A Web page labeled “Ana Boot Camp” recently offered its members a seemingly irresistible proposition: a 30-day regimen designed to help them drop some serious pounds, no exercise needed. The catch was that the group’s members were to vary their daily caloric intake from 500 (less than half the daily minimum requirement for women recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine) to zero. They were supposed to track their progress, fast to make up for the days they accidentally “overate” and support each other as they worked toward their common goal of radical weight loss.
Pro Anorexia or “Pro-Ana” Sites
Pro-anorexia, or sometimes called “pro-ana,” Web sites have been a common fixture in the internet world. The site quoted above was actually a page created in Facebook. These sites have users sharing dangerous diet tips and posting pictures of very skinny girls. The purpose of these sites is to give one another “thinspiration”. Users tend to comment and posting anonymously or with a secret aliases.
“These sites provided a setting where I could talk about the illness without people trying to fix me or tell me that what I’m doing is horrible, disgusting, maladaptive… For me, part of the illness was just about getting attention. You feel so lonely and you want someone to notice you, and I guess that’s kind of the way to do it, even with other sick people.” – Rose 17, Maryland High School Senior
Pro Anorexia Social Network
Sites such as Facebook allows a secondary dynamic by allowing close networking. The girls who visit these pages can now trade information with one another and even exchange phone numbers to talk over their issues. Dr. Steven Crawford, associate director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore, mentioned that when such pro anorexia sites are centered in a social networking site such as Facebook, it becomes appealing because it allows them to make a stand and simply declare their disorder. Having a community with the same issues gives one courage rather than having to deal with hiding and keeping it to themselves.
The creators of these groups claim they were created so anorexic girls can support one another. Some of these sites are legit by focusing on recovering from anorexia. However the problem is that the more girls get exposed to these pro anorexia sites, the more they are likely to gain a eating disorder according to Stanford professor Rebecka Peebles, M.D.
She also found in a study in 2006, that 96% of teens diagnosed with eating disorders who have visited pro anorexic sites ended up discovering new dieting or purging techniques.
One girl named Stef, 19, had joined several pro anorexia sites drawing the worries of her friends. However she said that it is “helping me deal with my eating disorder”. She enjoys the thinspiration, the weight loss tips and finding fasting partners.
Anti Pro Anorexia Stronger
The anorexia opposition is even stronger. Anti-anorexia groups far outnumber the pro-ana groups on Facebook. Some of the purposes of these groups is to find pro-ana sites and ask Facebook to take them down. In Facebook, groups cannot promote self-harm or harm to others. They also serve as a way to warn people about the pro anorexia sites and educate it’s members about other alternatives.
Angela Ross, 19, recovered from her disorder and ended up creating a anti pro-ana page. She has 1,400 members. She was fueled to take action because she had run into a pro-ana site during a day when she was feeling down about her weight. The site ended up leading her to having eating disorders.
Some do see these sites as a positive sign that teenagers are getting more serious about being open about their disorders. Marcia Herrin, a Dartmouth professor who has written several books on eating disorder, says “To me, that illustrates or indicates that teens these days are so wise… They’ve seen so much, they know so much, compared to when I was a teenager in the ’60s, that not all of them are wrapped up in eating disorders. Girls are concerned about other girls in their social group who they see toying with an eating disorder. They may talk to them directly, they may talk to a school counselor, they may talk to the girls’ parents.”
More on Rose who was quoted earlier in the article.
Rose actually hoped some of her friends would see the groups she was joining and talk to her about them. “I wanted one of my close friends to see it and rescue me,” she says. But unfortunately, no one did. At one point, she was so involved in the Facebook pro-ana community that she started her own group in defense of it; eventually she deleted that group and stopped posting in others. She couldn’t get over her guilt at “helping someone kill themselves” by supporting them in their fasting, and she realized that the groups weren’t truly helping her. “Even though the pro-ana sites provided a way for me to communicate with people, it wasn’t real-life connections and it wasn’t real friendships,” she says. “It was us telling people, ‘Oh, stay strong.’ I was not getting better. I was venting the frustrations. I just wanted to talk to people with similar experiences; they really didn’t help at all.”
Rose has now recovered from anorexia and rarely visits pro-ana Facebook groups. She says taht she is relived to no longer be part of that world.
- What is your reaction to pro-anorexia sites?
- Did you know such sites existed? on Facebook?
- Have you seen any of these sites? How did it affect you?
Share your thoughts!