Experts

Anorexia, bonespiration, thinspiration: WA health experts worried about social media trend

A DANGEROUS new social media trend celebrating skeletal bodies with protruding bones has been studied for the first time by eating disorder specialists.

The “bonespiration” phenomenon, reported in Journal of Eating Disorders this week, has dismayed Princess Margaret Hospital health professionals, concerned social media is feeding morbid mindsets in kids.

The world-first analysis on “bonespiration” — an even more extreme thin body ideal than the Instagram-blocked “thinspiration” — associated it with high risk of developing a clinical eating disorder.

media_cameraNikki Owen. Picture: Daniel Wilkins

The UK-based study included 734 images on Twitter, Instagram and WeHeartIt. Bonespiration encourages objectifying photos of extremely thin women in skimpy clothing with protruding ribs, collarbones, spines and hips.

It comes as PMH health professionals warn social media users who post so-called “fit” selfies are at “significantly” higher risk of eating disorders.

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services is concerned young people can become increasingly dissatisfied with their body image and associated self-worth by posting their image on social media.

Julie Purcell, acting manager of CAMHS’s specialised eating disorders program, said the latest study results were “really significant” in understanding the complexities behind eating disorders in kids.

Ms Purcell says sites such as Instagram, Facebook and chat forums have exposed young people to more pressure from their peers and society to achieve a body ideal.

“There’s a focus at the moment on fitness and eating healthily, especially with the obesity epidemic,” she said.

“In this day and age social media’s caught up in that.

“Social media is so powerful because what you’re doing is re-enforcing that message that my self-worth is tied up with how we look.”

media_cameraNikki at five years old when she began experiencing the mindset that led to anorexia. Picture: Supplied

An earlier study in Journal of Eating Disorders focused on Australian women using Instagram, comparing those who posted on fitspiration — the internet trend to motivate people to eat healthy and be fit.

Even though fitspiration has been found to be much less unhealthy than the latest bonespiration trend, 17.5 per cent of women posting on Instagram’s fitspiration were still found to be at risk of a clinical eating disorder diagnosis.

Of the control group, women posting travel photos on Instagram, 4.3 per cent were considered at risk.

CAMHS is the only public service in WA to treat kids with eating disorders as inpatients, on day programs and as outpatients. It has about 170 patients and doctors are finding about half have a second mental illness, such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The youngest is 10, the average age is 14.5, 10 per cent are boys and treatment usually takes one to five years. The sickest are getting sicker. Also, kids from rural areas — with fewer resources and less awareness — were often more unwell.

Ms Purcell says eating disorders often go undetected in kids, until they develop physical symptoms. If an eating disorder is identified early and young people are in treatment, they can recover before they become an adult.

For help for an eating disorder or body image issue, contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673.

media_cameraNikki Owen almost died from anorexia. Picture: Daniel Wilkins

WHEN Nikki Owen posted a photo of her gaunt, malnourished teenage body, she was instantly rewarded with admiration and praise from strangers across cyberspace.

“Access to destructive social media can ‘flick a switch’,” she says, of losing control over her body and mind, to anorexia nervosa.

“Parents need to know there are so many pro-ana (anorexia) websites. The fact they exist disgusts me,” she said.

As a millennial, Nikki, 21, is the first generation to grow up in the image-rich world of social media. She says websites pushing eating disorders took over her life.

“There’s something about being underweight and people noticing I’m underweight that makes me feel special — and I know that’s horrible,” she said.

“It feels like I’ve got more self-control but it’s actually an illusion. I’m succumbing to the eating disorder if I listen to it.”

By the time she was 19, this mental illness — placing intrinsic self-worth in a body-ideal — had almost killed the Subiaco university nursing student.

media_cameraNikki when she was suffering from anorexia. Picture: Supplied

“The more I start to look healthy and people say I’m ‘looking good’, that is so hard for my brain to deal with because I don’t feel special any more and I don’t feel I have self-control any more.”

Nikki was aged just five when she first started feeling excruciatingly self-conscious.

This was the start of a life-long battle with an eating disorder with a powerfully-critical “inner voice”. She loathed herself for eating.

Living with her parents and younger sister, she was a master of masking it — until eventually it took claim over her life and her weight plummeted. “I felt my body start to shut down,” she recalled.

Nikki finds it easy to talk rationally, but it’s still hard to take her own advice. “The best form of control is to just be happy with yourself and that is something completely out of reach for me at the moment,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 − one =