What would our online world look like if users centered people experiencing an eating disorder and striving to live in recovery? Could we imagine scrolling through our social media feeds to see that body diversity is honored and was a space that respected our individual autonomy without caring about the number of likes we received due to the shapes of our bodies?
Imagine the freedom we would have!
While we are far from these things becoming a reality for us as a collective, we can take measures in our online consumption and communities to create a safe space where body respect reigns and diet culture remains on the outside looking in.
If you stand in solidarity with those recovering from an eating disorder and you are connected with those individuals via social media, here are a few ways to create a positive online environment that shows your support.
Mind Your Language
You may not even realize it, but you could find yourself using language that carries the hierarchy of what bodies are accepted or rejected in society. Explicit terms like “body goals” or more subtle language around “dressing for your shape or size” can undermine the body positive strides that many people are trying to advocate for.
Additionally, you may end up using language about bodies that does not fully convey how you feel at the moment. For example, saying things like “I feel fat” is an unhelpful and harmful way that people communicate feelings of inadequacy or undesirability. Instances such as these are fatphobic and send messages to others that suggest fat bodies are devalued and underappreciated.
To remedy this, examine the language you use (ideally, before you publish it) and mindfully replace it with words that better demonstrate what you really mean. Changing language to create a more inclusive space will undoubtedly help those recovering from eating disorders feel welcome.
Mind Your Pictures
What makes social media unique is that you can share just about anything. Pictures of our activities, special events, outfits, new hair—all of these things can definitely be harmless and typically are. However, with the pressures in media to appear a certain way, pictures have also been a site of much scrutiny. Before-and-after pictures are typically a method used to celebrate the appearance of someone after a big change. When it comes to bodies, weight loss is unfortunately at the center of this.
Making a safer space in online communities for people recovering from eating disorders includes contemplating the message that before-and-after photos send to those who are working through accepting their “after” body, which may be larger than the one they had before. What message is being sent if the “after” photo is being praised in comparison to its “before?” Should a person’s personality be reduced to simply what they look like? Of course not! As you start to mind your language, also mind your photos to make sure you are not perpetuating behaviors that make it hard for those who are walking in the path of recovery.
If You See Something, Say Something
Perhaps the most active thing you can do online as an advocate for those in recovery is to speak up for others. Speak up by unfollowing pages. Speak up by addressing biases seen with weight and appearance. Speak up by writing blogs, sharing posts, or even signing petitions. These actions may not be without confrontation but using your voice can be empowering and even be a light to others. Don’t be afraid to take up virtual space and share your truth!
Creating Healthy Environments Benefit Us All
The questions at the beginning of this article posed a reality that would no longer place value on bodies in a way that would shun those who do not meet a certain standard or ideal. By committing ourselves to these small practices, we create positive and safe spaces for ourselves and especially our loved ones in recovery. We may not have reached the point where society at large is willing to accept these things but when one of us commit to doing such, others will follow.
Creating nonjudgmental spaces of body acceptance will benefit not just those who are in recovery but many who have recovered and others who may never have experienced the toll of an eating disorder. By caring for those who have the greatest need first, we will ultimately satisfy the needs of everyone.
Joy Cox, PhD, is a body justice advocate using her skill set in research and leadership to foster social change through the promotion of fat acceptance, diversity and inclusion. She currently sits on the Advisory Board for the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and is the author of Fat Girls in Black Bodies: Creating Communities of Our Own, which focuses on the lived experiences of Black fat womxn.