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Online Belongings

Fantasy, Affect and Web Communities

Debra Ferreday

What does it mean to ‘belong’ to an online community? What happens to the body in cyberspace? How has the Internet been theorised: as a site of liberation, duplicity, threat?
In her reading of cyberculture studies after the affective turn, the author argues for a new cyberculture studies that goes beyond dominant cultural narratives of the Internet as dystopian or utopian space, and pays attention to the ways in which online culture has become embedded in everyday lives. The book intervenes in narratives of virtual reality to propose that the Internet can be re-read as a space of fantasy.
This book draws on readings of the everyday, taken-for-granted sites of digital culture that have often been overlooked by cyberculture studies. Specific themes include religious fundamentalist sites and hate speech, online mourning, vampire homepages, virtual fashion and food shopping sites, and pro-anorexic communities. The book is attentive to the continuities and disruptions between online and offline experience. The author examines the ways in which bodies, subjects and communities are produced and reproduced through the stories we tell about online belongings.

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Chapter 5Pro-Ana: Writing the Virtual Body 187

Extract

Chapter 5 Pro-Ana: Writing the Virtual Body ‘Pro-ana’ and ‘pro-mia’ are the names given to personal homepages that deal with the experience of living with an eating disorder. These sites are published on the Web by young anorexic women who see eating disorders as an identity position, rather than as a disease. The image of an emaci- ated female body with the head cropped is typical of representations of the body in pro-ana. These images are usually presented as pictures of the site author’s own body (the heads are left off to protect the author’s identity, since many of these, often very young women are running these sites without the knowledge of their families and peers). Despite the strategy of removing the head, the body is not detached from the subject; since many of the sites contain diaries, poetry and other highly personal material alongside representations of the author’s body, the effect is to imply that body and subjectivity are inseparable. It is through sharing this view of subjectivity that pro-ana authors come to see themselves as members of a community. In other words, these sites construct a community that is rooted in anorexic embodiment. The anorexic body, the body shown in these pictures, is the basis of the community, that is, the body is what mem- bers of the community ‘have in common’, both as an ideal, and as lived experience. In pro-ana, the community itself is rooted in the corporeal, and a sense of belonging derives from a...

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