Social Anorexia

Today we are coining a new phrase; social anorexia.

Social Anorexia is an eating disorder stemming from the pure desire to be thin, in order to be perceived by others as beautiful and worthy. Sufferers are heavily influenced by media, hollywood and the fashion industry. The message they understand is being sent from the media; thin is beautiful. If you are not thin, you are not worthy. 

Social anorexics desire to be thin distorts their view of the world. If diet restriction fails, these individuals self esteem is destroyed and they fall further into their belief they will never measure up to societies expectaions of beauty and body image.

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37 Responses to Social Anorexia

  1. Gemma says:

    I believe I fall into this category. Because I feel I have an eating disorder because I don’t feel at all beautiful and think to myself if I was thin and pretty everyone would like me. Especially my parents and friends. I always feel, when I step on the scales and see I’ve gained weight, that I’m a worthless failure, and that no one will ever like me. And it’s like if I’m not perfect and thin, everyone out there will look at me and think, “She’s such a failure”.
    I can’t help thinking I have to be perfect for everyone, and seeing people in the media makes it ten times worse. I mean sometimes I’ll look at Nicole Richie and see how ill she REALLY is, but other times I’ll think I have to be that in order for people to see me.
    So yeah I do think if I was thin, lots more people would acknowledge me and like me, but if I stay fat I’m a nobody, who everybody hates. I always get the feeling I shouldn’t even be around them, because they are so much better than me that I want to have a brown paper bag over my head.
    When I’m talking to people I look up to, I try and hide away because I’m ashamed of what they’re thinking about me, but if I was thin I would feel more confident around them because I’d feel like I’d actually ACHIEVED something so I’d be worthy of their presence.
    Wow sorry it’s so long x

  2. Joey says:

    As you know i’d label myself the second kind, if any.

    Thinking about this, if the desire to be thin is purely about looking like a model, is it likely the person would develop full-blown anorexia? I don’t think the desire to be thin and beautiful is strong enough to override the body and make it clinically anorexic (aka very underweight, no periods, etc), because really, to do that intentionally would be ridiculusly hard – the body would make the girl binge.
    That’s just kindof a reflection on the name “social anorexia”, i just wonder if “social ED” is a better label, but maybe i’m just pedantic!!

    I wonder if the 3rd type you describe there, about feeling worthy, actually falls under both social anorexia and traditional anorexia, not a seperate entity? I’m not sure.

    I think a lot of social anorexics would not admit to being a social anorexic, and would think it’s “cooler” to be the traditional anorexic. There is a certain glamour about anorexia, whether we like it or not. Being a “tortured soul” who’s delicate and small, who everyone worries about, who has endured huge amounts of pain in their life – that image is weirdly glamorous, though i can’t put my finger on why.

    I wonder where anorexics fall in all this? I guess most would be like social anorexics in many ways, just haven’t “started” yet. I guess they’d be attracted to the “glamour” to, as well as the perceived rapid weightloss.

  3. hagar says:

    hi mamav
    wow… you’re so right
    i hope that i’m not a social anorexic, because then it would mean that i have been making up all of this, and am just making myself suffer for atention.
    i think i’m not a social anorexic because i’m not anorexic, i’m more bulimic, there is NOTHING glamorous about that, NOTHING AT ALL. I don’t think that most girls my age realise that anorexia isn’t glamorous too. saying anorexia is glamorous is like saying “hey, why not starve to death, make our hair fall out, our skin dry, our heart weak, our nails brittle and my body ache! wow that’s sooo glamorous, isn’t it? i mean, a slow form of suicide is totally in right now! let’s see who gets to hospital first!”
    sorry, i’m just a bit annoyed by girls that say oooh i’m so ana, and i love it.
    i think that my ed is like living in a hell, on one hand i would do anything to get rid of it, on the other i wouldn’t know how to be without it. yes, how to BE.
    uhhh what else
    that’s it lol… already wrote too much anyways
    mamav i am VERY EXTREMELY HUGELY glad i saw your video on youtube. you have no idea how grateful i am to you. you showed me that there IS life after an ed, look at you, you’re successful, a wonderful mother and wife, who has a career and really good opinions lol
    yh sorry about that sounding like i’m sucking up, i’m not. i mean every word lol.
    anyways i have to go now.
    but i would like to chat with you privately, i’ve also been experiencing really scary episodes, i think it’s called “sleep paralysis”. it’s where you can’t move AT ALL. for like 5 whole seconds, and it feels like ages to me. it’s scary, you can only move your eyes, you forget about breathing, you feel as if any second something awful is coming near you, it’s horrible.
    bye bye

  4. Alexa says:

    i dont like how “social anorexia” sounds, its like you’re not sick, you’re just too stpid because you let other people to tell you what its beautiful and you’re ugly, you’re just too way dumb…

    so i dont feel im sick, im just stupid.

  5. wanderer says:

    Although I’m on the run to work, I gotta jump in here to support MV and say I don’t think “social anorexia” is meant to convey stupdity AT ALL. Rather, it demonstrates a side of human nature called “groupthink,” when groups of people share a certain way of thinking, healthy or not, which becomes a marker of identity.

    It’s easy to fall into if you’re vulnerable. Low self-esteem is a big factor in this and comes first. No, I’ve never believed anorexics intentionally become anorexic BUT there’s no escaping the fact that the current ideals of fashion and entertainment make it easy for us to compare, and find ourselves wanting IF we have not been taught to value ourselves. If you don’t have strong parental guidance, or strong values, or self-knowledge, then it’s easier to be swayed by outside images and ideas.

    There’s stupid, as in low IQ, which again, I don’t believe anorexics are, and then there’s a certain lack of self-awareness which young people can have if they’re not taught to be strong in themselves or have good role models to show them how to be strong. Therefore, to paraphrase the old song, they go looking for inspiration in all the wrong places.

    I feel what MV is working on is to hold up examples of how the images of women have changed to an impossible ideal and that when we’re surrounded by this imagery, it’s hard not to compare.

    Besides, what about the people who hate their bodies and say jokingly, yet with that touch of longing, “Oh I wish I could catch a little anorexia?” Seriously, if that’s not a sign that anorexia does have this socio-cultural component (and a certain weird social approval) despite its seriousness as an illness, then i don’t know what is. I mean, people don’t say that about other illnesses.

  6. Alexa says:

    Well im not agree with you wanderer… you said “what about the people who hate their bodies and say jokingly, yet with that touch of longing, “Oh I wish I could catch a little anorexia?” Seriously, if that’s not a sign that anorexia does have this socio-cultural component”…you cant have anorexia just wishing it!, and you cant say that people who says “Oh I wish I could catch a little anorexia?” are not Pro Ana—i think there’s many pro Ana people but they dont acept it because everyone says its wrong.

    i wish i could turn this and get away! i wish to be able to see me as i am in the mirror, i wish i could love my body, i wish i could see what other people see in me, i wish i could think of me as beautiful person…

    if people can get sick of Anorexia just whising it, maybe all the world will be Pro Ana.

    And you certanly cant say that i don’t have strong parental guidance, or strong values, or self-knowledge, because my mom did every thing that was in her hands (and she still do it) to make me think that im beautiful, and most important make me belive that i worth all the work she do in my head, i know that i can be much worst whitout her, but i just dont belive all she says to me.

    im just too stupid and blind for not see it…im just stupid because a minute ago i throw up all my breakfast just because of the guilt. im just s tupid girl, with stupid habits….

    im sorry if i took it too personal…

  7. Gail says:

    great web site!
    I think we see socially acceptable anorexia every day in the media. Sometimes I watch TV waitng to see if there are any female celebrities, TV presenters, news readers, actresses who don’t look well below a “normal” body weight and if the camera adds 10lbs what on earth do they llo like in the flesh. This to me is a representation of social anorexia. In the printed media this is even worse every day we see the acceptable social face of anorexia diplayed in women’s magazines. It is very hard not to look at these images on a continuous basis and not feel inadequate, fat and unattractive. Yet these women do not even vaguley look like anyone I know or see in my daily life.
    Sadly due to the media obsession with obesity, being socially anorexic is now revered. It seems to say to the world that you possess some super human self dicipline, that you are able to strave at a time when food is plentifull. What a big sad empty waste of time and energy.

  8. wanderer says:

    Dear Alexa,

    Having personal feelings about this subject is normal. My comments were not directed to you or any other individual but were intended to be ideas raised for discussion…which we are certainly doing. The problem with internet communication is that we can’t see facial expression or vocal tone. And the problem with trying to coin terms to describe a phenomenon that has both biological and sociological components is very difficult because we end up making generalizations.

    I don’t ever think that anyone “wishes” for anorexia nor that you can become anorexic by wishing. By referring to this type of comment that some people make in casual conversation, I wanted to show that our society does sometimes give anorexia a strange social status. I agree with Gail’s comments on this above–our society has become so fearful of fat that extreme thinness is praised.

    And I’m certainly not criticizing you or your parents, not at all! I don’t blame people for what they go through. And parents can only do so much, given the pressures they face in their own lives to raise kids, work, etc.

    And you’re not stupid, please don’t call yourself that. I hope you are seeking help in your daily life in addition to reading this blog. You, and everyone who struggles with EDs, deserve help and respect.

  9. Alexa says:

    Hey Wanderer… its me again haha..

    im a little more clear now… im sorry, i can see what you mean. Today i was feeling like everything its against me, im not having a good day…

    Thank you for the reply and the kind words…

  10. Gabi says:

    alexa you are not stupid! neither is anyone else who does fall into the social anorexia category. unfortunately in todays society becuase socity only accpets you fully or whatever if you are thin then most girls are going to come under this social anorexia title. i dont care what anyone says, deep down we all want to be accepted. i include myself in that. my anorexic tendicies (i am not anorexic i am bulimic) definately come from desperatly wanting to be accepted, not just by my peers but my anorexic/overeater mother who is dissapointed in the fact she didnt get the family she always dreamt of. so i do what i can to try and make myself that. i was als accpeted more by teachers and my peers when i started to lose weight, and when that happens to someone what else can you think or do except to link being thin with social acceptence?!

    my bulimia however. that is 100% traditional for me. all the signs from when i was growing up were there that i would most likely develop it and lo and behold i did. congrats to me. i cant stop. and its now at a stage where i dont care if it kills me, cos at least i wont be doing it anymore.

    wanderer just wanted to add something to what you said. it is indeed a phenomenon that has both social and biological components, but the arrogance of psychology forces people to chose one side of the argument…is it biological or is it social?! well (just adding a psychological argument that always gets left out..and i got first in an essay for my psych degree when i did this for pointing this out :P) is something called the diathesis stress model. most people are likely to have some kind of genetic predisposition. however it is the social factors that aggrivate this disposition, not the fact that it is simply genetic, that causes someone to develop an ED. if you look at the majority of people (im not saying all) the likelyhood is somewhere in the family smeone had some sort of ED. fr example in my family i have a compulsive overeater father, and an anorexic/compulsive overeater mother…me and my brother now bothh suffer from ED. my brther followed in my mums footsteps, and i used to follow in my dads until i started purging….(wow that is so freudian as well :P) anyways yeah just wanted to add that little diathesis stress model in.

    hope you are all ok xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  11. wanderer says:


    No problem, I’m glad to help clear things up. : )


    You’re right, like the saying goes, “genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” There is a complex interaction between the biology and environment.

  12. Um, actually, you’ve got this backward. Way backward. There is no such thing as social anorexia. Anorexia is a biological disorder caused by a combination of genetics and biology, which may be triggered by environment but not caused by it. No one sets out to be anorexic. You really need to do a little more research before posting this b.s.

  13. Sarah says:

    I agree with you, I think there are 3 different groups of girls on pro ana websites. personally, I feel like I am a mixture between 2 and 3 though. my eating disorder is a mental disorder, it`s hell, but I also feel like I would be more worthy if I got thinner, prettier, smarter etc. I feel utterly worthless, and I truly believe that I would matter more if I got thin and beautiful.

  14. Sarah says:

    To Anorexia hater

    “no one sets out to be anorexic”
    I can give you an example of 1000 girls who wants and tries to be anorexic. a more familar name to social anorexia is wannarexies. I think YOU should do some research.

  15. Joey says:

    To Wanderer and Alexa –
    a bizarre thing i want to kindof “throw in”, i know girls who are clinically anorexic who actually decided once “i want to be anorexic”, and of course regret their decision!!!

    I expect that people can have a predisposition to anorexia (genetic, biological, social and/or personality) and if that person eats less calories for a while (due to a diet, or bereavement, or trying to become anorexic, or an illness, etc) anorexia is triggered within them and they develop the disorder. Therefore those who have the predisposition and try to get anorexia will get anorexia, whilst the majority will not (and may get fed up of starving, or may get another ED).

    Anorexia-Hater – you are right in that many aspects of anorexia is genetic and biological, however many girls starve themselves intentionally for vanity reasons, hoping to be anorexic, especially with the influence of proanorexia websites. Those who do set out to get anorexia (and trust me – there are thousands, if not millions doing so) may get anorexia if they have the predisposition, but most will not succeed.

  16. hagar says:

    Hi… Yeah you’re so right. I’m not anorexia (I’m sort of bulimia I guess =) but I remember about two years ago I decided, “hey, I want to starve for a couple of days, lose some weight and then get on with my life, stop eating like that and forget about it”. OF COURSE that is not what happened. Of course not haha. I TRULY DEEPLY regret my thinking that way, now I am sort of stuck in a life of compulsions, purging, hurting myself, then doing practically anything to get away from it all and end up hurting myself even more (example:numbing emotional pain with pillsguys). Anyways just wanted to tell you that I appreciate you writing your comment, I never thought that there are more people that started this out of a very very fake feeling of choosing to do this. Well… that’s it lol. bye bye… if you wanna talk more I’d like that… comment me here if u do =]

  17. hagar says:

    OMG joey
    I just realised what I WROTE
    I SWEAR, I s-w-e-a-r that I DID NOT NOTICE THAT. OMFG.
    HAHA sorry it’s just that I’ve been trying to prove this for AGES, but can’t seem to find good proof. omfg. ok… I’ll explain!:
    LOOK at what I wrote:
    qoute: “…I’m not anorexia (I’m sort of bulimia I guess =)…”
    I basically wrote “I’m not that eating disorder, I’m sort of another eating disorder”
    I actually wrote without noticing that I AM AN EATING DISORDER.
    I’m sorry I’m just so GLAD I saw that mistake.
    This just prooves that I’ve started to think (not started, but realising that I think this way) that my eating disorder defines me. Makes me who I am, or even more IS what I am.

    “…I don’t have anorexia, I sort of have bulimia…”
    I could also write
    “…I’m not anorexic, I’m sort of bulimic…” but that’s not really correcting anything.

    cool ok
    lol I’m really hyper right now
    that’s so cool
    well that’s it

  18. Joey says:

    Hi Hagar,

    hahaha – your typing certainly shows you’re hyper!!!

    I think bulimia is much like anorexia – it’s induced by restricted calories. I’m also more bulimic than anorexic too.
    I also understand how you feel like your eating disorder defines you, I had the exact same thing, as do a lot of my friends, and it makes moving away from the eating disorder extremely difficult. I’m very lucky because i’ve had art to immerse myself in, and that’s becoming part of my new identity, but when i’m feeling uninspired my ED jumps straight back in.



    To SARAH: on your comment you compare wannarexics and social anorexia. Though i believe they’re very similar, i don’t think they’re thesame. Social anorexics wouldn’t neccessarily WANT anorexia and don’t try to “catch” it to lose weight like a wannarexic would. I’d imagine social anorexics are like MamaV, people who unintentionally fall into disordered eating patterns due to the influence of the media/modelling/society etc. A wannarexic could also want anorexia for other reasons than dieting, like for the supposed glamour of it, or for attention, or to be different.

  19. hazel8500 says:

    Dear Mama Vision,

    I really truly felt this was an excellent post. I completely believe in coining new terms for modern issues, and this social anorexic term is really appropriate, in my view.

    My thoughts on this are rather limited but I feel strongly about this post. I guess i could fall into the other group though I hate the way it sounds, the brain disease group. I’ve never intentionally starved myself, but I have sat at my dinner table crying over the fact I couldn’t – just couldn’t eat my delicious food. As long as my anxiety is managed it seems my appetite is good, if my anxiety is out of whack, I can’t eat. For me, its that simple but it took me decades to learn this and to find the appropriate help.

    I think identifying different groups as you have begun to do, is an important step towards streamlining care to the eating disordered.

    I know that bulimics can receive relief through medications, as I have via anti anxieties. I wonder if social or peer pressured types of disordered eaters may also be dealing with an underlining issue such as social anxiety or depression? Maybe if those aspects are treated in tandem with nutritional counseling etc. more lives could be saved.

    Anyway, another great post.
    Take Care.

  20. Hagar says:

    Hey Joey!
    Thanks for replying so soon =]
    Yeah I was really hyper at that moment. I’m sorry?
    I was just really excited that I realised that I’ve let my eating disorder define me. I was really psyched. Which I’m kinda glad I can feel energetic again. Well, I’m TOO energetic, as in hyper-active hehe but never mind.
    If you want you can check out my blog
    I made it four days ago and already I’ve posted like 17 posts
    If you do check it out, i suggest you scroll down to the first one, otherwise it’s a bit confusing… the adress is:

    bye bye… and as you can see I’m less hyper right now lol <3

  21. Sarah says:

    Joey –

    I agree with you.

  22. wanderer says:

    Coming in late to say to Joey–you have some great insights into the issue.

  23. Sass1948 says:

    got anorexia age 13 & didn’t understand it. Had great mum who “nipped it in the bud” – ok she recognised it, listened to my concerned friends & helped it go away. When she died, disordered eating came back to my life as a coping mechanism to push down my feelings. I don’t use proana sites cuz they seem to be for little girls who want tips on how to BE disordered. Anyone who’s already disordered, figures it out on their own without sites. Am ashamed to admit I admire Nicole Richie’s weight loss, like how she looks & model my own weight on her. Cringe. Am influenced by media like TV, mags, etc, just not proana sites. So don’t have a clue what category am in! Anyway, sorry that was a v. boring post about me, ha!

  24. hagar says:

    hey it’s ok =]
    it’s not a boring post at all!
    In some ways I feel a little bit as if I know how you feel, I am not comparing I’m so sorry to hear that your mum passed away, I’m sorry. When my great grandfather and grandmother died in the same month I started going back a bit to the ed, I tried not to so hard, did stupid things trying to avoid it but in the end it always gets you…
    so anyways
    now I’VE posted a boring post about me.

  25. sarah says:

    I don’t think there are three groups; what you are refering to as the ‘social anoretics’ (good phrase) are in fact the pro-anas/mias, its the same group. After all, why do girls that don’t suffer from the mental disease militantly strive towards it? Without the desire to be thin transmitted to them through family, social (media, education) etc why would they do so?

    The pro-ana group contains women that want to be thin to have all the social benefits that come from being thin; time and again they refer to comments from their peers, their mothers their teachers. I read of one girl whose mother told her at 5″10 and 112 pounds she was getting fat and tripped the key from normal to abnormal body image – my point being it is society and how its standards are internalised by girls that creates the pro-ana movement so I really think that any distinction between those that worship Nicole Richie and those that think “I want to be thin so .. I can be respected by my peers” is irrelevant.

    The ritualized behaviour and finding a sense of belonging under the umbrella movement applies to, as you rightly pointed out, the complete gamme of girls from seriously deranged to pretty normal and playing with the idea like a girl dressing her Barbie doll, but what ties all of them together is the pressure society at some time or other bears – all anoretics are to some degree “social anoretics”.

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  27. Bekah says:

    I definently agree with the statement that there are 3 groups of those on pro-ana/mia sites, but I don’t agree with the name of “social anorexia” for the third group, it makes it sound more of like those people want to be anorexic to be cool, which already have a name, posers. I would consider myself a mixture of group 2 and 3, as I use eating disorders as a coping device, or for control, and I’m also convinced there is genetics involved, but I also feel need as an actress to be TINY.

  28. Kari says:

    I don’t really know what I fall into – a lot of the times, I feel that I have to lose weight because I’ve then I’ll attain a kind of beauty that would make me “worthy to exist and wear beautiful things”. A lot of the times in school, within the classroom setting, I already feel left out for being overweight and a “nerd” and a “geek” and basically I can behave a little strangely. The way I see it, if my personality’s a little kooky then I have to balance that social awkwardness by being beautiful.

    However, I’m not proud of my purging. At all. I know its a waste of money, its bad for my WHOLE body because I can feel it, but I just can’t stop. I feel like if I can’t control the things I want to do (like theater, which my mother has forbidden me from taking up) or the things that happen in my life, then I could at least be beautiful even if its superficial. Because then, at least I have ONE thing I can control in my life.

  29. Robin says:

    I feel i fall into the category of Traditional anorexia and social anorexia. Is it possible to fall into both categories? Please help me to understand. Sincerely, sunflowers

  30. Rose says:

    Mama, i just watched your video on social anorexia, and it is a term that i do not understand, surely all anorexia is social ally related, you mentioned those individuals who seek perfection, but their view of perfection would be based on society, or what they believe is perfection according to the society which influences them, you also put those who were pro ed in a separate grouped, by pro ed i mean those who believe ana is a lifestyle and want to be left to it, but surly this is also a result of society since they look at thinpso and other negative reinforcements due to their own insecurities, which seem to also stem from society telling them that need to be thin and look like Kate moss. I don’t see the difference between this group and group 3 at all, other than one group convinces themselves that an Ed is a good thing.

    It’s been a few months since you posted this so sorry hat I’m writing this so late!


  31. Cat says:

    I am one of them.It’s not like i feel worthless the way i am,but i think i’d be perfect,if i’d be thiner!I’m in a model agency and i just look at all those models and i wanna be one of them.I just feel i won’t succed if i’m not like them.I’m obsessed with a flat abdomen.I want to have the perfect thin body,and achieve what i want.Diets never worked 4 me,i enjoy great food but i’m so scared of throwing it up!that’s why it’s easyer staying away from it.this way wil really look like one of the models.i do sports 2,anything i know to loose weight.

  32. november says:

    I do think there is a social anorexia stereotype.
    there is an excess of food in most countries now.
    and being vegan and fasting for 3 days to clear your digestive system is glamorous. influence from that comes with being a social human being.
    i think woman,as well as, men realize that weight doesn’t really effect who your friends are or who you fuck. last month it was awesome to hang out w/ all of your recovered addict, just gained 30 lbs friends. the month before that it was cool to do coke, but frowned upon to smoke cigarettes.trends are fleeting. than again food seems to always be around. it was trendy to be bipolar, than adhd, have gad. what’s next? schizophrenia? i do think that people trying to get thin need support. sometimes guidelines become blurry when the u.s. says you should have a bmi of 20% which looks quite thick. you’re doctor tells you being a few lbs underweight is fine and much healthier than being obese<—-true & adriana lima’s bmi is rumored to be around 16%,17% although she looks 18% and truly everyone feels good at a different bmi.

  33. Amanda says:

    I can’t fathom how some people deny the clear fact that society is breeding this new form of “social anorexia”???????
    Having been in the services for many, many years now, I am constantly meeting this new breed in hospital!
    It is appaling, and it pisses me off something chronic!
    I never chose to be anorexic, and I was certainly totally unaware of the desire to be emaciated or thinner to “fit in”
    What the hell is going on anyway, with this constant drive and desire to somehow be defective in “personality”?
    Why are children/teens presenting with serious mental health problems to their G.P.’s? When they clearly are driven by “friends” who could possibly be really unwell, or perhaps not? or perhaps because it is now “cool” to self injure, starve or puke?????????
    This is giving rise to G.P.’s disbelief and then “missing” a true ill child/teen!
    When are parents going to wake up to the fact that kids are growing up way too early, and kids should be allowed to be kids!
    It astonishes me, as I grew up before my time, because of sexual abuse that went on without my parents knowledge, however I also had an eating disordered family, which clearly never helps the situation! Not to mention the fact that my father was somewhat dysfunctional about and with his treatment of women- both my mom and me!
    So clearly there are complexities in my case!
    There are however far more functioning families that just seem to loose sight of how society is and has changed! If we as humans have evolved, why is it that we are moving into such self-destructive behaviours? And why is it acceptable? Goodness, some mothers are clearly promoting the fact that they are pro-ana, and seem to be proud of the fact!
    Dying to be thin as a form of social acceptance really saddens me!

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