Imagine, if you will, Kate Moss. Blond hair, blue eyes, and most iconic of all, her famously slender physique. Heroin chic has not waned, despite celebrities like Adele, Lizzo, and Kim Kardashian popularizing body shapes that could be described in various degrees as “thicc.” Fashion and media are still dominated by thin women, even as the average dress size increases. No amount of body positivity challenges on Instagram have broken the decades-long stranglehold thinness has on the idealized body form.
In the not-so-dark corners of the internet, communities of teenage girls become zealot flagellants. They publicly, ritually starve, mock, and insult each other, with the worst abuses saved for those who are so pious to the cause they see themselves as worse sinners than when they began. Through group chats, through mutual follows, through a network of clever codes, some of which have been cracked and banned on major websites.
Anorexia has been with the internet since the days of UseNet. Young women have exchanged quick fixes, diet advice, and BMI numbers since the 1990s. Pro-anorexia websites have been at the center of moral panics since then too. Academic articles and magazine features alike have attempted to break into the mind of the pro-ana community–and they do consider themselves a community. A slate of articles and Oprah Winfrey specials in 2001 pulled these communities to the forefront of popular discourse, prompting companies like Yahoo to ban pro-ana content, something that doesn’t work on internet-savvy teens with the wherewithal to just move their pages.
Some of these sites have been successfully shut down by internet service providers, while others have gone dormant as their administrators abandon them. But many survive bans by flitting from free host to free host, using increasingly discreet and ironic names, like “I Love You to the Bones” and “Survivor”, as to not tip anyone off. A 2008 study by the internet security firm Optenet found a 470% increase in “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” sites from 2006 to 2007. The most prodigious of all pro-ana forums, “myproana”, boasts 430,774 individual users, who have made over 22,468,567 posts since the site’s founding in 2012.
The young women that populate these forums, and their successors on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter, challenge ideas of mental illness; to be pro-ana is to be in control of your body and mind, not suffering the whims of an ungovernable pathology. Kate Moss’s famous adage, “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, is a way of life. Like a folie a deux, commandments of “Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly,” and “What the scale says is the most important thing,” are spread by girls who, in part, want to believe in them.
Any internet community is not complete without its fair share of influencers. Eugenia Cooney, Ashley Isaacs, and Dorian Bridges have made themselves admired and reviled to the tune of millions of followers. Close watchers of Cooney will concern-troll amongst themselves on gossip forums like Pretty Ugly Little Liars, and KiwiFarms, oscillating between petty insults and feigned worry for the wellbeing of their hated idol. Disgruntled anti-fans and clout-chasing drama vloggers have repeatedly petitioned YouTube to remove her videos, without “legitimate” reason and without any success.
Pro-ana spaces and influencers raise crucial questions about representation, and who deserves it. Should we treat anorexia like depression and anxiety, an inseparable aspect of character that merits sensitive treatments by scriptwriters and reality show producers? Or is naming anorexia, or even showing it without naming it, encouraging the slender ideal? But meditations on the how thinness and anorexia are depicted in entertainment and media are dwarfed by online propagation of thinspiration content and unrelenting, unending stream of photoshopped bodies.
For young women online, the ideology of the physical form is driven more by interpersonal violence than political screeds and manifestos. Authoritarianism in online eating disorder communities requires a tight network of frenemies to tear you apart. Girls recruit one another to join their “meanspo” group chats, where insults, denigration, and shaming are seen as a fair price to pay for a lower number on the scale. They post public tweets inviting strangers into chatrooms where niceties are banned and post open calls where they will disparage you at your request (messages like: “sis wtf u look like baymax from big hero, thats nasty go hold a plank or sum shit”). Mutual followers, or “moots”, lay the foundation for abusive friendships, where the race to the bottom to eat less food than anyone else can turn deadly. The “horrifying” revelations of the Nxium cult’s DOS program are anticipated parts of their daily experience.
Through the proliferation of pictures of #thinspo kpop stars, of thigh gaps and “violin hips”, of rib cages poking through pale skin of anime cosplayers, they exercise soft power over other internet fandoms and subcultures. Especially on Tumblr, tags make it easy to search for existing content, share new content in established networks, and give a name to these communities so that they can find each other and recruit across social media. Tumblr’s related tags feature will even tell you the alternative names for #anorexia, invented in order to bypass the automated “If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you are not alone” message.
To an extent, you can induce an eating disorder in someone. Talking heads will impart blame on the beauty standards of the day, too-thin models in denim ads, and a multibillion dollar diet industry, while whipping themselves to fit those same standards and sell ads for said industry. We could also blame unmonitored internet access, but kids have always and will always find a way around parental controls.
Similar communities have cropped up, some in direct opposition to fat acceptance movements, others less outwardly political but still surrounded with the faint whiff of reaction. Looksmaxxing, mewing, bonesmashing (exactly what it sounds like: hitting yourself in the face to attempt to remold your facial bones), and other fantastical beauty enhancement techniques meant to ascend the hierarchy of beauty and dominate the uglies.
We see beauty hierarchies everywhere: advertisements, movies, television, even in social groups where everyone is keenly aware of their comparative beauty and takes on roles that match their physical appearance. How often are the self-described ugly and fat girls also the self-described funny ones. Those hierarchies are difficult to manipulate through makeup and fashion alone, but they are easy to manipulate through weight loss in a world so obsessed with size.
And that obsession with being beautiful, lithe, and glamorous that plagues young women caught in the throes of anorexia and bulimia shares an aesthetic heritage with fascists in 2020, who post seductive images of the French and Italian countrysides, strewn with handsome pairs of young, very white lovers. The feminine should not be voluptuous, but slender and waifish, in need of a big greasy guy to rescue her from modernity. A rubenesque woman cannot perform the necessary rites of submission, never mind that Rubens’ own women were plenty subjugate-able.
All body fascism, self-imposed or otherwise, is complemented by a tragic lucidity of vulnerability. Physical and mental limits are enumerated in order to be overcome. There are constant reminders to keep anonymous, for the safety of the individual and the community: “Remember, anorexia spaces have a lot of fetishests and creeps, as well as other jealous girls. Make someone mad? They might just expose you to everyone you know…,” writes one MPA user.
While bonesmashing teeters on the edge of hoax, less brutal forms of body modification are increasingly in vogue in far-right online spaces. Like a very on-the-nose incel vs chad meme, bodybuilding and weightlifting are not just a way to keep in shape, but an expression of political philosophy and heightened dedication to the reactionary project.
Internet personalities like the Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) have updated Olympia for the online era. BAP, alongside Swedish white nationalist bodybuilder The Golden One, Victor Pride, and other Manosphere talking pecs preach traditional masculinity as the cure to delicate muscles. One cannot only exercise the body, but also exercise the mind. A regime of deadlifts, anti-feminism, and red pills will turn any incel/wimp/beta/cuck into a ripped alpha male who resists the temptations of the women who desire him after years of rejection. Manosphere influencers have added racism to their quiver of misogyny and xenophobia since Men decided to Go Their Own Way in the late twenty-aughts. (MGTOW is one of the larger, more insidious of the monastic orders of internet misogynists.)
In the red pill-verse, physical pulchritude is directly tied to eligibility to participate in meaningful life. In extreme forms, it’s the prattling on about spindly, slimy, rat-like people set for extermination, whose faces are a reflection of their inner depravity (hello Socrates!); in less genocidal applications, it’s the depressed self-proclaimed incel who blames his ill fortune in love on a weak jawline and being under 6’2”. With some good old fashioned orthotropics and human growth hormone, they too can get a girlfriend or join the master race—or so the promise goes. The body is not a battlefield, but a daïs to be taken by a charismatic politician.
In 2018, BAP, one of those charismatic politicians, published the Bronze Age Mindset, a self-described “exhortation” that decries modernity as “the most debased of ages”. In a 2019 interview on The Golden One, more space was dedicated to the testosterone levels of modern man and how to resist the daemon of pronography than traditional politics. But for members of this world, speculating on the t-levels of world leaders is politics:
Do you think males with normal testosterone levels would accept rule of insectoids like Trudeau or Merkel or May or like much of the West now? Testosterone is much lower by the way in the third world, people don’t know this. The disease of modern times is much more advanced there, in the slums of the tropics. Anyway a high-test man like Trump can win just by showing he’s not a slithering castrated pussy.
For his efforts and stunning popularity, the pseudonymous Pervert has been welcomed into the realm of conservative thought-leadership. The Claremont Institute’s American Mind has published several essays on BAP’s ideology. The talk of ~vital essences~ (that is, semen) and reclaiming politics from the gay feminist cucks is deranged, but it has also attracted Serious Right Intellects. Claremont reviewer Michael Anton, a former senior national security official in the Trump administration, couldn’t help but mention BAP’s alpha physique. “BAP asserts an inherent connection between physical health, good looks, and human worth,” Anton notes in an essay that concludes “BAPism is winning.”
(BAP’s perversion of Ancient Greek mythos has not gone without more mainstream criticism, in the case of a response from Vassar College’s Pharos.)
For right-wing body fascists, testosterone and physical strength are political virtues in their own right. Every rep is a prayer, every squat is a sermon in the church of the body-fascist fascist. But as concerning as the fascist subtype of bodybuilder is, it is not novel. The virile, young fascismo, after all, lends his ideals to the phrase “body fascism.”
Fascism has always been concerned with tight, oiled, and bulging muscles. Propaganda films like Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia never shy away from a bicep; physical fitness affirms military might. Aspiring Spartans dedicate themselves to sport, wary of the technology that has presumably made muscles obsolete. We are still familiar with the chiseled ubermensch of the Third Reich because he never went away, though he is now a gym rat, or an Alex Jones-like dude who loves to sell supplements, or a guy whose Twitter account is littered with both gym mirror selfies and vile screeds against minorities. We know that disordered eating is not uncommon in bodybuilding circles, but the near-religious devotion to supplements, whole foods, and keeping a tight bod informs their Platonic need to organize bodies and governments in the same way.
Notwithstanding current usage of the term “body fascism”, body fascism has existed alongside the political ideology since the 1930s. In Britain, the British Union of Fascists held boxing, jiu jitsu, and fencing classes for members. BUF propaganda, some written by preeminent British fascist Oswald Mosley himself, included food production, diet and nutrition, athleticism, and sportsmanship. Members were encouraged to join sports leagues with their comrades, and play in intramural bouts with Nazi and Italian fascist youth organizations.
It was more than just aesthetics. To be sporting was to stand up for the British tradition of sportsmanship and for British tradition period, something the Jews were apparently soiling. Noted BUF member and rabid antisemite, A. K. Chesterton wrote that “even sport, boxing, racing, football, are falling into the control of a race which has no conception of our principle of fair play and good sportsmanship”, and “to go to a swimming pool anywhere near London or the large cities is as efficacious as baptism in the Jordan. One becomes positively anointed with Semitic grease. To go to the sea, especially if it be a fashionable resort, is to find the Jews in possession of almost all hotels,” et cetera, et cetera.
In a 1934 edition of the creatively named Blackshirt magazine the Blackshirt, a young, well, Blackshirt laid out the first Bodybuilding.com forum post:
To-day, probably for the first time in history, ‘men’ are ashamed to be men. The full-blooded virility of the warrior is traced to the machinations of Satan. It is a blasphemy! Man’s place has been on the track and in the arena, fighting, struggling, proud of his virility in the unceasing battle against evil and disorder. Fascism believes in manhood, in courage, in determination, in selflessness, in the essence of life.
Like physical fitness, diet and food are also subject to strict scrutiny. Soy is satanic, unfit for any member of the master race, and could render years of training useless by forcibly feminizing young men with phytoestrogens. The “soy boy” is a weak man, destined to be “low-energy” with shrunken genitals, according to right-wing influencer Paul Joseph Watson. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is a righteous manna, making appearances in Proud Boy initiation rituals around the US.
They abhor the typical American diet, not by way of carbohydrates, but of antisemitism: “REVOLT AGAINST THE ZOGCHOW DIET NOW” (“ZOG” meaning “Zionist Occupied Government”, or the antisemitic insinuation that Israel controls the US government). The Zionists, therefore, are putting bad chemicals in your food to make you lazy and weak), but so are the feminists (“I went from being a bernie-stanning communist to being the person u see today. I stopped -being vegetarian -being feminist and communist -encouraging slut behavior among friends”, writes another user).
Be it dangerous diet tips or pantries full of corn-based food, consumerism structures our experiences with food: Atkins diets and caffeine pills are consumed much like Oreos and trademarked breakfast cereals are. The current human relationship to food is directed by brands, monopolies, and cute mascots created in PR departments, or suspiciously clean vegans on YouTube trying to sell you a cookbook. Despite the growth in farmer’s markets, very few people grow their own food. The rest of us fill our shopping carts based on wholesome soup commercials, lesser Kardashian Instagram product placement, and Trader Joe’s artificial scarcity. Eliminating “zogchow” from one’s diet implies shrugging off the shackles of the oppressive Big Sugar, Big Soy, and Big Soda.
This dance between consumption, flesh, and worthiness of personhood at times mirrors that of religious rites, like communion or the Bacchanalia. It gives believers an easy enemy to harass and harangue in lieu of achieving any political wins. When most people live without the knowledge of online fitness cults, anonymous image boards, and frankly, most of what’s happening on Twitter, trolling just a single body positivity activist ripples like the liberation of Paris through the cult of the gym-rat nationalist.
Promoting finely-tuned aesthetics has been a integral part of the nationalist playbook since the first Hugo Boss uniforms, and has since been refined into blogs devoted to farmhouse living (which, thankfully, is being reclaimed by lesbians as Cottagecore), or glitchy trends like the ubiquitous-in-2016 Vaporwave. You will never catch a nationalist wielding an open-mouth, “soy face” smile. The idealized fascist form was perfected in opposition to the depravity of modernism. Gluttonous, cosmopolitan, bourgeois decadence killed traditional society. The fascist putsch for physical fitness was a rebuking of the luxuries modernity created, luxuries partaken by degenerates, in their mind. Our little decadences, like Cardi B sexual prowess anthems and smoking cigarettes, are small apocalypses to nationalist types, leaving their world of ancestral homelands in ruins.
The male body, its ripples and hallowed form, were inscribed in the heart of Britain’s fascist movement, but women too were subject to examination. Witnessing a procession of marching feminists on May Day 1936, BUF member Anne Cutmore described:
a fat woman with uncombed hair and thick tweed jacket … Here is a deplorable girl, whose out of condition body, over-fat body and legs, shorts which reach just below the knee, and personality exudes external and internal grime, [and] make one think of one’s common humanity and regret it …These are the rejects of a ruthless civilization – and only in their increasing numbers are they any menace.
In the ambiguous anticapitalism of fascism, abstinence from modernity is a political and spiritual dharma. Penance for the sin of partaking in modernity is starvation; the torture of Instagram feeds littered with plus-sized models sipping soy lattes can only be cleansed by posting BMI calculator app screenshots looking for validation in the dangerous starvation game. Modern men love fat women; the legendary Bronze Age Pervert prefers to not even comment on the bodies of modern women.
The great warriors of online fear and loathe modernity in the same way their ideological ancestors did. They both harbor a special hatred for the modern woman, the woman they see as turned away from the truths of nature. The female body is the smallest unit of political control, so why not control it?
The internet is not a kind place, it is full of people who want to manipulate you: grifters, ideologues, and ~*~influencers~*~ who need you to buy what they are selling to maintain relevance. Those with poor relationships with their bodies are a captive audience. They buy Kardashian-approved laxatives, Alex Jones masculine vitality supplements, and chan-style boards to discuss esoteric philosophy and how anorexia can accelerate the Kali Yuga.
The discreet tagging system of internet anorexia communities, you see, isn’t all that discreet. It’s been hijacked by fetishists, like almost anything can be; but it’s also been hijacked by internet theory perverts who know the best way to recruit new fodder for their ideological cause is to hide around in tags like #thinspo or stalk incel boards for impressionable new faces. Convince them they’ll have a tight knit community to shitpost and play Among Us with, and you can create a cult. You have thousands of people who visited 4chan’s infamous /b/ board when they were 12 and have become irreparably online because of it. They dig through Wikipedia until they find rare new ideologies to consume. Be it on the far left or the far right, they center their politics about knowing the most obscure and inscrutable facts about fascist wizards and Julius Evola. They form social groups based around arcane knowledge, and they actively proselytize their strangest beliefs.
What you get is little sects of devotion, like “Kali Yuga Accelerationists”, the Kaliaccs, who make anorexia part of their brand. They know their mystical beliefs aren’t going to convince their conservative uncle at Thanksgiving to give up human politics in exchange for vedic hymns, but it can, and does, work on 16 year old girls who want nothing more than to feel like they belong somewhere.
What you get is “posting” brains, with Tweets like:
#thinspo girls are female equivalent to the male bodybuilder, working body to an aesthetic peak. Uglies always reply with Holocaust skinny ED girls, cope conflating a toned body w actual disorder; imagine if every time abodybuilder was posted ppl replied with synthol injectors
What seething voluptumongous womyn trotting out greek statues & fertility idols dont understand about eternal beauty of the Thin Girl is it’s attraction not to Thin itself but its signification in present context: frailty, sublimity, cultivation, sacrifice, penance. Peak woman.
And in the replies are screenshots of BMI calculators flaunting underweight numbers. These accounts happily identify themselves as members of the “cute mafia”, like a fun group chat would. Peruse the accounts in the replies, and a cold shiver runs down your spine when you realize some of these accounts are genuinely, actually teenage girls. It’s bad enough that the aesthetic Instagram account-to-eating disorder pipeline is bursting open, but when you’ve got girls who should be worrying about 6th period pre-calc reading Savitri Devi sparknotes and drinking their third iced coffee of the day to the benefit of the hyperborean race, you’ve seriously got a problem.
Compare this to the ancient internet eating disorder communities of pre-2015. Politics was kept to a minimum then. Nobody talked about books that didn’t feature a 200 year old vampire in an 18 year old’s body. It’s almost quaint. Authoritarian control was limited to your own body, no political unit larger than that. What was already dark has become darker. And the Kaliaccs are not the only online community to do this. Certain parts of “tradcath” (Traditional Catholic) social media make similar demands of their adherents, usually for reasons at least partially grounded in religious belief. But these sadistic exercises in physique management aren’t incidental to these subcultures being online.
What you get when you synthesize classical fascism with a constant bombardment of posts and images, with an information superhighway that connects the lonely faster than ever before, is still fascism, just with memes and photoshopped graphics. It’s a little wonky from the electrons, but the family resemblance never goes away.
In a recent interview with the TekWars 2.0 podcast, two of the self-proclaimed leaders of the Kaliacc movement, Sunny and Sonya, describe their project as an “esoteric grillpill” in resignation to that there is nothing they can do to escape the Kali Yuga decline, and reconstructing hyperborean Norse society to ride out the end of the world. Like generations of race scientists before them, they describe humans as breeds, and lament the day that inter-caste marriages muddied the blond haired, blue-eyed Brahmins of the British Isles.
Perhaps more revelatory, Sunny and Sonya reveal they “LARP as girls” with the “simps” they catch in the process only further evangelizing their particular brand of occultism. That lower caste women perform sexual availability, that they are vulgar; the higher caste, “high IQ,” women and men are andryogynous.
They claim their success with pulling people into right-wing politics with their “egoless” posting, beefing high-profile right-wing Twitter accounts, and their intoxicating aesthetics. Though Sunny and Sonya, the architects of Kaliacc, are men, they have not slacked in encouraging women to join their ranks. They even target vulnerable teen girls, adorning their Twitter bios with un-banned hashtags like #proana and #thinspo in hopes of being found by said teen girls. Potentially sincere accusations of grooming have started to crop up in between ironic vedic musings.
Peruse the personal web pages of these young men and women, and you would almost be convinced they were sincerely Hindu, obsessed with dharma, the goddess Kali, and ancient practices of asceticism. The synthesis of Nazism and Hinduism is as old as Nazism, but for those who have never encountered it before, it appears more like a satirical twist on nationalism. Instead, they are part of a vast network of “irony-poisoned” youths who flip between deeply believing in their nationalist cause, and behind deeply internet-specific forms of comedy that can best be described as -pilled. The mixture of anti-modernity with Hindu and Buddhist asceticism results in turning dangerous eating disorders into part of a vast meme ideology, where pictures of women wrapping their fingers around their thighs are sacrificial offerings to the creeps who lead the Kaliacc trend like sex pest gurus selling extra-intimate tantra.
But what is it that makes this miniscule online subculture so terrifying? Well, the age of many of its adherents is a frightening start. Many claiming to be teens, their cultic devotion to low BMIs and high IQs is troubling. These accounts are small, so we can find solace in the suggestion that the younger adherents will grow out of it, and recently one of the most influential posters, Sunny, was suspended from Twitter. Or, we can be further distressed that similar, anti-modern-as-a-fad-diet ideals can be easily found in popular (ostensibly) left-wing accounts, even if it’s missing the apocalyptic ringings of the Kali Yuga.
Perhaps worse yet, the Kaliaccs aren’t the only sub-genre of nationalists making anorexia a leading feature of their dogma. For years, you could find “/thinspo/ general” and “Auschwitz mode” threads next to any number of threads devoted to Nazi aesthetic on the 4chan fashion board /fa/. But as imageboards die, their old addicts flock to Twitter hunting for fellow travelers with Touhou profile pictures and IQs in their display names.
While conservatism will never be the new punk rock, the counterculture appeal of fascism has deep roots online, with little culture wars waging on every social media frontier. Are cartoon frog reaction images racist, or are liberals just sensitive? Are trans video game characters part of an agenda to sissify straight men and ruin all video games? Things as innocuous as the video game character select screen are the Latin Bridge, in Sarajevo, host to the trigger of the impending all-out war. This rejection of Petersonian postmodern neo-Marxism has now come for the shape of your human body.