British Teen Petitions Government to Tackle 'Thinspiration' Blogs

By Victoria Kim 10/30/14

Diagnosed with anorexia, 18-year-old Alice Taylor has recovered from her eating disorder and wants help educate others about the disease.

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A British teen is on a mission to protect young people from websites promoting “thinspiration." Alice Taylor, 18, of Oxford, has petitioned the UK Department of Education and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to raise awareness about “thinspiration” or “thinspo” sites online that promote eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

“Thinspiration can include pictures of size zero (or smaller) models, anorexia suffers, and ‘before and after’ scenarios,” Taylor said in her petition. “Rather than offering support for recovery…these sites encourage people to restrict their diet to a dangerous extent.”

Some of these sites offer advice on how to stave off hunger and burn extra calories like eating ice and chewing gum. In Taylor’s experience, she learned how to trick friends and family by wearing dresses to look bigger and eating just before check-ups. “Thinspo diets recommend a few hundred calories per day, plus fasting entirely on certain days of the week,” Taylor explained.

Last year, she was diagnosed with anorexia. At her lowest point, Taylor weighed about 88 pounds. Ultimately, she left school to focus on her recovery. She is now attending regular therapy sessions and is resuming her studies, retaking her A-Levels. Her petition’s objectives include raising awareness about the dangers of eating disorders among children through teaching in schools and outright banning these sites.

“If children were encouraged to steer clear of blogs that normalize what is a very serious and damaging mental illness, I would hope that the number of cases per year of anorexia would decrease,” Taylor said.

The Oxford teen believes addressing the issue with children before they are influenced by the media’s representation of body image is an important step toward preventing the development of eating disorders. “The current state of our culture expects young people to idolize thin models and celebrities, and to expect criticism and humiliation of anyone who does not conform,” she said. “Whilst it is a somewhat arduous task to dismantle the celebrity culture, I believe a positive option is to target children before they become influenced by the media and peer pressure to become thin.”

A simple Google search produces an abundance of sites promoting thinspiration, many of them powered by the micro-blogging platform, Tumblr. “Young people who are prone to disordered eating are generally plagued with insecurity and feeling very isolated, so this world of pro-ana (pro-anorexia) provides a community and a sense of belonging, and validates their experiences,” said Claire Mysko, an advisor to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). “But unfortunately, it does so in a way that promotes incredibly unhealthy and dangerous behavior.”

Unhealthy thinking is perpetuated by this online community through these sites, Taylor said. “Mantras that encourage unhealthy thinking habits include, ‘It’s not a disease, it’s a lifestyle,’ and ‘I believe that I am the most vile, worthless, and useless person ever to have existed on this planet and I am totally unworthy of anyone’s time and attention.'”

These sites are harmful and should be avoided, Taylor warned. “Just as children are encouraged to avoid anyone who might be wanting to harm them online, we should be encouraging them to avoid groups that could lead to extreme health complications, and potentially death.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr