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The 'sick' images Miss England Alisha Cowie saw on Instagram that fuelled her eating disorder.

Trigger warning – This post discusses eating disorders and self harm and may be distressing to some readers.

After being relentlessly bullied during her childhood, Alisha Cowie developed an eating disorder when she was just 13 years old.

Plummeting to a dangerous weight while struggling with anorexia, Alisha soon turned to the internet for advice.

But the now 19-year-old, who is currently Miss England, discovered much worse online.

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Alisha described how graphic content on Instagram once drove her to self harm.

“For young girls like I was, going on social media, looking for help for something like anorexia can be so destructive,” Alisha told the publication.

“These images need to be completely blocked. There’s absolutely no reason for them to be there. They don’t help anyone. They just ruin lives.”

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“I remember I’d been searching for healthy eating posts – nothing sinister. But then Instagram started suggesting posts about anorexia to me,” Alisha said.

“I clicked on a before and after picture of someone who had lost a lot of weight. The person had used [a hashtag] so I searched for other posts with the same hashtag.

“That’s when I started seeing all these graphic images.”

Alisha soon started to see photos of people self-harming, and not long after, she developed suicidal thoughts herself.

Alisha’s issues with eating began at the age of five, when she was called fat by other students.

By age 11, Alisha was obsessed with dieting and counting calories.

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“I was constantly counting calories and weighing food. I tried to hide what I was doing from mum. I’d either put my dinner in the bin or tell her I wasn’t hungry.”

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Although Alisha received counselling, it was the her close friend’s suicide that ultimately changed everything.

“It caused something to snap inside me. I became determined to live life for both of us,” Alisha said.

“I started eating properly and I haven’t self-harmed since. It was a complete reality check for me.”

Now, Alisha hopes her story will help other teenagers struggling with body image, self harm and the influence of Instagram.

“If telling my story helps even one other teenager who is struggling like I was, then it will have been worth it.”

Instagram has previously been ranked as one of the worst social media networks for mental health, leading the platform to introduce a number of tools to help reduce the negative impact it can have on a users wellbeing.

For example, if someone you follow – whether they’re a friend, family member or a complete stranger – posts an image or caption that causes you to worry for their physical or emotional safety, there is something you can do.

Instagram’s suicide prevention tool enables users to report self-harming or concerning content, so the platform can connect them to real-world resources.

Once a person’s post has been reported as dangerous, they will receive a message from the app reading: “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.”

It’s also possible to customise the filter for your comments, so you can avoid seeing any negative or offensive comments, and even comments containing specific keywords.

For more information, visit Instagram’s help page.

For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected]. You can also visit their website, here.  

If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety and need help, or just someone to chat to, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636. 

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