Rose (2010, cited in Mannay 2016) informs us that ‘visual imagery is never innocent; it is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges’.
Mannay (2016) advises:
‘There is a need to adopt a critical approach to reading visual images, one that thinks about the agency of the image, considers the social practices and effects of its viewing, and reflects on the specificity of that viewing by different audiences. As academics we need to question our own readings of images and narratives and in doing so recognise our own ideological commitments and specific ways of knowing.’
Caution, then, is needed in the selection and interpretation of any images used as research data, and in the production of any images resulting from that research, ensuring a true and fair representation of how the groups or individuals being studied perceive their environment – the aim being to evoke an empathic understanding for the alternative ways in which subjects view their world.
Two earlier projects, Cravings and Carousel, have examined alternative relationships with food.
‘Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by restrictive eating and an intense fear of gaining weight. While anorexia is often recognised physically through excessive weight loss, it is a serious mental health problem’ (Mentalhealth.org.uk, 2018).
I want to visually describe the innermost thoughts which characterise this disease and by doing so help raise awareness – informing family and friends of the signs and symptoms which the addictive element of the illness compels anorexics to hide.
In essence, Ana as a Final Major Project will be a way for me to extend my knowledge and understanding, and that of others, through photography.
It is, therefore, my intention to produce a series of images illustrating the world is inhabited by those who suffer from anorexia. What are the factors which trigger anorexia, what factors operate to keep them in their world, and what factors operate to free them?
Importantly, how representative are the images which anorexics consume, seemingly with more enthusiasm than they consume food?
How strongly does the pro-Ana culture feature in the reinforcement of the eating disorder?
Items of food consumed by Marie are portrayed: from the standard-sized nutrient rich portions pre-illness to the sparse, nutrient poor items consumed during the days of her illness before the calorie-dense meals of recovery.
Personal possessions depict her interests and suggest the events that happen in her life.
Notes that she writes for herself, together with images she finds inspirational show the transition from good health to illness, and to recovery.
Research will draw upon the following sources:
Diaries written by recovered anorexics
The strong subculture is associated with anorexia and eating disorders in general
Laia Abril’s Thinspiration
Images of superthin models, images of anonymous anorexics, images taken of themselves by anorexics – the ubiquitous ‘selfie’
Online blogs and pro-Ana websites.
These can be identified as ‘found materials’.
‘In considering what can be found, and made the subject of social science inquiry, there are a plethora of existing visual and textual sources including print media, film, everyday cultural artefacts, personal communications, advertisements, internet, heritage sites and art works. Found materials position social scientists as image and narrative collectors, who then apply theoretical lenses to interrogate, examine and understand these objects of inquiry’ (Mannay, 2016).
What is the justification for my use of such sources?
Woolf (2015) informs us that western society has a problem – the glorification of eating disorders.
‘Even if you’re not actively looking for encouragement with an eating disorder, even if you avoid the internet altogether, you can’t avoid the overwhelming message of our age, that weight loss is good, weight gain is bad, that thinner (harder, leaner, greener) is better. We live in a hypervisual age, with most of us – especially the young – confronting thousands of images every day. The focus on women’s bodies is intense, in every magazine, website or TV advert, on every billboard and celebrity shot, and in the conversations of friends, mothers and sisters around us.
The effect can be profound, and yet still eating disorders are misunderstood. They are dismissed as a teenage, female condition (although male eating disorders are on the increase) or misrepresented as faddy dieting, body hang-ups, a phase they’ll “grow out of”. In fact, the opposite is true: eating disorders are highly addictive, and self-starvation becomes involuntary.
Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, more deadly than schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide’.
Wilson et al. (2006, cited in Johnson, 2015) inform us that ‘Pro-eating disorder websites host communities of individuals who engage in disordered eating and use the internet to discuss their activities’.
How prevalent is the use of such websites?
Custers et al (2009, ibid.) found that 12.6% (n = 90) of the girls and 5.9% (n = 42) of the boys from a sample group of 711 children and adolescents (7th, 9th, and 11th) grade had visited pro-anorexia websites.
Furthermore, a separate survey showed that 35.5% of 76 patients who had been treated for eating disorders in an outpatient clinic had visited pro-eating disorder sites (Wilson et al., 2006, cited Johnson, 2015).
There is further justification for using found materials as a data source, rather than generating data through subject participation. Anorexia is an addictive mental illness, and many factors act as triggers, perpetuating the illness: an inadvertent question, or a pertinent question asked inappropriately could trigger.
Furthermore, many anorexics hide their illness – compelled to do so by its addictive element, in some cases the illness is hidden from family and friends for years.
Those that do reach out for help become protected by the rules of patient confidentiality. An established track record of handling research with sensitivity, reverence and discretion is needed before clinicians will even consider approaching patients to volunteer for a research programme.
Johnson, Hadley A. (2015) I Will Not Eat – A review of the Online Pro-Ana Movement [Online]. New York: Adelphi University. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/I-Will-Not-Eat-A-Review-of-the-Online-Pro-Ana-Move-Johnson/b7a8b83bec0e6df021b83d4696ff8ac49c6819c8 (accessed: 09 February 2018)
Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge
Mentalhealth.org.uk (2018). ‘Anorexia nervosa’. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/anorexia-nervosa (accessed: 30 January 2018)
WOOLF, Emma (2015). ‘How social media is fuelling the worrying rise in eating disorders’. The Telegraph, 04 June 2015 [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/11649411/How-social-media-is-fuelling-the-worrying-rise-in-eating-disorders.html (accessed: 30 January 2018)