• Thu, Feb 23 2012

Tumblr To Begin Restricting Pro-Ana And Other “Self-Harm” Blogs

Since the earliest days of Livejournal and Xanga, men and women suffering from eating disorders have been just a click away from tips, tricks, and a dark brand of “support” provided by others who are living with the same demons. But now, Tumblr, the ultra-popular blogging and sharing platform, is taking a stand against the promotion and glorification of “self-harm”–including pro-ana, suicide, and self-mutilation sites. Expect this battle to get heated, quickly. And, just a warning, some of this content may be triggering to some.

From the company’s blog post:

We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr. For example, we prohibit spam and identity theft.

Our Content Policy has not, until now, prohibited blogs that actively promote self-harm. These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide. These are messages and points of view that we strongly oppose, and don’t want to be hosting.

I’m currently researching an article about the internet and its relationship to eating disorders (which will run on Blisstree next week), so this announcement from Tumblr, who has become a favorite among the pro-ana community, was especially interesting to me. Recently, many anorexia, bulimia, “thinspiration,” and other self-harm bloggers have migrated from older, less-utilized blogging platforms to Tumblr, which allows for better sharing and a larger audience.

A quick search in Tumblr’s tags for “pro-ana” or “anorexia” will immediately display a long list of blog posts including reports of 200-calorie days, images of impossibly thin women, and heartbreaking lines of self-hating poetry. It’s very upsetting–but it’s also freedom of speech. Which is where the controversy is sure to erupt–particularly considering that the pro-ana community is one that’s already on the defensive.

Tumblr has every right to decide that they no longer want to play an enabling role in this often-hidden aspect of their users’ lives. Much like Facebook has attempted to curb offensive images (though they have frequently, in the eyes of many users, overstepped the line, by removing images of breastfeeding mothers and kissing same-sex couples), Tumblr isn’t required under law to provide a space where anyone can post anything they like–and if the founders and operators of the sight are saddened to be a part of someone else’s sadness, depression, and self-harm, they certainly have the right to lay down new rules.

But the pro-ana community already feels alienated and misunderstood. There have been many calls to entirely ban pro-ana sites, and some web hosting sites and search engines (including Yahoo!) will pull down or hide overtly pro-anorexia content. Which is a protective measure…but is also one that makes the men and women who participate in these communities feel even more targeted and othered than they do already.

pro-ana sites removed by tumblr

One cool thing that Tumblr is rolling out is PSAs, which will play when certain tags (like “purging” or “bulimia”) are searched, which may help users by adding a new voice to the mix–similar, I think, to having suicide hotline numbers posted on bridges where jumping is common. Psychologically speaking, it breaks up the thought pattern, which is a smart idea. But it may not be welcome to those who are visiting the site to immerse themselves.

Tumblr’s decision is their own to make–and I can’t say that I entirely blame them. But I have a feeling it will become bigger than they anticipated, and that it will open up some interesting dialogue about the glorification of disease, the internet as a coping mechanism, and the necessity for resources and support.

What do you think? Should Tumblr continue to host these sites, even if they don’t agree with them? Have you ever used a pro-ana or self-harm website for support? Let me know in the comments!

If you’re suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is help available.

Image:  Yuri Arcurs via Shutterstock and Tumblr

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  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown

    People will cry “freedom of speech,” because they always do anytime anyone anywhere tries to censor anything, but freedom of speech refers to our freedom from the state impeding on or censoring expression. *Just one of my pet peeves.* I don’t agree with Tumblr’s decision, but like you said, they can rightfully do whatever they want.

  • KC

    S.A.F.E. Alternatives aka selfinjury.com provides a “trigger-free” blog/site. We ask that you do not use language containing graphic descriptions of Self Injurious behaviors. Words such as self injury, self harm, and the initials S.I. will be approved. Be mindful of swear words which are inappropriate and offensive to minors and others. This site is monitored and anyone found to continually violate these conditions will be removed from this entire blog site. Please follow S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES’ philosophy and help us maintain a “trigger-free” blog. Thank you.

  • Lexa

    Rightfully, they can do whatever they want, but I don’t find it fair that Tumblr is insisting on restricting blogs that are merely being used to express the thoughts of the blogger behind it. Like the blogger behind the post used in the second image, I see how it can be so helpful to people who are suffering, because I think people forget that an eating disorder is a mental disorder, and those who insist on starving themselves or purging as a “lifestyle choice” should be the ones prevented from posting on the site (Although this would be hard to weed out…). People who post tips (like the blogger in the first image) are not helpful or supportive to people with actual mental disorders. But people who are merely going on to talk to an anonymous community without judgement for their disorder should not be prevented from doing so.

  • Lexa

    Also, many blogs on tumblr with posts concerning anorexia and bulimia can be recovery blogs. How will people who are trying to recover get the inspiration they need if tumblr shuts these down? Just food for thought…

  • Candace

    Most of the so called “pro” blogs are just people expressing the way they feel and if tumblr fails to see this, it could be very bad. Tumblr helps them not feel so alone. And I fear bad consequences to doing this. Without the support from tumblr users, I would have attempted suicide again many times. I’m against Pro-ana/mia things that encourage EDs as a lifestyle, but most are just sufferers themselves. I fear the suicide attempt rate may rise. Tumblr did revise their original idea, making it much better in my opinion. Ask most of the “pro” bloggers and they’ll tell you the truth, that this is hell.

  • Michelle

    I just recently discovered that my 14 year old daughter has an eating disorder and began to starve and over exercise her body. I unfortunately learned this from a conversation she had with a friend on fb and was horrifed and devastated. The most disturbing discovery I found was when I dug deeper and looked on her tumblr, I found several of these gruesome and disturbing blogs on it. She was trying to follow some of the restrictive and limiting diets to the point where she is 5’5″ and was below 90 lbs. She has always been thin, beautiful and very intelligent. Within a matter of weeks, all of that slowly slipped away. She thankfully, with the support of friends, confided in a teacher and I found out as well. PLEASE DO WHATEVER NECESSARY TO BAN THESE SELF DESTRUCTIVE, HARMFUL SITES FROM THE INTERNET…Especially when they are targeted at young girls. I immediately removed them from her tumblr, but fear she could still gain access. I am seeking help and feel that she will recover, but if I had not caught on to this earlier, I don’t know what the outcome could have been. PLEASE STOP THIS!

  • Sally

    I’m struggling with an ed and depression and don’t support the whole ‘pro-ana’ label, but I think the freedom on Tumblr is it’s biggest virtue, the ability to post whatever you like without worries of feeling judged and you can just vent whatever you’re feeling, it’s what keeps a lot of users sane. I know girls and boys who’ve been talked out of self harm, purging and suicide because the Tumblr community is so strong and understanding.

    Self harm is also not ‘glorified’ on Tumblr, it’s released. I’ve self harmed and understand how difficult it is to tell anyone (two years and I’ve not confided in anybody) but when you get onto Tumblr you’ve got all these people who will listen and acknowledge you so you don’t feel constantly alone. Typing out your sadness may just stop you from dragging a knife across your skin.

    All a young girl or boy needs to do is image search ‘perfect body’ or ‘skinny’ and they have all the same pictures as you might find on Tumblr; there’ll always be an alternate place to look so why take away the addition of a caring face to help?

  • fracturedgirl

    I love that Tumblr, and all the Concern Trolls, have never considered that these banning actions could possibly be triggering.

    That’s all I have to say on the matter.


    One day when you have children of your own and you wake up to the horrible frightening reality that children are truly impressionable, the become vulnerable because they get bullied, they destruct each others confidence they call each other fat and everything else, you will realise that tumblr posts are not a release they are a source of information of ‘how to’ … posting the anorexia diet on tumblr is not a release – its INSIGHTING SELF HARM. There is no difference in what the pro-ana blogs are doing than the blogs on self mutilation and suicide. they should be banned immediately, they only teach these children how to do it. When you have a child who has scarred themselves for life by any form of self-harm and you have walked in a parents shoes, then you can tell me if this is freedom of speech and a release, or just sick individuals who take pleasure in having others join their misery and pain.

  • bla


    never be
    pro ana

  • Dannie

    It’s about time! I’ve seen some Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia Tumblr blogs and some of them just break my heart. One of them I came across was by an anorexic boy and he passed away while his blog was still going on. I didn’t know the boy and I’m not even on Tumblr, but I just found that so upsetting. Some one needs to pass regulations before more people pass away from problems that can be very well prevented.

    • Truthful Nacho

      Doing that is not going to fix the problem. The problem is patriarchy. I dont want to hear this BOYZ TOOOO over and over.

      I know that. No one ever said boys don’t get this. I have literally NEVER heard anyone actually say that.

      And it’s not the point. This is a female’s disease. FACT. It is because women are trained to be feminine, which amounts to docility and smallness and quietness. We have to fight against that, and until enough people are beating back the misogyny that created the problem to begin with, the sites will keep coming in bigger and bigger numbers because women seem to be HUNGER STRIKING en masse.

      I say we start pulling porn (TUMBLR, MAGAZINES, EVERYONE). This includes pornified pics of women and girls for “fashion”. THEN ANOREXIA AND BULIMIA WILL BE GONE.

      Do not, I repeat, do *not* pass laws. Just let the admins of Tumblr do whatever and let their double-standard be seen.

  • dd