Constructing 'ana' : pro-ana/anorexia women's understandings of themselves and their internet communities : a thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
This thesis is a study of pro-ana/anorexia communities on the Internet. In these communities women from around the world communicate through a range of message boards, bulletin boards, live journals and chat rooms. Here they 'talk' honestly about such 'taboo' topics as achieving weight loss goals, their ability to sustain their ana/anorexia and about the day to day issues of living with ana/anorexia. As a result these communities have been met with much opposition, and the women challenged on their position. My study of these communities was informed by the understanding that all meaning is constructed and that language plays a powerful part in this. As such I was not concerned with explicating the one 'true' meaning of pro-ana/anorexia. Rather my aim was to understand how pro-ana/anorexia women construct themselves and their communities. Through the method of passive analysis I obtained electronic archival records of the women's naturalistic discursive interaction ('talk'), from seven pro-ana/anorexia communities. These communities were selected on the basis of their compatibility with my ethical requirements, greater number of community members and variation in content. Through the analysis of this 'talk', it can be seen that the women's constructions of pro-ana/anorexia were inextricably linked with their understandings of what ana/anorexia is, what it is about and of themselves as ana/anorexic. I found that the women's constructions were based around three main issues. In the first, pro-ana/anorexia was constructed in relation to understandings of ana/anorexia as an 'illness/disorder'. In the second, constructions of what ana/anorexia is about were based on the 'objects' of 'the body' and 'the mind', and how these relate to 'self-discipline/self-control'. In the third, the women constructed the self in relation to the 'real' anorexic and ana/anorexia as a 'range' of'experience', and in doing this personified anorexia as 'ana'. These constructions were complex in that the women drew on and were positioned by existing understandings, and also constructed new meanings. In this way their 'talk' was both constitutive of meaning and constituted by meaning. The implications of these findings for the field of psychology are discussed.