Recently the censorship of pro-eating disorder websites and materials has been being discussed again. Given that I am very much against censorship in general I wanted to discuss this and gain other people’s insights into the matter.
Pro-eating disorder (pro-ED) sites and images have been around for a long time. I remember coming across these types of sites 10 years ago. The gist of these, for those of you who may not know, is that people who usually qualify as anorexic and bulimic create websites to support others who wish to stay “disordered”. They frequently consist of advice regarding how to hide certain behaviors, how to lose more weight, as well as pictures–thinspiration–to encourage weight loss. An important thing to note is that these websites all have disclaimers with a clear trigger warning, and telling those without an eating disorder to not enter (I do not assume that this always works, but the trigger warning is there). Did I think these sites were a great idea? No. Would I ban them? No. The people on those sites wanted to stay they way they were and while these sites may have sped up the problem they certainly didn’t start it. Banning them and the hashtags that reference these things on twitter won’t stop the mindset or the behavior.
Is it important to ban these things so as to help those in recovery stay in recovery? Maybe. I am certain that these tags on twitter and tumblr and the websites have triggered people who are trying to recover from an eating disorder and I definitely think that is a bad thing. However, should we be censoring the internet and those who use it so as to protect those who might get hurt or be triggered by it? I am not so sure.
What about the recovering alcoholic and all the pictures, comments and sites celebrating drunkenness and drinking? I can imagine that can be incredibly triggering for someone trying to stay away from alcohol.
The rape survivor maybe be triggered by sites and conversations trying to support other rape survivors. The ex-self harmer may be triggered by pictures of someone’s entirely accidental injury on facebook. And the veteran may be triggered by scenes of war on the news or talk of war on twitter or tumblr. There is no saying what may or may not trigger someone.
One could argue that pro-ED sites and conversations hold no benefit whereas rape support, footage of warm, and even a picture of an accidental injury are things that can be used for other reasons that supporting negative behavior or triggering those trying to refrain.
But what about talk of alcohol? Is there any need to discuss that? Let’s be honest. It might be fun to post pictures to facebook of you and your friends drinking and getting drunk, but is there a benefit? What about that tweet about how great it is to have an excuse to “day drink”? There is not greater benefit associated with these things, except for showing what you did and sharing your experiences with a community who also values the same things you do (getting drunk, day drinking, etc). This is similar to those engaging in the pro-ED world. There is a lifestyle and a community who understand and share your values. Personally, I see as much value in getting drunk and drinking as I do in losing unhealthy amounts of weight and sharing ways to do so.
I know this is a very emotive topic, with people who are strongly and passionately engaged in both sides of the argument but I feel that if we are censoring one type of “useless” triggering material, why are we not censoring them all?
Personally, as someone of a “normal” weight, I find the constant media talk of dieting, obesity and calories far more harmful to my mental state than I ever found those websites I came across. The calorie count sitting next to my food order on the menu stops me ordering an item far more frequently than a picture of an unhealthily skinny woman does. But that specific dislike of mine is a topic for another post.