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Pills for the Girls

Why does every harmful social media trend snag young women?

A,Girl,Looking,At,A,Smartphone,App,With,Zero,Likes.
(Lilanakani/Shutterstock)

Anorexia was something I learned about at a fairly young age. Brightly colored books on puberty always had a section on eating disorders, and why they are harmful, in the hope that this would convince image-conscious teens to avoid developing a harmful relationship with their bodies and with food. Whether such discussions helped or hurt teens is another question, since some likely would not have considered starvation without it being suggested, but the fact remains that these discussions were, and are, a routine part of entering womanhood in the modern era. 

It makes intuitive sense that such conversations accompany a girl’s coming of age. This is a time when she is becoming conscious of herself and her body in the context of others; helping her establish an appropriate attitude toward both is pivotal to a healthy adulthood. But the same does not hold true when we think of teenage boys, who are less likely to develop eating disorders or glorify their own weakness. When they do fall prey to the cult of admiration, it is more often expressed in rashness and boastfulness, not a cry for sympathy.

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So, most of us are not truly shocked when we read that the latest social media craze, one of glorifying chronic illnesses, is flourishing among 14 to 21 year old girls. Pity parties, pill piles, and bleak prognoses are just the latest form of the attention-seeking self-destruction that so often accompanies the difficult season of entering womanhood. 

Suzy Weiss (yes, Bari’s sister) paints a rather bleak picture in her report. Some unknown thousands of girls belong to what they call “spoonie” culture, a subgroup on social media platforms for girls with chronic illnesses, real or imagined. The name comes from blogger Christine Miserandino’s “Spoon Theory,” that healthy people have an unlimited number of spoons—some for groceries, dishes, others for social activities—while the sick “spoonies” only have a few. If they use one for the dishes, they won’t have energy left for the party, or so the theory goes. 

Like other social contagions, this one is spread online. With apparent relish, spoonie girls share photos of themselves looking pale and sickly, jacked up with tubes; or of the countless pills they take daily, “just to get out of bed,” though some admit to padding these photos with over-the-counter supplements; or selfies with long captions about the difficulties of life in their unique condition. Some of the diseases are clearly debilitating; others, like chronic fatigue syndrome, fall in the “functional disease” category. In short, they seem to have no cause and are impossible to confirm via a medical test. It doesn’t matter. The more sick the photo or its description, the more likes and affirmation it receives.

Weiss shares the story of one particular spoonie, Morgan Cooper, whose avowed condition made it excruciatingly painful for her to eat:

When she wasn’t in the hospital, Cooper would be curled up on her couch, chewing on ice and watching Grey’s Anatomy or YouTube videos of people eating huge amounts of food—up to 10,000 calories in one sitting. Mostly she’d swipe through her Instagram, spending hours responding to messages and seeking out other spoonies. Cooper’s account had 3,000 followers at its peak. She remembered looking at images from a more popular account with over 10,000 followers. “I was jealous of her,” she told me. “She looked so sick.”

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There is a striking similarity in these diseases, past and present, that demands our attention. Anorexia put our moms and aunts and older sisters in the hospital on feeding tubes. Transgenderism is putting teen girls in the operating room to be physically mutilated even now. As “spoonies,” our little sisters are just cutting out the middleman to go straight to the sickbed with fainting spells, fatigue, or fibromyalgia—ailments with highly subjective symptoms. But every one of these sicknesses gives the suffering woman the same kick: pity, care, attention. In the end, we all just want to be liked.

But there remains the large disparity between the sexes here that is impossible to miss. Why is it always women? Why do boys not fall prey to such social ailments, certainly not to the same extent of physically harming themselves, the way that women do?

A common talking point among right-leaning people is that it is hard to raise boys in the modern era. In a post-feminist world, where feminine character traits are more highly valued, it seems impossible to produce masculine men. Everything about popular culture tells boys to be ashamed of themselves. You might think, under these circumstances, it would be the boys gaining social profit from victimhood. Yet not so. 

Our culture rejects manhood, but it has seduced womanhood. It is, perhaps, an easy thing to do: such has been the story of womankind since the Garden of Eden. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” has manifested in a variety of flavors throughout history, but for women it always comes down to admiration, since the admired woman is a kind of god to her admirers. In her quest for this attention, however, she enslaves herself to the tempest of mass opinion. Such slavery is rightly called a perversion in either of the sexes, but we cannot ignore the fact that, especially of late, it is a perversion more common among women.

Slavery to attention—particularly that of other women—has led the female sex to all manner of unnatural behavior. It led them to abandon their homes and become cogs in the market, even when the hours at a desk were mind-numbing and the work meaningless. The rise of the girlboss was the direct result of women encouraging women to take on roles at odds with their happiness, for the sake of shattering a glass ceiling (“Slay, Queen”). Such a change could not have happened without the feminists first changing fashion—what is admirable—from being a housewife to having a career. In its most raw form, lust for admiration leads women to desire the sexual attentions of other women. And in the case of the chronically ill, or chronically attention-seeking, it leads them to seek admiration in the form of sympathy, sympathy for their pitiful existence.

But as Eve discovered, though the fruit is appealing to the eye, it carries with it the bitter taste of death. Attention is a cruel mistress, and she requires more and greater sacrifices. There is always someone sicker, always someone more pitiable. When the girls find something else with which to satiate their eyes, the spoonies will be left with nothing better, and likely something much worse, than a feeding tube and a stomachache.

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