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A Hidden Forum: Eating disorders gone viral - abc27 WHTM

A Hidden Forum: Eating disorders gone viral

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HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) -

Cross a computer virus with a virus of the human body, and out comes something that looks shockingly frail. 

"They want to be that perfect anorexic, where their bones are showing and they are starved close to death," said Dr. Fauzia Mahr, an eating disorder specialist at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. 

She has seen the product of eating disorders going viral. 

"Eating disorders have increased in their prevalence, not just in the western world but across the world because now it is now a global village," Mahr adds. 

At the center of this is social media and two trending terms: the "#bikinibridge" and the "#thighgap."

Both began as provocative poses but like a virus has morphed into something self destructive.

Instagram in particular has caught on to this dangerous trend. If one enters the word #cutting into the search bar, it comes up with a content advisory warning. The hashtag #thighgap has been prohibited all together. But users have found a way around barriers. They simply add an extra letter to the words they are searching. 

Welcome to the web's dark underground.

To better understand this "inner thigh gap" phenomenon, abc27 turned to the man who coined the term. 

"To me the more space between the legs the better," said reality star and blogger Nik Richie. 

Richie reached super-stardom through his website TheDirty.com. He earns about a million page views a day by way of women uploading their photos and asking for his opinion.

"This is my fault. I will put some blame on myself here, because I'm telling women across the world that you should have a thigh gap," said Richie over the phone. 

The blogger adds though that his definition of "thigh gap" has been taken out of context, and too far. 

"This is where we must intervene and try to get them help," said Mahr. 

She says a thigh gap often has more to do with bone structure than weight. Regardless, these hashtags lead to endless threads of "thinspiration" and a place "where they not only develop an eating disorder but learn how to be perfect at developing an eating disorder."

Dr. Mahr fears that often these mobile forums are the only places these patients feel accepted, but in the era of the "selfie" Richie believes that these photos are less of a cry for help than a plea for attention.

"You are sitting there, you are taking pictures of yourself and we coin that term 'selfie.' Who is that picture for? You? Or other people?"

Experts add that while this form of social media can feed self destructive behavior it also holds the potential to do the opposite. 

Although the numbers are not nearly as high eating disorder survivors use these Mobile Apps as well to encourage each other's recovery. 

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