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Virtual sanctuar : geographies of pro-anorexia websites Dias, Karen Lynn

Abstract

Eating 'disorders' and body image disturbances are increasingly prevalent among girls and women in Western industrialized societies and globally. This thesis explores cyberspace as a potential 'safer' space where girls and women who are struggling with anorexia or other eating 'disorders' can potentially find sanctuary from the surveillance and regulatory mechanisms of control in the public sphere or 'realspace.' In contrast to dominant biomedical and psychiatric discourses of anorexia that often portray women with eating disorders as 'irrational' and 'in denial' of their behavior, this study takes seriously the voices of these women and looks to their narratives for alternative presentations of anorexia and other eating disorders. It attempts to locate women's cyberspace expressions of anorexia in the context of a society that often pathologizes, medicalizes and attempts to silence their voices. The thesis examines the narratives of women who create and visit 'pro-anorexia' or 'pro-ana' websites to see if dominant cultural scripts about women's bodies and subjectivities are reproduced, negotiated and/or resisted. It investigates women's expressions and interpretations of their own experiences of anorexia and other eating disorders. It reviews data collected from pro-anorexia websites from September 2001 to February 2003 and considers the backlash they generate. It explores the rationale of girls and women who inhabit these new social spaces, and their resilience in spite of backlash. Narratives found on pro-anorexia websites may illustrate alternative discourses of anorexia and eating disorders that have implications for biomedical theories as well as clinical practices.

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