Critiquing the thin ideal in pro-anorexia online spaces

Cobb, Gemma Rose (2017) Critiquing the thin ideal in pro-anorexia online spaces. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (6MB)


The thin body has long been considered ‘normal’ in Western culture, whereas the
anorexic body has been framed as pathological despite the fact that both bodies often
engage in regimes of undereating and extreme exercising which dovetail with one
another. Pro-anorexia (or ‘pro-ana’) online spaces, which emerged in the late twentieth
century, have been criticised for their espousal of anorexia even though much of the
advice they provide and the images they collate, derive from mainstream culture.
Censorship and vilification by the media have meant that since their inception these
spaces have undergone a number of changes. This thesis therefore investigates the
thin ideal in pro-ana online spaces at a time when the boundaries between the
mainstream espousal of thinness and the body image promoted in pro-ana culture are
becoming increasingly blurred.

Drawing on empirical research across a range of websites, forums, and social media
which identify as pro-ana, I employ textual analysis to explore how thinness is
constructed in these spaces. My investigation produced a set of themes which shape
this thesis. Central were: the denial and disguise of disordered-eating practices; the
pre-eminence of the white, middle-class, heterofeminine body; and the importance of
pain in realising the thin ideal. The central claim of this thesis is that pro-ana online
spaces expose the extent to which normative femininity is underpinned by practices
which may be deeply disordered, but they are viewed as normal by mainstream culture.
Pro-ana culture illustrates an extreme response to achieving thinness but it also
critiques the ideal to which it aspires. Hence, this thesis concludes by turning to the
potential for resistance in pro-ana online spaces and arguing that although they do not
uncritically conform to the culture of compulsory thinness, they are nonetheless
postfeminist enclaves which perpetuate the primacy of the individual.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > Media and Film
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry > RC0438 Psychiatry, including Psychopathology > RC0530 Neuroses > RC0552.A5 Anorexia nervosa
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2017 14:49
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update