Neoliberalism, Pro-ana/mia Websites, and Pathologizing Women: Using Performance Ethnography to Challenge Psychocentrism
Key terms such as “pro-ana,” “pro-anorexia,” and “pro-ED” are searched for on the Internet over 13 million times annually. These searches lead to web pages and social media sites where pro-anorexia and “pro-bulimia” (pro-ana/mia) contributors share weight-loss and exercise tips, “thinspiration” slogans, images and videos, and speak openly about their problems with eating and body image. In this article, we outline our initial research on online responses to pro-ana/mia, and describe how we used the data and analyses from this research to create a piece of research-informed theatre, or performance ethnography. The initial research identified a range of responses to pro-ana/mia that were aligned with either dominant or critical discourses on the causes of, and solutions for, pro-ana/mia. Our findings and analyses challenge media portrayals and medical approaches to pro-ana/mia phenomena, and support an alternative, critical analysis of how psychocentrism and neoliberalism foster social injustices for women and girls. Our work nurtures collective efforts to displace dominant ideologies and practices that have serious implications for the socio-cultural, economic, physical and mental health of women and their communities.
Arnold, C. (2014, August 30). Should pro-anorexia sites be criminalized? The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/30/should-pro-ana-sites-be-criminalized.html
Bates, C. F. (2014). I am a waste of breath, of space, of time: Metaphors of self in a pro-anorexia group. Qualitative Health Research, 25(2), 189-204.
Bignell, P. (2007, January 7). Eating disorder web sites are 'killing people,' experts say. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/proanorexia-websites-are-killing-people-431065.html
Binkley, S. (2015). Happiness as enterprise: An essay on neoliberal life. New York: State University of New York.
Bordo, S. (2003). Unbearable weight: Feminism, western culture, and the body. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Boero, N., & Pascoe, C. (2012). Pro-anorexia communities and online interaction: Bringing the pro-ana body online. Body & Society, 18(2), 27-57.
Brotsky, S., & Giles, D. (2007). Inside the "pro-ana" community: A covert online participant observation. Eating Disorders, 15(2), 93-109.
Brumberg, J. J. (2000). Fasting girls: The history of anorexia nervosa. New York: Vintage Books.
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness: An ethical and epistemological accounting. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Canadian Mental Health Association. (2016). Eating disorders. Retrieved from http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental_health/eating-disorders/#.VPoHvfnF_2g
Casilli, A., Tubaro, P., & Araya, P. (2012). Ten years of ana: Lessons from a transdisciplinary body of literature on online pro-eating disorder websites. Social Science Information, 51(1), 120-139.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Chinyowa, K. (2013). Interrogating spaces of otherness: Towards a post-critical pedagogy for applied drama and theatre. Applied Theatre Research, 1(1), 7-16.
Christodoulou, M. (2015) Pro-anorexia websites pose public health challenge. The Lancet, 379(9811), 110.
CMHA (The Canadian Mental Health Association). (2016.) Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/facts-about-eating-disorders/#.V3vNV7grLIU
Conquergood, D. (2002). Performance studies: Interventions and radical research. The Drama Review, 46(2),145-156.
Custers, K. (2015). The urgent matter of online pro-eating disorder content and children: Clinical practice. European Journal of Pediatrics, 174(4), 429-433.
Denzin, N. (1997). Interpretive ethnography: Ethnographic practices for the 21st century. London: Sage.
Denzin, N. (2001). The reflexive interview and a performative social science. Qualitative Research, 1(1), 23-46.
Denzin, N. (2003). Performance ethnography: Critical pedagogy and the politics of culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Duca, L. (2013, August 28). Can thinspiration really be #banned from instagram? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-duca/thinspiration-banned-from-instagram_b_3829155.html
Ellis, E. (2013a, April 29). Diet industry expands right along with North American waistlines. Global News. Retrieved from http://globalnews.ca/news/519060/diet-industry-expands-right-along-with-north-america-waistlines/
Ellis, E. (2013b, April 26). Diet industry expands right along with North American waistlines – Unregulated industry is a haven for empty promises, experts say. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Diet+industry+expands+right+along+with+North +America+waistlines/8268951/story.html
Ferreday, D. (2003). Unspeakable bodies: Erasure, embodiment and the pro-ana community. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(3), 277-295.
Ferrell, J., Hayward, K., & Young, J. (2008). Cultural criminology: An invitation. London: Sage.
Gailey, J. (2009). “Starving is the most fun a girl can have”: The pro-ana subculture as edgework. Critical Criminology, 17(2), 93-108.
Goldstein, T. (2012). Staging Harriet’s House: Writing and performing research-informed theatre. New York: Peter Lang.
Gray, J. (2009). Theatrical reflections of health: Physically impacting health-based research. Applied Theatre Researcher/IDEA Journal, 10, 10pp.
Gray, R., & Sinding, C. (2002). Standing ovation: Performing social science research about cancer. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Grey, S. H. (2011). A perfect loathing: The feminist expulsion of the eating disorder. KB Journal, 7(2). Retrieved from http://kbjournal.org/grey
Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hine, C. (2005). Virtual methods: Issues in social research on the internet. New York: Oxford.
Kendall, S. (2014). Anorexia nervosa: The diagnosis – A postmodern ethics contribution to the bioethics debate on involuntary treatment for anorexia nervosa. Bioethical Inquiry, 11, 31-40.
Knapton, O. (2013). Pro-anorexia: Extensions of ingrained concepts. Discourse & Society, 24(4), 461-477.
Kokkos, A. (2010). Transformative learning through aesthetic experience: Towards a comprehensive method. Journal of Transformative Education, 8(3), 155-177.
Lewis, S. P., & Arbuthnott, A. E. (2012). Searching for thinspiration: The nature of internet searches for pro-eating disorder websites. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking, 15(4), 200-204.
Lichfield, J. (2008, April 15). France bans websites promoting anorexia ‘cult’. Independent. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-bans-websites-promoting-anorexia-cult-809617.html
Lofland, J. (1971). Analyzing social settings. New York: Wadsworth.
Madison, S. (2012). Critical ethnography: Method, ethics, and performance (2nd Ed.). Sage: London.
Pollack, D. (2003). Pro-eating disorder websites: What should be the feminist response? Feminism and Psychology, 13, 246–251.
Rimke, H. (2000). Governing citizens through self-help literature. Cultural Studies, 14(1), 61-78.
Rimke, H. (2003). Constituting transgressive interiorities: 19th century psychiatric readings of morally mad bodies. In A. Arturo (Ed.), Violence and the body: Race, gender and the state (pp. 403-428). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Rimke, H. (2011). The pathological approach to crime: Individually based theories. In K. Kramer (Ed.), Criminology: Critical Canadian perspectives (pp. 78-92). Toronto: Pearson Education Canada.
Rimke, H., & Brock, D. (2012). The culture of therapy: Psychocentrism in everyday life. In M. Thomas, R. Raby & D. Brock (Eds.), Power and Everyday Practices (pp. 182-202). Toronto: Nelson.
Rimke, H., & Hunt, A. (2002). From sinners to degenerates: The medicalization of morality in the 19th century. History of the Human Sciences, 15(1), 59-88.
Rossiter, K., Kintos, P., Colantonio, A., Gilbert, G., Gray, J., & Keightley, M. (2008). Staging data: Theatre as a tool for analysis and knowledge transfer in health research. Social Science & Medicine, 66 (1), 130-146.
Saldana, J. (Ed.). 2005. Ethnodrama: An anthology of reality theatre. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Schott, N. (2014). Pro-anorexia/bulimia interactions online: Problematizing complex cultural phenomena (Unpublished Masters thesis). Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON. Retrieved from: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2760&context=etd
Schott, N. (2015). Food marketing as a pedagogical act: Teaching women to consume ‘skinny’. Journal of Social Justice, 5, 1-23.
Schott, N., & Langan, D. (2015). Pro-anorexia/bulimia censorship and public service announcements: The price of controlling women. Media, Culture & Society, 37(8), 1158- 1175.
Smith, D. E. (1990). K is mentally ill: The anatomy of a factual account. In D. E. Smith (Eds.), Texts, facts and femininity: Exploring the relations of ruling (pp. 12-52). Oxford: Routledge.
Snyder-Young, D. (2010). Beyond an “aesthetic of objectivity”: Performance ethnography, performance texts, and theatricality. Qualitative Inquiry, 16, 883-894.
Starcevic, V., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015). Cyberchonria, cyberbullying, cybersuicide, cybersex: "New" psychopathologies for the 21st century? World Psychiatry, 14(1), 97-100.
Terry, J., & Urla, J. (1995) Deviant bodies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Tubaro, P., & Mounier, L. (2014). Sociability and support in online eating disorder communities: Evidence from personal networks. Network Science, 2(1), 1-25.
Walters, B. H., Adams, S., Broer, T., & Bal, R. (2015). Proud2Bme: Exploratory research on care and control in young women's online eating disorder narratives. Health, 1-22, online first.
Windsor Star. (2006, June 5). Online anorexia: Popular 'predatory' websites support perceptions. Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/story_print.html?id=706855dd-4cf1-43e9-9ab7-aaad71f7114f&sponsor=
Wooldridge, T. (2014). The enigma of ana: A psychoanalytic exploration of pro-anorexia internet forums. Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, 13(3), 202-216.
Copyright (c) 2016 Nicole D Schott, Lauren Spring, Debra Langan
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Articles are published in Studies in Social Justice under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence.
The copyright for the articles published in this journal is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles may be used, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings. The submission of a manuscript to Studies in Social Justice will be taken to mean that the author understands and agrees to the following:
- the manuscript represents original work not previously published;
- the manuscript is not being considered elsewhere for publication in the same language (publication elsewhere in an alternate language does not preclude acceptance of submission to Studies in Social Justice);
- appropriate written copyright permissions have been secured for republication of any copyrighted material contained in the manuscript;
- copyright for this article is retained by the author, with first publication rights granted to Studies in Social Justice;
- by virtue of its appearance in this open access journal, it is understood that the article is freely available for use, with proper attribution, for educational and other non-commercial purposes;
- reuse of the article for commercial purposes by anyone other than the author requires permission of the author;
- the author agrees to cite Studies in Social Justice as a source whenever h/she later republishes or reuses the article in other platforms.