This blog post is going to be a response and agreement to Lily's latest YouTube video, linked below, which you may want to watch before progressing forward with this post:
Recently I've been thinking a lot about the way mental health and mental health recovery is presented to us on the internet.
I began struggling with an eating disorder at the age of 12, alongside my self-harm and looking back I realise how much of a dangerous place the internet was for me and in actual fact, how much it has improved in the last ten years. I accessed pro-anorexia sites on an addictive, consistent basis whilst constantly seeking out and admiring websites of those who essentially promoted the dangers of eating disorders. Alongside that, I met many people throughout my journey on the internet who at times prompted me to engage in behaviours such as purging and starving myself and I remember being a teenager thinking how normal this was and was absorbing this information like a sponge. I did what was expected of me.
Now, being almost 22, I notice the improvements made to the internet with the acknowledgement of the pro-anorexia websites existence (having seen many documentaries on it over the past few years) and the ways in which mental health charities have developed. The increase in use of social media in regards to the rise in YouTubers like Lily have mostly become a positive one to sufferers like myself (as many of you will probably know me from my own YouTube channel a few years ago) and through my experiences participating within the realms of social media I have made best friends for life, as well as having access to a variety of opportunities, such as to engage in charity work and share my story to the public, attempting to inspire others into recovery. My blog I feel retains an element of privacy to it which it may not have done in my former teenage years (in regards to my behaviours) and I feel that I healthily strike a balance between the honesty in that sometimes I will struggle/fall back down, and inspiring others to recover themselves.
Despite this, I am aware of a darker side to social media that is still rather prominent and still exists and the interesting thing about this, is that for many, it isn't explicitly clear that it can be quite dangerous.
In her video, Lily spoke about the rising dangers of websites such as YouTube and Instagram and users of these websites presenting a form of recovery which isn't necessarily recovery, but instead recovery that has been spurred on by the pressure to retain disordered behaviours. Recovery is different for each individual and I for one moment am not saying that any ones individual recovery is wrong - but I think that individuals may present their versions of recovery in such a way that to the world may trigger them into believing that this is how they should be.
I've unfollowed a lot of people on Instagram recently for this very reason, but I often come across a bombarding of pro-recovery accounts, of the same sorts of supposedly low-calorie/vegan/clean-eating/healthy foods, details of which I won't go into specifically, but I hope you all get the general idea. You notice the same kinds of foods appearing over and over again, certain types of health food bars, tiny tiny portions of food arranged neatly onto perfectly lit white plates, a daily documentation of ones health obsession. The question I'm asking is whether these account holders are really sending out pro-recovery messages, or instead indulging into another form of obsession, influenced by social media, which is just as dangerous and ends you up spinning into further disordered mindsets. Sufferers comparing themselves to the 'recovery' of other sufferers, based on Instagram/Tumblr pictures and allowing them to fall into social medias ideals of what people should/shouldn't be eating. As someone who isn't even classed as eating disordered no longer, I find these images triggering and found myself questioning my own intakes of food and noticing my own thoughts becoming distorted and misconstrued.
I am not suggesting for one moment that clean eaters, vegans, vegetarians, or specific health dieters, are wrong. I am not either of these things through choice and likewise don't begrudge people who make these lifestyle choices. But many of you will agree that these lifestyle choices can be forced onto people through social media pressures to present their eating/recovery in a way which leaves room for appraisal. Recognition and a way in which these users are seen as 'inspirations' to the eating disordered community.
I also think that eating disorder sufferers, young girls in particular, become so obsessed with a life that they must retain online, that no concious efforts are made to improve their lives offline. The thought of the eating disordered community not seeing pictures of your fragile skin and bones, but instead health, flesh, vitality, frightens the 21st century social media obsessive. There's an image to maintain in social media these days, no matter how much we deny it. You've all seen pictures deliberately taken to flaunt collar bones or to highlight the thinness of ones legs. We've seen pictures of the 'dinner' that someone has consumed that night when in all honesty, to you, it's barely a snack, right? But it gets those brain cells wondering where you went wrong, and why you are not the way that they are. Sometimes sufferers want people to notice their insecurity, and care about how fragile they are. I've been there. But ten years on from being a teenager obsessed with pro-anorexia, I don't think it's so much the pro-anorexia that is the danger anymore (although I'm aware it still exists) but the scarily dangerous claims of pro-recovery which to me, don't entirely seem recovery focused at all. It just seems to serve as a way of further obsession with food, when although recovery is different for each individual, there is an image of freedom associated with recovery, and even amongst those who claim to be recovered, obsessive traits with food still lie deep and need to be addressed. It becomes a cycle of one behaviour replacing another. Just this evening, I've seen an Instagram page with the caption '100 likes and I'll eat ___' - how is this okay?
There's also a danger of becoming in a way too close with those who are still entirely disordered, not wanting to eat in front of them or to show others that you're eating big portions so they don't think that you're weak. To me, it's really dangerous territory.
Comparisons are such a dangerous thing, and I unfortunately still indulge in comparisons to most people in my life each and everyday. But if there's one group of people I've noticed that I compare myself to, it's to the people I encounter on social media. Social media is a platform where we all want to present the best versions of ourselves, be the healthiest, be the 'best at recovery' or even at some points be the best eating disordered. But ultimately we need to realise that these accounts and lifestyles we view on a daily basis isn't always reality and doesn't always reflect the individual. I am for one moment not saying that these individuals may NOT be pro-recovery and may serve as inspirations to the eating disordered community, but I am only too aware of the dangers of fixating on celebrity-style accounts, emulating your values to be the way that they project themselves out to be. When ultimately, what should really be concentrated on is yourself and your needs, your real needs, not the absorbed needs of others.