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Type the word “thinspiration” into a search engine and prepare to be appalled. You will find a seemingly endless assortment of eating disorder Web sites – meaning sites that promote eating disorders. Sprinkled amongst them you’ll see blogs by women who are documenting their illness and know they are ill, but most of these sites are all about starving yourself to death.

They have tricks and tips for avoiding eating – or at least digesting. There are strategies for dealing with meddlesome family and friends. And there is reinforcement that it is really those who want you to eat who are ill. Most sites have galleries where the owner and/or members post images of themselves. These pictures remind one of the photos of death camp survivors after World War II. But they almost universally carry captions about how “fat” the subject feels.

There is diet advice. Water and tea are the two main food groups. There is advice for how to deal with those times when you feel you just have to eat, and how to get through it. Eating is treated as an enemy, or a symptom of a disease. Obssession with gaining weight – any tiny amount of weight – is a palpable doom hanging over the commentors in the forums.

And there are images and paeans to role models: Kate Moss is “big” (so to speak). All the ultra-thin models are known by name, endlessly discussed, compared, and admired. And this sub-culture has its martyrs: now and then you encounter an announcement of a death in the community, almost always referred to as if they were a buddy killed in war.

Because this is a war. It’s a war within the mind, amid the artificial pressures our culture forces on young (and not-so-young) women. The agony of mental illness seethes throughout the prose on these Web sites. Sometimes recognized, generally not. They are documents of the ideal of beauty confused with an ideal of death.

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