Anorexie : le rôle ambivalent des réseaux sociaux

Anorexia: The ambivalent role of social networks

Like magazines, social networks promote an ideal of thinness that can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia. They also allow the creation of support communities, but with the risk of “locking up” patients in this pathology.

The phenomenon is not new: in the early 2010s, for example, blogs for anorexia (“Pro-Ana”) or for bulimia (“Pro-Mia”) experienced a boom.

They have been deleted by the hosts but are finding new forms on social networks, specialists noted on the occasion of World TCA (Eating Behavior Disorders) Day in early June.

The “challenges” are challenges launched on the social networks TikTok or Instagram, mostly from young people to other young people. Like the so-called “A4 sheet”: To win, her waist needs to measure just 21 centimeters, the width of an A4 sheet of paper. We only get there by depriving ourselves of food for a long time.

For Valentin Flaudias, lecturer in clinical psychology at the University of Nantes in western France, the youngsters’ enthusiasm for reports of slim, healthy and sporty personalities comes primarily from the “message of society”. “The fight against obesity and the call for physical activity are reinforcing the tendency to turn to these accounts that correspond to the ideal of slimness,” he told AFP, recalling the alarming statements by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May on the “obesity epidemic”. in Europe.

“Healing” accounts

“The aesthetic question”, pervasive on the networks that give high priority to photos with filters and retouching, also has repercussions for people who already suffer from eating disorders, says Nathalie Godart, child psychiatrist and president of the French association Anorexia Bulimia. Anorexia nervosa is the result of “several factors,” she recalls. “Its trigger cannot be summed up in social media,” although they may be a “seed factor in malaise and low self-esteem.”

In addition to these aspects, young women today, with an average age of 15 to 25, use the networks to share their experiences of hospitalization and the evolution of their relationship with the disease by creating ‘recovery accounts’.

Mutual-aid communities are then created among patients to improve. “It’s a good thing, but there are risks,” warns Mr. Flaudias. “Anorexia is often a relationship issue with others, and these reports can put you at risk of defining yourself about your illness and therefore locking yourself into it.”

Focused on the body

Conversely, the researcher is observing a boom in the “body positivism” movement (the act of loving one’s body). “It’s still better than the ‘pro-ana’ movement, but (these reports) are once again focusing on the body. To cure anorexia, you have to detach yourself from it,” he notes.

Nathalie Godart believes that these reports, which sometimes focus on “food coaching,” lead to an “invasion of thought” by food.

Some patients suddenly feel healed but may develop a related disorder, orthorexia, or an obsession with healthy eating. They then shed their weight—hence the difference from anorexia—but they overly control what they eat, with consequences for their social life.

In 2019, Pauline Drecq, psychologist in Paris, participated in the creation of a collective workshop in a day clinic based on the experiences of patients in the networks. These young people with eating disorders “consult the networks in their room at night when they are alone, sometimes in moments of anxiety”. In the workshops, they comment on “an Instagram post or a YouTube video” and analyze their positive or negative effects on their psyche.

However, the relationship to the content “depending on the patient and the stage of the disease” is different, the psychologist notes. A culinary report “may offer prospects for recovery in one patient and increase dietary restrictions in another.”

Far from demonizing the networks, the goal is to make patients aware of the impact they can have on their condition, “so that using it becomes care,” says Ms Drecq.

Marine LEDOUX/AFP

Like magazines, social networks promote an ideal of thinness that can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as anorexia. They also allow the creation of support communities, but with the risk of “locking” patients into this pathology. The phenomenon is not new: blogs in favor of anorexia…


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