The Frightening Power of the Internet

Friday, January 25, 2013

The internet is a powerful tool, and so integrated into my life and the lives of my peers, that I sometimes forget that fact.

Last night, I was thinking about the "Choose to Lose" challenge here at work, and I thought, "I should look for some inspirational pictures and quotes for the ladies on my team!" The plan is to send out an email every morning with the day's goals (drink 8 glasses of water! Eat those veggies! 20 fitness minutes!) and a little laugh and a little inspiration.

I should have stayed on Spark for that stuff.

I didn't.

I turned my eye to the wide, wide world and did a regular ol' Google search. "Fitness Inspiration," I asked. Somewhere in the results came two words: "fitsporation" and "thinsporation."

If you know me, you know that I love puns and words and word play. I saw those and thought, "CUTE!" And away I went, clicking haplessly into a world I didn't really know existed.

The world of pro-anorexia.

I guess I knew it was there. I mean, I've been in the ol' e-neighborhood for 10+ years. I know the kind of stuff that people get up to on the internet. I was around when Yahoo! pulled the plug on all the pro-ana forums and chat rooms. I was around for all that stuff, and even put filters in our home computer's parent controls to block any pro-ana website when my little sister began to go down that dark and terrible path.

I guess I knew it was there.
I didn't know it was so widespread.

There are millions of children, of little girls and boys, who are posting their starting weights, current weights, and goal weights - just like me! Just like you. I found a little girl that was the same height as me, even! Except they're starting at 150, currently 120, and want to be 110. Children, little children, who have Boot Camp month, just like me! Except their boot camp involves hours of exercise on 0-500 calories a day. Children who value willpower, strength and drive - just like me. Just like you.

Then there are pages, blogs, that stop suddenly. The child just vanishes. The hopeful part of me thinks, "They got help!" The rest of me wonders if there was no help to be had.

And these kids, man - these kids are connected to each other, just like we are. They back each other up, they push each other forward, they connect over miles and miles of cable and air. They're friends. These kids are just like us.

But these kids are killing themselves.

Three hours after getting out of that place, posting a status to Spark, and calling Shaina to talk about dinner - just to hear her talk with normal thoughts and feelings about food - just to remind myself that not all the children who fall down that hole never return - my friend Aaron told me that his own little sister had been hospitalized that morning.

One day, she searched for fitness tips. Just like me. But she searched on Tumblr, and that brought her still-developing mind to the world of Thinsporation... pro-anorexia. She became one of those children on Tumblr, logging her meager 400 calories a day on My Fitness Pal with gusto - proud of her willpower, her visible ribs and jutting hip bones - with a crowd of others behind her, pushing her forward to her ultimate goal.

80 lbs.

We cried. He cried because he's afraid for her. I cried because I was spared his pain - I "caught" Shaina and we got her help.

It's frightening, the power of the internet. It connects and magnifies all human experience - from miles and states and countries away, we make friends and common goals, and the feelings we have as a unit are more amplified than anything we could feel on our own. We're connected to the whole host of human knowledge, dark and light and everything in between. We, instantly, have every capability and every support to accomplish anything we need or want to do.

Maybe we shouldn't. I don't know.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for being my friends. Thanks for choosing health, and for reminding me daily to choose health. Watch your kids: hug them and love them and teach them that their bodies are strong machines that need fuel and love and acceptance. Give them control over parts of their life so they don't take control of the one thing they do have. Let them make mistakes. Don't demonize cake. Love them. Teach them to love themselves.

Please keep being here, keep being my friends - keep being a force of good on the internet. I promise to do the same.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Scary isn't it? As another person said... its here on SP. There's one person that's gone as far as being on the Today Show that if you read her food log contains vitamins coffee yogurt.... not much else. Scary that shes someones (many someones) inspirations....
    1911 days ago
  • SHIRE33
    Wow. Amazing. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess, but still. And you helped someone -- that must be the one bright spot. {: /

    1913 days ago
  • BRADMILL2922
    I guess you can find all kinds of things if you look around on the internets. Just when it seems like we have heard it all or seen it all...I swear I think Al Gore just keeps inventing more internet sometimes! We are choosing health and that is a good way to lead by example for those we really know or those who are just passing through.
    1914 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/26/2013 4:24:46 PM
    Wow, what a horrible discovery you made, and how upsetting that it hit so close to home with your friend. I hope that his sister gets the help she needs in the way that she needs so that she can heal. The internet can be our best friend and worst enemy, and it's scary to think that kids are savvy enough to find its darker tools.

    I am grateful for you, Emma -- for being such a good and caring sister to save Shaina and for making us more aware of things like this. It's important that we are all reminded to be vigilant for the sake of those younger than us and not as educated about the healthy way to be.
    1914 days ago
    Even as adults--adults with a different brand of eating disorder--our minds are vulnerable to the lure of thinspiration. It is here on SP, even if it isn't identified by its name. The affected may not realize they've fallen down that rabbit hole. However, I've run across their pages, seen their eerily haunting "after" pictures. I try not to judge them, but do stop reading their blogs and commenting on their pictures.

    Those of us on SP are particularly at risk. Food is a tool of control and emotional regulation for many of us already. How easy to be swayed by the success story of the 5'11" wonder woman who dropped from 300 lbs to 115. Who proudly sports her size 0-1 jeans. "YES!" We say. "That can be me!" and we gobble up their blogs of dysfunction and hold our collective breath as they step on the scale yet again to proclaim another successful pound lost.

    Thank you for shining the spotlight in the dark corners Emma.
    1914 days ago
    Moving piece, Emma, thanks for sharing your thoughts. So often the tools we use have their darker side, that we ignore until some tragedy occurs. Glad you were able to catch your sister in time; my sympathies for Aaron and what he and his family, especially his sister, are going through.
    1915 days ago
    I didn't even know that kind of stuff existed. I guess it makes sense - everything has its supporters, no matter how weird or wrong. Its just beyond my comprehension. I hope your friend's sister gets the help she needs.
    1915 days ago
    Emma, this makes me so sad!! You're right - the internet is the strongest tool known to mankind, and as Stan Lee so lovingly reminds us all "With great power comes great responsibility".

    People power the internet, what goes on there and what keeps bopping around - so it's PEOPLE who are responsible to do their damnedest to keep it right. We, on Spark, as adults who have realized that health needs to come first - not deprivation, not starvation, not purging through exercise or otherwise, - need to be the people who bring forth the positive image of weight loss for *health*.

    I'm so happy you got your sister the help she needs and can continually be a source of support for her and others that you know going through this.

    Be your own "fitspo" - you kick ass. If you do want some outside stuff and are finding limited things on Spark, Pinterest would be my only somewhat safe suggestion - there can be a little into the thinspo, but it's generally okay.

    Or, you know, I haven't *quite* got around to copyrighting anything on my page yet emoticon

    More people like you are needed. emoticon
    1915 days ago
    What a powerful blog. So sad to think about but important to acknowledge. That is one of my biggest motivators for me to make changes and live with healthy habits. I have 2 kids and I want them to learn healthy ways and have a healthy body image of themselves. They learn and copy everything that I do.
    1915 days ago
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