Neoliberalism, Pro-ana/mia Websites, and Pathologizing Women: Using Performance Ethnography to Challenge Psychocentrism

Nicole D Schott, Lauren Spring, Debra Langan


Key terms such as “pro-ana,” “pro-anorexia,” and “pro-ED” are searched for on the Internet over 13 million times annually. These searches lead to web pages and social media sites where pro-anorexia and “pro-bulimia” (pro-ana/mia) contributors share weight-loss and exercise tips, “thinspiration” slogans, images and videos, and speak openly about their problems with eating and body image. In this article, we outline our initial research on online responses to pro-ana/mia, and describe how we used the data and analyses from this research to create a piece of research-informed theatre, or performance ethnography. The initial research identified a range of responses to pro-ana/mia that were aligned with either dominant or critical discourses on the causes of, and solutions for, pro-ana/mia. Our findings and analyses challenge media portrayals and medical approaches to pro-ana/mia phenomena, and support an alternative, critical analysis of how psychocentrism and neoliberalism foster social injustices for women and girls. Our work nurtures collective efforts to displace dominant ideologies and practices that have serious implications for the socio-cultural, economic, physical and mental health of women and their communities. 


arts-based research; eating disorders; performance ethnography; pro-ana/mia; psychocentrism; social injustice, pathologization

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