How to Create a Positive Online Environment to Help People Recovering from Eating Disorders

July 27, 2022

Could we imagine scrolling through our social media feeds to see that body diversity is honored and was a space that respected our individual autonomy? What would our online world look like if we didn’t care about the number of likes we received due to the shapes of our bodies? What would our online world look like if online users centered people experiencing an eating disorder and striving to live in recovery?

Life would be so freeing!

While we are far from these things becoming a reality for us as a collective, we can take measures in our online consumption and communities to create a safe space where body respect reigns and diet culture remains on the outside looking in.

Here are a few ways to create a positive online environment that shows your support to the eating disorder community.

Use Positive Language

Do you find yourself using language that carries the hierarchy of what bodies are accepted or rejected in society? Explicit terms like “body goals” or more subtle language around “dressing for your shape or size” can undermine the body positive strides that many people are trying to advocate for.

Saying things like “I feel fat” is an unhelpful and harmful way that people communicate feelings of inadequacy or undesirability. Instances such as these are fatphobic and send messages to others that suggest fat bodies are devalued and underappreciated.

To fix this, examine the language you use (ideally, before you publish it) and mindfully replace it with words that better demonstrate what you really mean. Changing language to create a more inclusive space will undoubtedly help those recovering from eating disorders feel welcome.

Express Body Positivity

You can share pictures of our activities, special events, outfits, new hair, and so much more on social media. All of these things can definitely be harmless and typically are, however, with the pressures in media to appear a certain way, pictures have also been a site of much scrutiny. Before-and-after pictures are typically a method used to celebrate the appearance of someone after a big change. When it comes to bodies, weight loss is unfortunately at the center of this.

Should a person’s personality be reduced to simply what they look like? Of course not! As you start to mind your language, also mind your photos to make sure you are not perpetuating behaviors that make it hard for those who are walking in the path of recovery.

Making a safer space in online communities for people recovering from eating disorders includes contemplating the message that before-and-after photos send to those who are working through accepting their “after” body, which may be larger than the one they had before. What message is being sent if the “after” photo is being praised in comparison to its “before?”

If You See Something, Say Something

As an online advocate for those in recovery, it’s important to speak up for others. You can speak up by unfollowing pages or addressing biases seen with weight and appearance. Speak up by writing blogs, sharing posts, or even signing petitions. These actions may not be without confrontation, but using your voice can be empowering and even be a light to others. Don’t be afraid to take up virtual space and share your truth!

Healthy Environments on Social Media Benefit Us All

By committing ourselves to these small practices, we create positive and safe spaces for ourselves and especially our loved ones in recovery. We may not have reached the point where society at large is willing to accept these things but when one of us commit to doing such, others will follow.

Nonjudgmental spaces of body acceptance will benefit not just those who are in recovery, but many who have recovered and others who may never have experienced the toll of an eating disorder. By caring for those who have the greatest need first, we will ultimately satisfy the needs of everyone.

Joy Cox, PhD, is a body justice advocate using her skill set in research and leadership to foster social change through the promotion of fat acceptance, diversity and inclusion. She currently sits on the Advisory Board for the Association of Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) and is the author of Fat Girls in Black Bodies: Creating Communities of Our Own, which focuses on the lived experiences of Black fat womxn.

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