On November 13th, the popular men’s self-improvement and dating advice site, Return of Kings published an article entitled “5 Reasons To Date A Girl With An Eating Disorder”. As a regular reader of the site, I found the article amusing. Indeed, who could take such a thing seriously? …Apparently, lots and lots of people!
Let’s analyze the psychology behind what happened here.
About a week after the article went live, it went super, über, mega-viral. The response was a tidal wave of tweets (thousands), Facebook shares (over 150 thousand!), large scale online media exposure and over 2000 comments on the article page alone. The Return of Kings server also melted down from the sudden inundation of traffic.
The sentiment of the response was, in a word, outrage. Men and women and alike commiserated with one another, trying to top the last person’s outrage with an even more indignant comment. The article’s pseudonymous author, Tuthmosis, received death threats and calls for his castration. A change.org petition to shut down the site was signed by thousands of people (even though it’s widely known that change.org petitions are widely ineffectual in accomplishing anything). That, in any case, was the response.
How about the article, itself…?
To me, the most striking thing about this short piece is the skillful interplay of semi-seriousness (but not really) and the masterful exploitation of people’s “hot buttons”. In the article, the author suggests that dating girls with eating disorders is preferable because the girl will remain thin, consume fewer of his resources in the form of meals, will be insecure and will be perpetually concerned about her appearance. Again, who could take this so seriously?
My view is that the author of the article played a big, fat joke on everybody who actually took his article to heart. While most men certainly prefer petite women to overweight women, I dare say very few men would actually want to date a woman with a serious problem around her eating habits. But the topic of eating disorders is such a sensitive thing, that it seems to have served as the perfect catalyst for this widespread outrage.
Even though the topic of the article is ostensibly absurd, the sheer amount of individuals who willingly suspended their disbelief for an irresistible opportunity to vent their unbearable indignation is telling. And perhaps this is what Tuthmosis meant to do: to put the internet generation’s narcissism on full display.
In psychology, we know of a group of behaviors that fall under the umbrella of “approval seeking”. Essentially, an approval seeking behavior is the attempt to “get attention” from others, often with ingenious methods. One very powerful method of getting attention is faux moral outrage. Studies have shown that funny, shocking and outrageous items are the most likely to get shared on the internet. Why? Because, in a nutshell, it allows the sharer to get more “likes”. This is not unlike a child “acting out” so adults will pay attention to him.
Indeed, the very word “narcissism” derives from the ancient myth of Narcissus, a character who fell head-over-heels in love with his own reflection. In psychology, we use the term a bit more broadly. It refers to a personality style that depends largely (or solely) upon external sources for validation. This is called an external locus of control. It refers to behavior that is driven by what will (hopefully) get the individual the attention he or she depends upon. It is considered by psychiatrists to be a recipe for perennial unhappiness.
True: eating disorders are a serious issue. (This parallels the issue of consent as it relates to last minute resistance, or a woman’s reluctance to have sex with a man “too quickly”. While many men in the so called “seduction community” advocate aggressively and quickly pursuing sex with a woman and employing various tactics in the hopes of ending last minute resistance to sex, many women believe this issue pushes the boundaries of consent, and is thus cause for similar outrage.)
But in this case, the very fact that eating disorders are a serious issue has been used as a mass excuse for everybody to cry out for attention; to try and outwit their online peers with a more incisively, incredulously outraged comment, proving beyond all doubt that THEY are the MOST outraged.
In the end, people are staring at words on a screen and pretending to get mad about them. What they really see, what we all see, is an opportunity to carry out our primal programming. Namely, to increase our social status and visibility, and thus our mating options. We are funny creatures, indeed.