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Pro-Ana websites: crossing a thin line

With the rise of pro-ana websites online, Fiona Daly investigates the sinister nature behind the phenomenon.

Starving is not the pain, it’s the cure.” This harrowing quote is merely one of thousands gracing the pages of a sub-culture of websites known as “pro-ana.” Short for “pro-anorexia,” the sites are classified as a “community” for those suffering from anorexia or bulimia. They enable the exchange of tips on how to upkeep and hide the disorder, as well as offering encouragement to persevere with the sickness. Disturbingly, creators and members of the websites promote anorexia as a “lifestyle choice”, as opposed to the serious and possibly fatal disorder it really is. Anorexia and bulimia are humanised with the names Ana and Mia, honoured as treasured old friends, and treated with the utmost respect by all.

Whilst the creators of such websites claim they are merely offering a sense of unity and companionship to those suffering from an eating disorder, the graphic content and disturbing images dominating the pages say otherwise. One website, boasting its position as the largest site of its kind, greets those who log on with the message: “Welcome to the board where eating disorders are welcomed with open arms.”

Its forum is flooded with girls comparing their daily calorie intake against one other, all competing to be the skinniest. One girl states: “Today I had a little bit of chicken without skin, and it hasn’t been fried in oil. Have eaten ten grapes and a whole cucumber too. I feel this is too much…what do you guys think?” Shockingly, this is only 163 calories out of the recommended 2000 a day for a girl, dangerously below the required amount. Yet, she is met with praise and approval, encouragingly pushed to keep up the great work.

Others offer tips on how to curb your cravings, advising each other to “eat ice” and “pinch all your fat if you want to eat and see how disgusting it is.” The same website, contradicting its title as a “support system” for sufferers, instructs its members on how to avoid receiving help. “At a certain weight, which is different for everyone, you will lose your period. This is a good thing because it means that you’re losing weight. Still, it would be wise if you’d take calcium supplements, if you don’t already. Don’t let your mother find out about your lost period because she will most likely take you to the doctor. Never under any circumstances tell a doctor that you’ve lost your period.”

For the hundreds of vulnerable people reading these sites every day, words like these can have a detrimental effect. The false feeling of acceptance combined with the constant subjection to dramatic weight loss pictures can quickly cause problems to circulate dangerously out of control.

 

In March this year, Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani launched a petition calling for the instant closure of the sites. “There are thousands of these sites and blogs which don’t just support this evil, but push young people into competition over their physical shape.” Yet, in a previous interview, Google spokesman Anthony House told Sky News Online: “Nobody wants to see private companies deciding the limits of free speech.”

Whilst seeking out and banning the sites may be a monumental task, more awareness of their dangers is urgently needed. Heart, kidney and gastro-intestinal problems, along with osteoporosis and loss of fertility, are all possible consequences of having an eating disorder. However, there is no warning about such health risks on any of the sites.

Recovery with pro-ana sites is impossible as you are ironically spurned from their community when you are recovered. Nevertheless, there are many sites which genuinely aim to support its members, acting as the true resources which need to be promoted for those seeking help.

For anybody affected by the issues raised in this article, please visit  http://www.bodywhys.ie/


 

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