Naked Lunch: a Visual Analysis of the “pro-ana” Italian Online Network

Here the first result of an explorative research on the pro-ana weblogs in Italy.

I’ve presented this research at  the EastBordNet Conference 2011 – Remaking Borders, Monastero dei Benedettini in Catania, Sicily, Italy 20-22 January 2011.

Social media such as web boards, blogs and social network sites allow young people to communicate with their friends and to construct interest-based communities that aggregate like-minded people (Ito et al., 2009). Thanks to social media they experiment new form of creativity, reflexivity and develop social relationships (Livingstone, 2008; Ellison et al. , 2007). However also risky behaviour could emerge online. Because of that institutions ask for deeper investigations on youth-generated problematic content such as fight videos, pro-self-harm sites or pro-ana communities (Biegler and boyd, 2010).
With the aim to investigate why people share their sufferance online, I’ve conducted an explorative research on the Italian pro-ana websites. Pro-ana websites have been described as communities that “promote” anorexia as a lifestyle choice (Bardone-cone and Cass, 2007; Overbeke, 2008). However ethnographic researches underline that online discussion forums reduce the social isolation for those with eating disorders (Gavin et al., 2008; Pescoe, 2008) and that users construct “interpretative models” alternative to the professional ones with the aim to give sense to their sufferance (Fox et al., 2005). In Italy the pro-ana subculture is less institutionalized. I’ve identified a network of pro-ana blogs where users share their fears and their anger against their disease. Furthermore they explicitly give and implicitly ask for emotional and informational support, but rarely “promote” anorexia. Pro-ana blogs are thus digital spaces where people with a social stigma construct an online “sorrowful” body with the aim to communicate with like-minded people and share their emotional pain in a “safe place”. In particular, the visual rapresentation of self doesn’t express the aspiration to thinness to reach a beauty ideal. At the opposite the body regimes (visualized with the controll over the food, over the weight and over their own bones) are an attempt to find an onthological security against the existential anxiety (visualized with introspective images that convey negative emotions such as loneliness, fear, death) that characterize the famale identity in the late modernity.


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