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LiveJournal's Pro-Anorexia Groups

In case you're not aware, there are many, many pro-anorexia sites on the web. These sites see anorexia as a lifestyle, not an eating disorder, and offer support for people who are interested in it.

Putting aside the lifestyle argument for just a moment, you might have heard that LiveJournal - the mega huge journal hosting site - recently came under fire for deleting a bunch of journals with pornographic fanart of (allegedly) underage Harry Potter characters. Lots of fire.

In turn, people went through LiveJournal's terms of service with a fine tooth comb and found this clause:

The LJ TOS claim that journal content cannot "Promote or provide instructional information about illegal activities, promote physical harm or injury against any governmental entity, group or individual, or promote any act of cruelty to animals."

That said, some of those folks harmed by the Potter sweep and others called out these pro-ana communities as being harmful to people. LiveJournal's official response was, uhm...

I've read many many of these communities. It's sad, I know it is. But it's not illegal to aspire to be thin. It's not against the ToS to give people bad advice.

The response also notes that the "line" (to pull a post/community), "is when content is specifically instructing or inciting self-harm." I'm kind of unable to see how supporting anorexia as a lifestyle isn't that.

As Meiran, who tipped me to this, put it, "I'm so disgusted by this I can't even think straight. This is how far our society has gone? Where anorexia is acceptable and no longer harmful because it leads to that holy grail of thinness?" (And yes, I realize this isn't a straight on pro-fat post but felt it'd be worthy of discussion here - Meiran's comment particularly.)

12-Year-Old Has Lap Band Surgery | Clarian Health, Others Will Dock Your Paycheck If You're Fat

GirlyGirl's picture
August 8th, 2007 | Link | "Where anorexia is

"Where anorexia is acceptable and no longer harmful because it leads to that holy grail of thinness?"

I'm not sure that was exactly the point of "But it's not illegal to aspire to be thin." I think the point was that child porn is really, extremely illegal and being anorexic, in and of itself, is not. There are some things that will lead to a service losing its Safe Habor status, and some things that will just cause controversy.

I'm not defending or condoning either side in this. I'm just clarifying that point as I see it.

I don't know much more about this whole thing than someone would just from reading LJ news posts but I will say this - LiveJournal and Six Apart take all of this really, very seriously and with a community of that size, it's difficult to make everyone happy. I don't know if Six Apart is legally obligated to protect people from communities like pro-ana but I do know that child porn is REALLLLLLY illegal and it absolutely cannot be on the server. Most everything else can and does fall into a gray area.

paul August 8th, 2007 | Link | True that.

Yeah, I don't disagree on the porno ruling myself - I agree with 6A's actions on that actually.

nycfembbw August 8th, 2007 | Link | I am outraged

Of course, pro-ana LJs promote self-harm. Give me a break! Nothing gray about that in the least!

Note: I am a therapist for children and adolescents.

thorswitch August 9th, 2007 | Link | You've got a good point, but....

You've got a good point, there, of what certainly appears to be a double standard (unless you factor in the issue of actual legality,) but if they were to start pulling the pro-ana journals, how long do you think it would be before people started demanding that any fat acceptance journals likewise be pulled because by encouraging fat people to stay fat and be happy with their bodies, the journals are "encouraging harmful behaviour." I mean, we all "know" that being fat is harmful in and of itself, regardless of what your actual health is - and, *gasp* there's that new study showing that having geographically distant friends who are fat can make you even fatter! What could possibly be more harmful than a whole group of geographically distant fatties encouraging each other to *stay fat!* Oh, the horror! The humanity!

::clears throat::

Um, sorry - got a bit hysterical there.... but seriously, I'm not trying to make light of the dangers of the pro-ana communities. It's tragic that there are people who are so desperate to be thin that they'll take things to such an extreme - and even moreso that they think it's a good thing that should be shared with other. Of course, one of the things about anorexia is that its not just about wanting to be thin - it's also often about wanting to be in control. Many anorexics feel like they don't have any real control over their lives (particularly with teen agers) and what they do or don't eat is one of the few things they really *can* control. Either way, though, it's awful.

"Ignorance and prejudice and fear go hand in hand" - from "Witch Hunt" by Rush
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rachelr's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | I am a recovering anorectic

I am a recovering anorectic and there was a time when I visited and interacted in pro-ana sites such as are on LiveJournal. So, I kind of straddle the fence when it comes to pro-ana sites. One one hand, they are much more than a forum to disseminate admittedly unhealthy "tips" and resources to further aid in the illness. They also provide a network where many ED sufferers find support and understanding. When you have an ED, you often feel like you're the only person in the world who has it and its vastly reassuring to know that there are others out there experiencing the same issues and problems. ED sufferers are also crying out for attention, and these forums allow them a chance to receive the kind of notice they're so desperately seeking.

On the other hand, most people who visit these sites are only there to actively further their illness. When I decided to begin the arduous process of recovery, I continued to visit a particular, popular site and my anti-ED comments were met with rebuff, usually. But not all. Keep in mind, there are only a handful of hardened "pro-ana" women who frequent these sites. The majority are usually young girls who "want" to become sick - you would not believe the numbers of posts asking "How do I become anorexic" that pop up on these forums - or women who may have an ED, but are not as hard-core as the pro-ana credo leads one to believe.

I'm of the mind that I would rather keep these kind of groups out in the open, rather than pushing them further underground. If a girl wants to find a pro-ana site, she needn't look beyond her Google button. Banning them from LiveJournal will make little to no difference.

But as to the apparent contradiction in LiveJournal's terms of service and what they selectively choose to enforce and what not to enforce, is troubling. While it isn't illegal to aspire to be thin, anorexia is not just women on a diet. It's a classifiable, psychiatric brain disease with adverse, even fatal, consequences. Suicide is often its last symptom.

paul August 9th, 2007 | Link | Great point long do you think it would be before people started demanding that any fat acceptance journals likewise be pulled because by encouraging fat people to stay fat and be happy with their bodies, the journals are "encouraging harmful behaviour."


Er, not Fat Hate Bingo. But bingo.

I really do wonder if the same thing could happen to us. I think it could; after all, one could say that "OMG there was this one guy I saw in the store and he was SO FAT obviously he was killing myself OMG terrible fatz" and poof, there you go, because so many people think fat is a death sentence. Ugh.

GirlyGirl's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | long do you think it long do you think it would be before people started demanding that any fat acceptance journals likewise be pulled

That's a point I wanted to make but couldn't articulate it. The Potter fans are going after the pro-ana communities, in part, because they seem to violate the TOS. The pro-ana communities would then go after the pro-fat communities because THEY seem to violate the TOS. There are any number of groups that could seem to be harmful depending on your point of view.

There is no "seeming" or gray area with child porn. It's illegal.

I do believe that pro-ana can be damaging but again, it's not illegal. As a web host, the things that are CLEARLY illegal have to go, there's no question. Everything else, as I said, is a gray area and is open to interpretation.

Sheana's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | While there's certainly no

While there's certainly no debate that child porn is illegal and reprehensible, there *is* significant debate about what constitutes "child porn". The creators of the artwork say that it was art portraying fictional characters and *not* child porn; they've countered that if any sexual/romantic depiction of people underage would cause Lolita, Romeo & Juliet, etc. to be banned.

Livejournal may not legally be required to act against these pro-anorexia communities, but ethically I think they are absolutely required.

meiran August 9th, 2007 | Link | "While there's certainly no

"While there's certainly no debate that child porn is illegal and reprehensible, there *is* significant debate about what constitutes "child porn"."

Thanks for pointing that out : )

The debate about the "child porn" on Livejournal is in fact a much more complicated one than "child porn is bad." It is very legal murky waters they've found themselves in, because the fact remains that most of the people they are going after are using fictional characters in fictional works. Thee authors are rightfully asking who is harmed by fiction, a subject that our courts are having a hard time with right now. Also, there is in at least one case, a permanent account holder who was banned for a drawing that was clearly labeled as two 20-year-olds. Sure, in the book they're underage, but in the offending picture they were well within the definition of adult.

Most of the people I know that are currently reporting or trying to get the pro-ana sites removed have been trying to do so for years. It's actually been a very high-profile debate, and LJ has always said that the journals would remain because of "free speech." This also was a topic of much discussion when LJ banned users who had default icons of breastfeeding mothers, which they declared "obscene." At that time, they still stood by and said that pro-ana journals were protected by their attempts to protect freedom of speech.

But I think what bothers me about this entire story isn't that they said the journals would continue to be hosted on their website, though the hypocrisy is a problem. It's the flippant and derogatory attitude the staff has taken towards the people who are reporting the journals.

If they had come back with a well-argued response, such as some of the ones here, then people wouldn't be anywhere near as angry. These sites do sometimes have people who are there to encourage girls not to get eating disorders. It's rare, but it has happened. But for the most part they are filled with girls posting their pictures and responses that read, "You're way too fat, I would kill myself if I was that fat. Don't eat anything for a few days." They have tips and tricks for how to fool parents, doctors, and friends. I even saw a post once where a girl said her parents were forcing her into a hospital, and girls shared how they got around the hospital regulations and snuck in diuretics and diet pills.

To take those type of posts, and say "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be thin" and top it off with a smiley face, I think drives home the fact that this staffer, who has said she is speaking officially, thinks this isn't an important topic. She doesn't respect the gravity, and I find it hard to believe she actually sees these communities as harmful.

So aside from why this topic came up, they are officially acting in a way that I think drives home the idea that being thin is so important that they will overlook the dangers. That might not be the intent of their comments, but it is the way they come across.

jmars August 9th, 2007 | Link | I'm not so sure I agree with

I'm not so sure I agree with the concept that fat acceptance sites "encourage fat people to stay fat," and I think we should nip in the bud any comparison between fat acceptance and pro-ana sites.

Fat acceptance sites encourage people to eat intuitively, to move their bodies to the extent that they can and to stop hating themselves because of their weight, all things that will probably help most fat people remain healthy or become healthier. Fat acceptance sites discourage people from dieting because dieting is unhealthy and usually unproductive, not because it is "good" to be fat.

I've never read a fat acceptance site that provides "tips" on becoming fat or fatter (sites devoted to the fetish of feederism do, but that's NOT the same thing as fat acceptance).

Contrast this to pro-ana sites which encourage behavior that causes people to become less healthy and, in too many cases, die. Not the same, not by a long shot.

GirlyGirl's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | I'm not so sure I agree with

I'm not so sure I agree with the concept that fat acceptance sites "encourage fat people to stay fat," and I think we should nip in the bud any comparison between fat acceptance and pro-ana sites.

I'm not saying that's the case, at all, and I agree that we have to do what we can to prevent that comparison from taking over. However, from the point of view of someone who sees being fat as highly dangerous to someone's health, any community that actively discourages dieting and weight control could be seen as encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle.

For every "pro" community, there's another community that's against it.

jmars August 9th, 2007 | Link | As this blog is open to

As this blog is open to public reading, I thought it was important not to leave that statement sitting there without some sort of rebuttal -- even though I'm not sure the posters who said/referenced it actually meant it seriously to begin with. I don't want to get further off the original topic, but it becomes clearer to me every day that the (mis)connection of weight and health is probably the biggest hurdle for fat acceptance to overcome.

blissing's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | Ana

Anorexia has the highest death rate of all psychological disorders.

richie79's picture
August 9th, 2007 | Link | I tried to post a comment on

I tried to post a comment on this BBC article about the parallels between the rise in anorexia and the media's increasingly hysterical preoccupation with spurious obesity scare stories, referencing the 'Health' section of yesterday's BBC site (which at one point carried SIX stories about the perils of fat) as an example - however as my past experiences have proven they tolerate very little dissent from their strongly-stated position on obesity (so much for impartiality), and as a regular contributor to debates I suspect I may even have had the dubious honour of finally being unofficially banned from posting on any fat-related topic.


Back on the subject (sorry!) - as one of the posters on the BBC article mentioned, there is a BIG difference between sites offering support for those who suffer oppression and discrimination and ones encouraging people (usually impressionable teens) to engage in life-threatening behaviour as some sort of glamorous lifestyle choice. But as many of the subsequent responses demonstrated I think that subtle distinction would be lost on the reactionary, fat-hating morass that is the great British public.

The idea that anything that deviates from the 'fat is evil' line is irresponsible and detrimental has been around even since the days when the British Government was seriously considering imposing quotas for the number of fat and thin people in the media to curb the rise in EDs. Indeed, that's the claim made by that LiveJournal fat rejection community and numerous similar ones on Facebook - that anything not rabidly anti-fat is somehow 'pro' type-II diabetes, heart disease and all the other terrible things we fat people allegedly inflict upon ourselves.

honeybuny August 9th, 2007 | Link | LIveJournal TOS is a JOKE

i'm a member of LJ and i've had many journals and many name changes. this is mostly because about 3 years ago a young man (21) began harassing me through LJ. now i'm not thin skinned and i can take the snark and rude comments pretty well. but when he posted a detailed map of where i lived along with an entry about how he was going to come over and slit my throat, well, i think that went too far.

but when i went to the authorites on LJ they told me that this user wasn't doing anything wrong and not violating the TOS in any way.

Uhm, EXCUSE ME? the guy repeatedly threatened to kill me.

VERY long story short, the dude was fired from his job because he was doing all the harassing from work (not to bright) and i had to get the police in both my city and his city involved. as it stands now, if he has any contact with me in any way for the rest of his life he will go to jail.

but in LJ's eyes, the guy didn't do anything wrong and shouldn't be punished. kind of funny how the police and private investigators disagree.

that's my rant about LJ and their bogus TOS.

Bayareagal August 9th, 2007 | Link | You guys really want to see

You guys really want to see LJ cracking down on every community that could subjectively be seen as encouraging individuals to harm themselves? Where would that end, though?

If it's not illegal, I think LJ should allow any community to stay. They've made a commitment to legal free speech and I definitely support that.

meiran August 10th, 2007 | Link | I actually would support

I actually would support their commitment to legal free speech, if I felt that they truly were doing that. Right now they seem to be selectively applying their policies.

I don't even know for sure if I think that LJ should ban these communities. I just know that I think their comments and reactions to perfectly reasonable questions (if you're enforcing this policy here, why not there?) are insensitive and troubling.

The girl who made those statements later said, in another community, that her word choice probably wasn't the best she could have used. It was a pretty weak apology.

My problem from the beginning hasn't been allowing these communities or not, but the lj staff member's comments regarding them.

nycfembbw August 9th, 2007 | Link | Thank you for your comments,

Thank you for your comments, jmars and blissing.

I can certainly understand the sense of feeling less alone from a pro-ana site but then I've heard people say the same about pro-suicide web groups.

Aprroximately 17 out of 20 females with anorexia develop it when they are adolescents, and approximately one out of ten die from it. There's nothing gray about that except maybe the bodies.

Marshfield August 10th, 2007 | Link | Let me go on record as

Let me go on record as ALWAYS supporting the least possible censorship. Shutting down unpopular thought is a slope I don't want to start down.

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