A floppity jillion bytes of Facebook posts and Tweets and reblogs and fanfic and Wikipedia pages and pirated torrents and, of course, porn — all zooming around at the speed of web. (I promise that link isn’t as NSFW as it seems. It links to a Youtube video of a song from the musical Avenue Q… though, actually, the song lyrics themselves probably ARE NSFW. Lulz.)
In today’s day and age, we have unfettered access to pretty much anything you can imagine on the net. But of course, not everything out there is necessarily going to be of value or interest to you. You have your niches. Your interests. Your bookmarks. And for some of you, perhaps this very blog is part of that list (and thanks!). And for some others of you, infinitely more dangerous sites may also be part of it.
It may not be a surprise when I tell you that I am totally addicted to the internet. I check my phone approximately 80,000 times a day. I am on Facebook and Twitter pretty much nonstop, and, of course, I write this blog (almost) daily. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s almost at Tom Haverfordian levels. And to some of you, that might seem insane. (Of course, as I type that, I realize that’s probably not true, since if you found my blog, you probably also heart the internet.) But as “damaging” as all the time I spend online now might seem, I know for a fact that it used to have a far more nefarious impact on my life.
When I was in the deepest throes of my eating disorder, I was a frequenter of the internet in very different ways than I am now. You see, the internet is like a proverbial (sugar-free) candy store for dieters and people who are looking to lose weight. It offers endless diet and weight loss websites, with everything from Weight Watchers Online to personal blogs like, oh, hey, this one. And that can be a great thing. You can find healthy tips, support, camaraderie, and more within the very loosely designed walls of the interwebs.
But you can also find a lot of not-great things, too.
I used to spend hours surfing the web for diet tricks, weight loss tips, and (God, I hate this word so much) thinspiration. I was desperate to find that quick-fix, that one, somehow unknown trick that would finally net me the size 4 body I always dreamed of. I think some of you may already know where this is going. It took about .0003 seconds for me to stumble upon pro-ED sites. Sites that not only showcased, but actively promoted anorexic and bulimic behavior. Ones that provided tips for how to hide your eating disorder, how to trick yourself into thinking you weren’t hungry. Sites that posted picture after picture of beautiful, thin, photoshopped women as “thinspo.”
It was a dark time for me. You all know this. And I don’t think that any moderately self-aware woman would find a site like that and not be instantly aware of its influence. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she still won’t succumb to it. “Skinny” still has a lot of power. I’ve spent over 2 years writing this blog, and trying to promote HEALTHY weight loss. I know how taxing and wearying years of crash- and yoyo-dieting has had on me. I still bear the emotional scars of my disordered eating behavior, and I have come a very, very long way from that. My journey is still not perfect, I still have flashes back to my disordered thinking and eating, but I work to promote the fact that being healthy IS more important than being thin. I do believe that. And even though I am still trying to lose weight, I no longer do so at the cost of my health.
But, if tomorrow someone were to approach me with a pill that would magically make me thin through almost no effort of my own, if I was shown proof that it worked… even if it had side-effects, even if it wasn’t healthy… would I still be tempted? Of course I would. There’s absolutely no question. That’s the kind of power that being thin still has on those of us who struggle with being overweight.
So to be honest, I didn’t actually start this post to talk about pro-ana or pro-mia blogs. I tend to get a little carried away because I know they can be incredibly damaging, especially to young people. But I also think that most of you guys are probably (hopefully) beyond the reach of sites like that. I actually wanted to talk about those other sites out there that engage people who are interested in healthy living and weight loss. Sites like — gasp! — this very blog.
My blog is literally accessible by anyone with an internet connection. And whether you’re a 35-year-old woman who just had her first baby (congrats!) and is trying to shed a bit of baby weight, or if you’re an overweight teenager, like I was, who just wants an idea of where to start, you have equal chances of finding me. With that in mind, I feel it is my responsibility as the blogger behind this site to stand behind my words and actions. I promote myself as a healthy living blogger, as someone who is trying to lose weight “the right way.” So I need to make sure that while I try to lose weight, I’m doing it “right.”
Now, that being said, I know that I’m not a dietitian, nutritionist, personal trainer, or medical professional. I have my own experience, and that’s it. I do offer my own set of advice on how to do so, but I always encourage those who might consider taking said advice to do so with a grain of salt. It’s not as if I have the credentials to prescribe weight loss advice, and I don’t try to pretend that I do. Now, as it happens, I do believe my advice is relatively sound, but that’s kind of moot. The bottom line is that I would never actively try to encourage my readers to sacrifice their health for the sake of weight loss.
My concern is that I feel there are others out there who, while they may promote themselves under the same label as a “healthy whatever blogger”, they don’t feel the same responsibility. They preach things under the wrong heading. You can’t label yourself a healthy living blogger, or a healthy weight loss blogger, or a healthy anything, and then offer scores of blatantly unhealthy advice. Well, perhaps my wording is off. It’s a free internet. Technically, you CAN do whatever you want. But that doesn’t mean you should.
Yes, pro-ana and pro-mia sites are undeniably dangerous and toxic. But people who follow those kinds of sites probably know what they’re getting into. They’re probably looking for it. On the other hand, those who Google “healthy weight loss tips” and stumbles upon a series of recipes for things like shredded carrots embedded in sugar-free jello, might not really realize what kind of “advice” they’re really getting.
“Hmm,” they might say. “Well, that doesn’t seem too healthy, but it clearly worked for this girl, and look how great she looks! Look how much weight she lost! Look how much healthier she looks now that she’s thin.”
I should probably put it out there that this really (really!) is not meant to be a smear campaign against anybody in particular. I just feel like there is a lot of interesting discussion to be had behind wielding the internet responsibly. It just bears a little thought, both from a blogger- and from a reader-perspective. I find the implications of both sides to be endlessly fascinating. There was a panel at the 2011 Healthy Living Summit that touched on this concept.
Buuuuuuut, since I’ve already waxed serious for 1,300 words, I think I’ll cut myself off now, and hand over the reins to you all.
Do you feel that bloggers — healthy living bloggers, especially — have a responsibility for the advice they offer? Or do you feel the onus is more upon the readers to vet the kind of blogs they follow?