Hunger Hurts but Starving Works: A case study of gendered practices in the online pro-eating-disorder community

Krista Whitehead


This paper investigates collective identity-work of Pro-eating disorder (Pro-ED) groups on the Internet. Using an adaptation of face-to-face ethnographic methods to investigate online communication (Mann and Stewart 2000), the author analyzes five collective organizing practices in Pro-ED groups that reveal a highly gendered character: 1) promoting surreptitiousness, 2) organizing in and around the realm of domesticity, 3) equating beauty with self-worth, 4) relying on friendship as a chief organizing principle, and 5) using fandom as a method of attracting and maintaining members. In spite of exceptional resistance to their activities, women in the Pro-ED community are able to achieve a collective Pro-ED identity wherein they maintain eating-disordered lifestyles. The case study presented here interrupts popular sociological understandings of collective identity mobilization as having categorically positive consequences for its members.


pro-eating disorder; pro-ana; pro-mia; collective identity; gender; social movements; identity formation

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