Tumblr Is Wrong For Censoring Eating Disorder Blogs

Tumblr is shutting down blogs that promote self-harm. This means pro-Anorexia, pro-Bulimia, and pro-EDNOS blogs are dunzo.

I have to believe this is because of moral panic rather than genuine concern for the people these blogs harm. The misconception is that these communities are about encouraging people to have eating disorders, giving tips and causing existing eating disorders to worsen. In reality they are a community of mentally ill people talking about their disease. I mean, we understand that we are talking about sick people, right? It’s not a well-adjusted sadistic girl sitting behind her computer hoping that people reading her blog will hate themselves for her enjoyment. These kinds of blogs are run by like-minded people who generally dislike newbs. They provide friendship and support to people who are otherwise completely isolated by their disease.

Pro-eating disorder websites do not cause eating disorders. Sure, people look at thinspo and then barf up their food, but you don’t think they do that after listening to Wale’s ‘90210’ or getting dumped? It is very difficult for some people not to drink, but Tumblr isn’t shutting down blogs that glorify drinking, share cocktail recipes or teach people how to conceal an alcoholic drink while they work.

I have a sense of normalcy and sanity I would never otherwise have from reading these before and after I got treatment for my ED. They’ve existed before confessional media was even popular and it makes you not feel crazy to know that you are not the only one that thinks a certain way. To be honest, most of these blogs are actually positive. The author might hate herself, but she is willing to stick up for her friends. One of the things I actually learned in treatment is to try to talk to myself like I would talk to someone else with an ED. Not to give tips, but affirmation. The friendships in these communities may be very misguided, but to someone in this awful state of mind, having someone you can talk openly with goes a long way.

The real issue is that people don’t want to look at how ugly and awful it can be to be alive sometimes. Reading a blog about a girl eating 250 calories a day might make you take a long hard look at what caused them to think this is a good idea. Who knows, you might actually start to care about things like patriarchy. Don’t forget that it’s still okay to have a racist blog on Tumblr. It’s still okay to have a blog where you take pictures of people eating and call them fat. Tumblr even says explicitly that it’s fine to make jokes about starving yourself. In essence, it’s okay to have the kind of blog that causes someone to degenerate into the mental state where they might develop an eating disorder, but once they get one they need to be swept them under the rug unless they only talk about their disease in a manner the bros at Tumblr decide is okay.

Reasonable people can understand the difference between saying someone should have the right to do something and saying that someone should do something. Tumblr, like LiveJournal and many, many other platforms before them is targeting eating disorder blogs because they are an easy kill. These blogs are written by primarily young girls who are mentally ill and don’t have the resources to fight back. Think about some bros having MMA blogs on Tumblr; maybe they even beat up their friends for fun. That would also qualify as a harm blog, definitely. There might be long term physical, mental, and emotional consequences to their actions but this is a non-issue because outward violence is “masculine” and more socially acceptable. TC mark

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  • Len Yeh

    Well written. I actually wasn’t even aware that Tumblr shut those blogs down–though I’m not exactly someone who is following them.  It’s an interesting topic, and my natural inclination is to agree with you. 

    At least from a business standpoint, I can almost guarantee that Tumblr did not inject any moral insight into their decisions. It probably has more to do with investors and any potential backlash on their platform “promoting’ these disorders and diseases.  After all, they are walking a thin line along fashion and photography, where a lot of these young women admittedly gain inspiration from. 

    It’s also a bit ironic, because I’d consider this a form of modern day censorship.

    • Chelsea

      It is absolutely censorship. But that’s the thing about private companies – they have a right to censor you based on any reason or no reason at all. Apple has built an entire empire on censorship and close content management. This is nothing new… 

  • Chelsea

    It is my understanding that the censorship will involve all self-harm blogs, not just those dealing with eating disorders. But also, presumably, with other self-harm as well, including cutting, autoerotic asphyxiation, etc etc. 

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I’m tending more to the side of Tumblr on this. What I’ve seen on Tumblr thinspo blogs is young women encouraging each other not to eat, not supporting each other with their mental health disorders. “You can do it – you can be thin. You can starve. You can have the space between your thighs. Just have some water.” I mean, frankly, I don’t see how this can be construed as “support.” I understand these things are complex – I too have struggled with disordered eating. But these are not SUPPORT groups that Tumblr is shutting down – no, not women holding each other up to move on from their illness. No, these are the exact opposite – women pushing each other further into the abyss of self-destruction and clouding their judgment about whether this behavior is healthy or normal. They actually tell each other that they’re being healthier starving themselves than when they’re “getting fat.” It’s truly troubling to witness. 

    I say this, because even now as I look at these blogs, I am emotionally moved. I view these “thinspo” images, and I look at my own body in disgust. And I am a grown ass woman who knows better, who has been a semi-professional athlete, and has long since moved on from the body hatred of my past.

    Knowing that these are young, impressionable women in the thick of their insecurities… well, it makes me a little queasy. And I think that’s the general sense of the Tumblr administration – “this is not something we want to be a party to.” 

    It’s unfortunate that you disagree. But there are plenty of other “thinspo” communities awaiting those disenfranchised by the new rule. 

    • agreed.

      I agree. I don’t think the author if familiar with Tumblr’s eating disorder blogs. This isn’t Xanga/Livejournal. It’s an unceasing stream of images of women  you will never be. Calling them “support” groups is very farfetched.

  • Guest

    Tumblr is a private company with no obligation to protect 1st amendment rights. They are shutting down blogs with content that are meant to encourage eating disorders, cutting, self harm to their readers (not joke around, confess privately, act as support). There is no misconception about blogs that tell people to stop eating, cut yourself, end your life, etc…….I agree that not all blogs have that goal, but tumblr’s goal is to remove the ones that are. I interpret your writing as persuasive writing on the grounds of “well if _____ is inappropriate on tumblr, then ________ is too.” Persuasive writing should go a lot deeper and not just be you trying to “qualify” different levels of wrongness. 

  • -w-

    This is not women supporting other women. The faster girls feel abnormal and get that disordered eating is wrong, and the less 14-year-olds that stumble across this sort of image, the better. Pro-ana communities are not in any way positive and I feel like Tumblr’s lame PSA’s and links to help are proof that they’re not just sweeping this under the rug and not facing the harsh realities of the world. 

  • http://twitter.com/HeyBerna Bernadette Anat

    Are you really comparing MMA — a professional sport — to eating disorders?

    It sounds like Tumblr understands the same thing you do — that eating disorders are illnesses, and the healthy thing to do is get help and support OUT of it. I don’t think there’s any question about that.

    And it looks like most thinspo Tumblrs do the opposite, keeping girls IN that ugly cycle. No question about that, either.

    Why does this all feel so much simpler than you’re making it?

  • Thatswhatshesaid?

    I had (have) an eating disorder. Pro-ana/mia sites are NOT conductive for people getting better. I am happy those sites are being shut down. Censorship? Maybe. I don’t even like people that much but I don’t want anyone to go through the pain an eating disorder brings. These sites while they may make you feel “normal” they are a stepping stone for girls and boys wanting to lose weight, lose that weight in a very unhealthy and damaging manner, provide a community of equally sick people giving each other terrible tips on weight loss and self harm, and continuing the cycle. Patriarchy you say? What the fuck do you think these sites help keep established? These sites help keep women oppressed because we are too busy concerning ourselves with how many calories we ate (or didn’t) or the best way to purge that really big binge you just had. There are pictures of emaciated, sexualized young women that your supposed to aspire to be. These sites do not help provide comfort and solace, what would are sites dedicated to recovery from eating disorders. Sites that help empower women, that teach girls they are VERY capable or achieving their dreams, that girls are more than a vagina and pair of tits. Because we are, we really, really are.

  • Anonymous

    Your reasons for defending pro-ED blogs don’t really make sense. These blogs aren’t there to help people struggling with an eating disorder. They’re there to encourage it. My roommate had an eating disorder and she’s seen a lot of pro-ED blogs where they encourage starvation and teach people how to vomit. These are the kind of blogs that are getting shut down, not those that offer help and support.

    If this is about internet censorship though, you have a point. They shouldn’t have the right to censor these blogs.

  • Yo

    i have two friends with eating disorders and i do believe that those tumblr blogs are partly to blame, one friend even admitted to me that tumblr was what got her into it in the first place and what egged her on. Another deleted her tumblr and has since been recovering.

  • cn

    After reading  similar articles, I too have been sucked into checking out these websites…and I find them utterly sick. How do images with phrases like “Don’t eat. It’s so simple. Just do nothing” across them promote support? I do agree with part of what you are saying, in terms of having an online community for girls to discuss issues such as these with other sufferers, but this is most certainly not the forum for that…I clicked the link featured in an article about this and felt absolutely shocked physically sick after seeing pictures of girls who truly look like living skeletons. These websites just suck girls in..

    • Brittmvan

      EXACTLY. These are not self-help sites where the girls (and boys) with eating disorders come together to support one another as they struggle to overcome their negative relationships with their bodies. These are sites that encourage people with eating disorders to keep starving themselves…If you read comments on them, you’ll find girls saying “UGH I HATE my thighs. I just want Kate Moss skinny jean legs.” The responses aren’t “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL AS YOU ARE!” The support that the girls find here is “Don’t give up! You’re so close to your goal! Think about how good you’ll look.” 

      While I don’t necessarily think these sites should be taken down, I absolutely do not think they provide a helpful forum for anyone.

  • http://twitter.com/dianasof Diana Z.

    People were complaining about this change, saying that tumblr was violating free speech by changing their terms of service, however I disagree.
    I’m going to paraphrase what other people said on the matter: tumblr is a website. it’s not a democracy. they can choose to not support certain content. if you open an account and agree to the terms, and then violate them then your website will be shut down. just because these blogs will help some people think about their own lives doesn’t mean that tumblr shouldn’t shut them down, because they are still harming young girls. I do think you should send this in to the admins just so they can see a different point of view on the matter but that doesn’t mean I agree with what is being said on this article.
    I know that if I had come across these blogs when I was a teenager, I would definitely have been more likely to develop an eating disorder

  • RecoveringBulimic

     I understand that Tumblr has the right to censor whatever they please, it’s their website and all, but I’m definitely not okay with their decision. Not that they care what their users have to say, eh?

  • Lisa

    I support Tumblr in the decision to shut down blogs that promote self-harm. Pro-ana/mia blogs encompass more than just “talking” about eating disorders (although I will concede that a minority of them do only this). I have seen far too many that not only encourage starvation and provide life-threatening weight-loss tactics, but also actively humiliate and target “normal” sized girls and women for being “disgusting.” They ridicule, criticize and degrade pictures of girls. And when followers post questions such as, “I’m 5′ 1″ and 93 lbs. Am I fat?” 90% of the responses are, “Yeah. You’re too big. Work harder. Pretty girls don’t need food. Ana doesn’t love you yet.”

    There are plenty of blogs that discuss anorexia and bulimia in the context of RECOVERY. These blogs actually do revolve around healthy communication and sharing of information. Blogs that promote ana/mia are undoubtedly doing more harm than good.

  • Brit

    everything this girl writes is rubbish

  • sophie

    the only thing i don’t understand is how tumblr will choose what to shut down. will there be a list of criteria, and if a blog has all of them it will be deleted?
    there are plenty of blogs i find to be in the gray area though. for example blogs that discuss ED ‘confessions’ or even recovery. I find them to be equally triggering as pro-ana/mia ones and i think anyone else struggling with an ED understands what I mean by that.
    However I think it’s too broad and vague of a decision for tumblr to make (since millions of blogs have random photos of what could be considered self harm etc.) so I guess it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

  • Simone

    I  think it is wrong to censor it but, as an avid Tumblr user and someone with an eating disorder, I can say that there are many, many, many blogs that DO promote eating disorders. There are numerous blogs to find “tips”. These are the blogs that need to be shut down.

  • Angel_in_heels

    Such a difficult one…Being deadly anorxic from the age of 17 to 21 I can honesly say tumblr was never a trigger for me…I would say blogger and wordpress sites are a mch greater anorexic community than tumbr…but a SUPPORTIVE one..a sign that you are not alone…I would look at caloriecount, livestrong etc.. for censorship not the blog world. Personally blogs gave me the co rage to hit my calorie target…to push through my fears,….blogs made me feel as though I was not alone…if these were censored or banned I honestly do not think I would have had such smooth a recovery…or any recovery at all.. 

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  • lr

    I must say, I have mixed opinions on this one… I think you bring up some good points.  I also have concerns over just how much we should censor the internet.  And I also haven’t struggled with an eating disorder.  However, I have had this weird fascination with eating disorders and the psychological factors behind them (probably because some close friends of mine have struggled with them), and I have spent time passively observing some of these pro-ana/bulimia tumblr pages, livejournal groups, etc.  After observing them, I personally cannot see anything positive resulting from them.  I understand that some of these sites discourage newcomers, and advise other people to NOT be apart of them, and that they shouldn’t WANT an eating disorder, and it’s not a choice, etc… but these girls also have disordered thinking and while they are trying to “help” and support each other, but it’s not exactly the help they need.  I think that people struggling with eating disorders often want to justify their behaviors because they are not ready to stop, they aren’t ready to get healthy… therefore, they flock to these communities for support and encouragement.  Meanwhile, tons of girls who aren’t necessarily suffering from eating disorders but maybe have self-esteem issues stumble across these tumblr pages and find themselves even more insecure. I don’t know, I just don’t see anything positive that comes from them, and I can understand why a private company like Tumblr wouldn’t want their platform to be used for encouraging self-destructive behavior.  I’m sure there are a number of things influencing their decisions, but the people running these companies are also human beings… Well, those are just my thoughts on the topic… thank for sharing yours as well :)

  • Anonymous

    some of them are for people afflicted with the disease to discuss it amongst a community of people having the same problems. others are people sharing images of starved and emaciated victims of these disorders and calling them beautiful. and others are just straight up saying that they’re good things.

    the folks at tumblr take an issue with this, so it’s entirely within their rights to censor it, this one time i happen to agree with them. though neither of our opinions matter at all.

  • Meg

    I concede that communities exist on Tumblr that serve as support for those who suffer from eating disorders. But there are more than just a few users who actively promote disordered eating, and I believe that it is in the entire world’s best interest that Tumblr sensor those blogs.

    • Ali

      I’ve never seen a single tumblr that actually wanted anyone else to develop an eating disorder. Typically, the people who run these blogs, both boys and girls, men and women, hate themselves for having this mental disease, and they would never wish it upon someone else. I’ve never once seen someone who runs such a blog promote an anon (or anyone else for that matter) to starve or limit calories in order to loose weight. 

      When overcome by any mental disease, it’s so much easier to see the beauty in others while denying it in relation to oneself. 

    • MinusWhale

      Even if this were the case, and I don’t think it is, promoting an eating disorder on a blog does not create eating-disordered readers.  ED is a mental illness, thus it is not communicable via text or image.  If I were to start a blog “promoting” schizophrenia, would I be harming my readers?  Should I censored?  TC promotes navel-gazing… does that mean it promotes narcissism and thus should be censored?

  • Anonymous

    It’s their website and they have every right to choose what is and is not shown.  

    • MinusWhale

      Of course.  And, as a U.S. Citizen, I have a “right” to spew hate speech.  But that doesn’t make it not wrong.  It is willfully dense to fail to see the difference between the discrete concepts of exercising one’s rights and doing what’s right.

      • Anonymous

        Yet it is far more dense to claim that what you want to happen to be “right” and what the brass at Tumblr did to be wrong.

  • Wawa

    “Tumblr even says explicitly that it’s fine to make jokes about starving yourself.”

    Okay in that context – Tumblr staff said that that while blogs that glorify eating disorders, joking about starving yourself after eating a huge dinner is not considered glorifying – it’s a joke that normal people throw around and if you were to ask them about it, they’d tell you “hey man, I was kidding about starving. Jeez, is that cake?”.

    Don’t take things out of their context, Johanna, it’s not cool.

  • Orfq

    is there a more perfect article title for this website of shallow oblivious privileged white early 20s narcissists than “tumblr is wrong for censoring eating disorder blogs”

    • A-W

      Your implication that eating disorders only effect the white, young and privileged is truly misinformed. This effects millions of people everyday, don’t take it so lightly. 

      • Orfq

        it really takes the kind of person i described to write an article defending pro-ana tumblrs though

      • A-W

        No. It takes a deluded person, so immersed within their disorder they idolize a mental illness. It has nothing to do with background.

      • Orfq

        or someone too self-obsessed to see the implications of such a stupid article (100% of the authors here). i only added the other descriptors because they encompass 99%

      • A-W

        Ah. Percentages. Those must be facts. 

      • Orfq

        no they’re generalizations; kinda obvious and not worth pointing out

      • A-W

        You just don’t get it.

      • Orfq

        enlighten me

      • Lula

        Speaking as a Latina, not privileged, bulimic Tumblr user, I can tell you that the vast majority of eating-disorder-focused blogs do absolutely nothing to glorify this kind of illness. Most don’t give out “tips,” or encourage furthering your disease. These blogs are run by girls who care about others like them, and are often run by girls who have found ways to overcome their disorders who want to help others become healthy again as well. 

      • Orfq

        speaking as someone who googled “pro-ana tumblr,” i dunno about that

      • A-W

        I will enlighten, thank you. Pro-ana does not define most eating disorder blogs, in fact, many of those who are “pro-ana” have not been diagnosed with Anorexia, Bulimia, BED, or EDNOS. They don’t see eating disorders as a disease, they see them as a lifestyle. They often have tips/tricks pages which offers unhealthy advice, like water-fasting, or purging. 

        Most people who have had, or continue to have eating disorders would not wish them on anyone. They are nightmares.Those who have anorexia, and keep a blog documenting this are not pro-ana.  Displaying the mental and physical debilitation of oneself is not pro-ana. Posting the disgusting, upsetting, depressing, secret parts of your life is not pro-ana.

        Pro-ana and eating disordered are not synonyms. Get your shit straight. 

      • Chelsea

        Support blogs are not being targeted by Tumblr, nor will they be taken down. Only those blogs with actively ENCOURAGE self-destructive behavior will be removed. So, relax homey. :]

      • Chelsea

        which*

  • http://twitter.com/3llen Ellen Grace

    I don’t understand how a website that is so violently against SOPA/PIPA has the balls to pull something like this. PSAs on the blogs directing people to sites where they could seek genuine help makes way more sense than shutting down these whole communities. These are true friends for some of the victims, the only other people that truly know what they are going through. It was because of the support I received from others in the communities I used to frequent on xanga (back in the day) that I had the strength to beat this disorder (and stay healthy) when I did. 

  • Margaret Thatcher

    Say a blog centered around suicide sprang up, with tips on the best way to end it all, and all sorts of people talking about how much they wanted it, and how it would end all their pain to just get it all over with and kill themselves, with fancy goodbye letters and suggestions of where to hang a noose, etc.

    If that blog would get pulled, Pro-Ana/mia blogs should be pulled as well. No one can tell you better than a survivor that eating disorders are, at the end of the day, just another form of suicide.

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