investigating counterculture. We found the eating disorder community particularly intriguing as a research topic because it is one that is well-hidden within a seemingly perfect suburban, middle class community. While largely invisible in real life due to its taboo nature, an approximate 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the United States. Our population of investigation is predominantly Caucasian females between the ages of 14 and 24 who use online methods for documenting their habits. Throughout this process we have discovered that eating disorders are a widespread and well documented social phenomenon among American youth today.

We first became interested in online communities when we understood that they are a way for those with eating disorders to form a support network for their illness. Through our investigation, we have learned that users share weight loss tips, the impact their eating disorders have on close relationships, as well as the frustration they experience from the lack of empathy found in the real world. Essentially, they create solidarity within this online community. Tumblr, an online blogging community, is the source from which we have observed and gathered the content presented in this book. Tumblr defines itself as a service for celebrating creativity, enabling a user to “express yourself freely” and “reflect who you are, and what you love, think, and stand for”. Users can post text, photos, quotes, links, music, and videos as well as name and customize the appearance of their blog. Users can “follow” the blogs of other individuals, “reblog” and “like” posts from them and are able to “ask” or send anonymous messages for other users to respond to. Users organize and tag the content they post with hashtags (e.g. #personal), allowing others to search for content they are interested in.

The hashtag mechanism allowed us to search Tumblr for eating disorder content and the users who post it. We initially used the search terms:

    #ed–acronym for eating disorder
  • #anorexia
  • #ana–short for anorexia
  • #proana–in support of anorexia
  • #bulimia
  • #mia–short for bulimia
  • #promia–in support of bulimia
  • #thinspo–content that inspires the user to lose weight
  • Throughout the process we observed the use of other popular hashtags within the community including:
  • #ednos–acronym for eating disorder not otherwise specified
  • #bonespo–in reference to thinspo, content that inspires the user to lose enough weight to see their bones
  • #edrecovery–the eating disorder recovery process
  • #bodycheck–the hashtag referenced in the title of our book, photographing one’s body to check physical weight loss progress
  • We also discovered the tagging of specific body parts such as:
  • #ribs
  • #spine
  • #collarbones
  • #thighs
  • #stomach

  • title

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut

  • title

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut

  • title

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut

  • title

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut

  • title

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut

We observed thousands of blogs that were dedicated primarily to documenting the user’s eating disorder, food consumption, weight loss progress, and weight loss inspiration. Online users post incredibly intimate content, mentioning that they are sharing information they would not even share with their best friends. We feel that it is important to validate and represent an online identity as a meaningful part of one’s self image.

Part of Tumblr’s posted guidelines states that users of the service are not to post “content that urges or encourages others to: cut or injure themselves; embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or commit suicide rather than, e.g., seeking counseling or treatment, or joining together in supportive conversation with those suffering or recovering from depression or other conditions” and warns that “we will remove only those posts or blogs that cross the line into active promotion or glorification of self–harm”. While this policy attempts to protect its users, it may also create a severing of the community and damage to expression itself. We seek to investigate and represent the community in a tangible, permanent form, manifested in this book, in order to bring validity and a solid identity to this ephemeral online community. Many of the blogs we have included within this book have already been deleted just several months since we collected the content in early 2014. This reflects the content monitoring that larger communities like Tumblr enact in order to limit allegedly damaging behavior.