The allure of thinness: An inquiry into the propaganda techniques and persuasive strategies used on “pro-ana” websites

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Health communication spends much attention on the cultivation and promotion of healthy lifestyles but there are subcultures that promote unhealthy behaviors as a desirable, and supposedly self-enhancing, lifestyle. This study was undertaken to shed light on how one subculture, the pro-anorexia (or “pro-ana”) movement, seeks to persuade viewing audiences. An investigation into the persuasive tactics and propaganda techniques deployed on pro-ana websites guided the analysis. To document the persuasive strategies used on these sites, the study deployed a content analysis informed by persuasion theory, cataloging the techniques that could persuade individuals to join the pro-ana community. The analysis of pro-ana websites (N = 126) revealed commonly seen persuasive tactics and propaganda techniques deployed in this community, as well as the similarity between websites which claim to support pro-ana and those who do not support pro-ana. The results suggest a need on the part of the health community to counter these propagandistic efforts by communicating factual information about eating disorders, considering the type of messaging and content currently targeting prospective members of the pro-ana community online. Follow-up research, including focus groups with participants currently or formerly afflicted by eating disorders, are suggested.

Eating disorders, Pro-anorexic community, Pro-ana, Thinspiration, Body image, Social comparison theory, Social judgment theory, Social cognitive theory, Propaganda techniques, Content analysis