Anyone who has not had an eating disorder or known someone that suffers from an eating disorder will probably be very surprised to learn that there are many websites out there that actually help girls to learn how to be anorexic, how to hide binging and purging and provide support in efforts to lose weight beyond healthy limits.
Parents need to be aware of this. School personnel should know. And something needs to be done.
But even beyond those blatant websites and forums that coach and teach young women to abuse their bodies to strive to be the thinnest they can be, the Internet is playing a key role in promoting the spread of anorexia and other eating disorders. Let me explain.
1. Kids and young adults spend so much time online. You can not ignore the influence that the content they view will have on them. What is that content? Often, it is a lot of celebs, models, talk about what is sexy, what is hot, what is trendy. The intense and constant exposure, has a profound effect on how a young mind comes to see himself and what she strives to be.
2. And then, of course, there is social networking. Kids upload their daily lives through photos and video. They receive comments, make comments and daily dialogues are taking place, in real-time, about looks, who is fat, who is thin, who looks good. Even if a child does not upload photos of herself, chances are that someone else will. She gets tagged and that’s it. She’s online for all to see and comment on and she has no control. This can be compared to the type of exposure that the average celebrity is exposed to! But celebrities and public personalities choose a path which attracts media attention, they usually have protective staff to help handle the attention and that is a big part of what being a celebrity is about. Children, are not prepared for this type of pressure and exposure, nor should they need to be.
Insults are tossed around easily, even among friends. And when a child or teen is the focus of cyberbullying — the insults can be so powerful and so constant, that it becomes unbearable, even for a child with self confidence.
The Internet, with all the good it has to offer, has become a breeding ground for eating disorders to develop in some individuals. Of course those people may already have genetic and environmental predispositions that can lead to the development of an eating disorder. But when someone is vulnerable and given additional opportunities to take their obsession in thinness to an extreme, they are more likely to develop a problem.
Most parents are well aware of online dangers that directly threaten their children physically — meeting strangers online, giving out personal details. And most are probably aware that they have to be involved in vetting the content that their children are viewing — but in that case, they are usually only thinking about pornography. Life in the digital age is having a profound impact on our lives and especially on our children’s lives and far too often, it is not a positive effect.