#ana, #mia, #cutting
I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a trigger warning. The rest of this article isn’t for the easily squeamish or those in early recovery from self-harm/eating disorders. Below are graphic screenshots of self inflicted cuts and people struggling with eating disorders.
Not too long ago, I wrote about a community of Instagram users who share pictures of syringes, crack pipes, heroin, and other hard drugs. They’ve proclaimed themselves the “junkies of Instagram” and seem to have a strange form of pride about their activities.
Well, I recently discovered another community that posts equally graphic pictures. They’re the pro self-harm and eating disorder advocates of Instagram. Instead of taking pictures of syringes and drugs, they’re posting razorblades and emaciated rib bones.
I’ve included Instagram’s response to these pictures, as well as some information on self-harm and E.D. recovery on the mobile app. While there are certainly some dark hashtags, there are also some inspiring and positive ones.
Read on if you’d like to learn more about this disturbing trend.
Graphic Pictures are Nothing New
For as long as the internet’s been around, there’ve been people posting inappropriate pictures and advocating for taboo practices. That’s the price that an unrestricted access to information brings with it.
However, with the massive rise in popularity of mobile social media apps, this advocating has reached a whole new level. Consider that hashtags like #ana and #mia each have over seven million posts. #ana itself is at almost eight million total pictures.
It’s plain to see that pro eating disorder and pro self-harm Instagram posts are here to stay, no matter what opponents try to do. Instagram itself tried to ban certain hashtags in late 2012. They put the kibosh on the popular ones #thinspiration, #thinspo, #proanorexia, #probulimia, and #loseweight.
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Once this happened, pro E.D. and self-harmers simply switched hashtags. So, banning them won’t work. What will work? Well, Huffington Post’s Lauren Duca has a suggestion.
Duca stated, “…people stop placing value on the ‘likes’ they receive on social networks and begin to redirect that energy in healthier, more appropriate ways” (Medical Daily).
That makes sense to me. Of course, we live in the age of social media addiction. While putting down our phones and finding healthier outlets sounds good, it’s near impossible for most people.
Perhaps a good solution would be to embrace the positive side of social media sharing. I’ll touch on that shortly. First, though, let’s examine the actual hashtags that have gained popularity.
Popular E.D. & Self-Harm Hashtags
After Instagram’s 2012 crackdown on hashtags, users simply found new ones. As of February 2015, there’s still an enormous and active community of pro eating disorder advocates and self-harmers on the app.
Today’s popular hashtags are terms like #ana (7.9 million posts), #mia (7.2 million posts), #anorexia (4.7 million posts), #suicidal (4.6 million posts), #cutting (4 million posts), #ed (3.5 million posts), and #selfharmmm (2.1 million posts).
All the pictures included in this essay have been pulled from one of those hashtags.
In Instagram’s defense, they’ve put content warnings on all the above terms. When a user searches for, say, #anorexia, a box pops up with an option to continue or learn more about eating disorders.
While there are no hard numbers available on how many people have sought to learn more and seek help from these warnings, it’s a positive step. It’s also more effective than simply banning hashtags.
Remember, if one term is banned, several more immediately spring up. However, if Instagram offers help to those searching these hashtags in the first place, well, then recovery is possible.
Let’s take a look at Instagram’s official response and then at how they’re actively working to promote #recovery in their app.
According to Instagram’s Community Guidelines:
“Don’t promote or glorify self-harm: While Instagram is a place where people can share their lives with others through photographs, any account found encouraging or urging users to embrace anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders; or to cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning. We believe that communication regarding these behaviors in order to create awareness, come together for support and to facilitate recovery is important, but that Instagram is not the place for active promotion or glorification of self-harm.”
“It is important to note that this guideline does not extend to accounts created to constructively discuss, or document personal experiences that show any form of self-harm where the intention is recovery or open discussion. While we strongly encourage people to seek help for themselves or loved ones who are suffering, we understand the importance of communication as a form of support, in order to create awareness and to assist in recovery.”
There’s something to be said for this approach. Support the recovery aspect of eating disorders and self-harm, while banning users who actively post advocating for them? I can full heartedly support that. It treats Instagram users like adults.
But what about users who aren’t adults? After all, a large portion of Instagram accounts are held by those who are under eighteen. Should they be subject to the same guidelines?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for that question. I do, however, think that exposing minors to recovery and positive lifestyles can’t hurt. If the negative is on social media, let’s make sure the positive is, too.
Recovery on Instagram
It’s not all doom and gloom on Instagram. While there are many pro ED and self-harm hashtags, there are just as many recovery hashtags.
Some of the most popular are ones like #recovery (2.8 million posts), #edrecovery (1.5 million posts), #selfharmrecovery (33,000 posts), and #edrecover (25,000 posts).
Now, there’s a large difference between the 7.9 million posts for #ana and the 2.8 for #recovery. Still, nearly 3 million people posting positive messages of recovery is nothing to laugh at. In fact, it’s people like them who offer the most support to those currently struggling with an eating disorder or self-harm.
So, recovery is alive and well on Instagram. The next step is watching this community of positivity blossom and spread. Hopefully, people who are currently taking pro ED photos will see some of the recovery posts.
Imagine raising your hand to speak in a meeting and sharing a story of how Instagram introduced you to the rooms of recovery! That’s pretty cool, if you ask me.
If you’re in recovery, or for that matter still struggling, feel free to check out Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Instagram. We have a sister Instagram just for women, too. Find us at @lighthouserecoveryinstitute and @sobrietyforwomen.
And remember, #WeCanAllChange!