Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole – Eating Disorders and Tumblr


On any given hour of any given day, you will find hundreds of posts, images and quotes on Tumblr relating to eating disorders.

Simply by going to the site and searching for “anorexia” or “bulimia,” you will find photos taken in mirrors, mentions of triggers, and quotes about being thin and “beautiful.”

Even more alarming is the fact that these posts do not stop.  Refresh the page and a whole new set will tumble down your screen, seemingly endless.

When I first stumbled onto this sub-culture of microbloggers, I was shocked and didn’t know what to do with the information.

While seeing the raw discussion of a topic was completely foreign to me, it has been an eye-opener in a few ways.

Although these images are shocking when first discovered, should we really be surprised that this sub-culture exists?  What purpose (if any) does this community have and is there a possible positive twist?

Why are Eating Disorders to Prevalent on Tumblr?

Anyone who has worked with social media understands that every site has its “strengths.”  Tumblr is, in many ways, the perfect medium for a community like this to grow.  Unlike many social media sites, Tumblr is somewhat disconnected from the offline world.   Where Facebook allows you to keep touch with your friends,Tumblr allows you to have multiple Tumblrs (blogs), each of them a separate entity.  This allows for a very anonymous platform.

Tumblr is all about off-the-cuff expression.  Posts are not meant to be linguistic masterpieces. Instead, they are quick statements in image, text, or even link-form. Add the ability to search by tags and micro-communities are instantly born.

Tumblr offers another feature that is appealing.  People can like and repost each other’s content.  This is a quick form of communal validation.  When you are able to lay your true feelings out anonymously and have others confirm them with a like or a repost, raw honesty is ripe for the posting.

So what does this sub-culture look like?

“Success” Photos


Photos are easily uploaded to the site, as a result photos such as this are the most common in this niche. Often times posing in front of a mirror showing “progress”.

Community “Support”

tumblr-looking for ana buddy

An Ana buddy is someone to hold you accountable to stick to your weight loss commitment.

This is possibly one of the more alarming types of interaction in this niche of tumblr.

Self-Expression and Quotes


Quote images are popular and get reblogged hundreds of times.

Quotes are a common image based social share (hello pinterest).  As a form of self expression, these can be a powerful medium.


Tumblr will combine like hash tags (notice the #ED)

A Spectrum of Severity


Clarification of sevarity

Support for Recovery


Some posts can be supportive

The 30 day challenge, although not exclusive to tumblr, is very common on the site.  A 30 day challenge is a series of posts geared towards recovery or change.  For instance on one day, participants post a photo of a meal they ate.

Wellness Blogging


This user has set up a “wellness” blog which focuses on helping her situation.

Wellness blogging is a new jump

What effect does this have?

Without proper research, it is hard to tell the effects of a community like this on those with eating disorders.  It is important to remember that there is a spectrum of severity within eating disorders, so the specific impact that a community has will always vary from member to member.

It makes sense to be concerned about a community like simply fanning the flames, and although this is very possible, one simple fact remains.

Tumblr is a neutral platform 

This is important because pro-ana communities (websites supporting anorexia with tips and information) have long existed on the internet.   These communities self perpetuate the disorder and can create a false sense of support.  A neutral platform like Tumblr allows for a variety of post types (as seen above).  This can lead to exposure of support from the same community in which a member has become comfortable.

Simply knowing that you are not the only one dealing with such an isolating issue, as eating disorders tend to be, can help lead to progress.  When support comes from a peer group, it can be a serious catalyst for change.

Even though the collarbones, quotes, and “diet” types can be alarming to the outside perspective, they may offer a sense of community to those who need it most.

What do you guys think?  Leave a comment.   We would love to get some feedback, especially from anyone who has experience with tumblr, eating disorders or online communities.




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