We learn to tie our shoes with help from those who have worn shoes for decades. We are taught to ride a bike guided by a steady hand that provides balance and support. Most everything we’ve come to do well, we’ve learned from someone else. Often times we’re guided step by step with reinforcement and support from others.
Eating disorders can be learned and carried out in much the same way, with support and advice on the ins-and-outs of restrictive eating and binging and purging only a google away.
[one] Pro-Ana (or Pro-Anorexia) and Pro-Mia (Pro-Bulemia) sites are dedicated to advocating anorexia and other eating disorders, typically created by anorexic women who are in favor of eating disorders and unhealthy body images. The sites claim to act as support groups, but not the kind that encourages one to take control of their disorders. Rather, these sites offer ways to become a “better” anorexic or bulimic, with tips on how to hide the problem from others. The names Ana and Mia are female names used to personify an eating disorder sufferer.
“Spread food on plates and leave them in the sink; people will think you ate,” wrote one user.
Other tips and tricks include tying hair back before purging to avoid obvious signs. Some suggest that a person spend a little time each day at pro-anorexic sites, reading anorexic diaries, and chatting with supporters on the internet, as this makes them stronger and help them realize their goals.
Aside from including tips on about bingeing and purging, the sites also have links to what are called “trigger pictures.” Women use these pictures, usually of extremely thin models or celebrities, to encourage or trigger anorexic behavior. What many might not consider is that any and all of these photos may be touched up, warping the reality of those with eating disorders. They also post height and weight statistics, along with before and after pictures, as so-called “thinspiration.”
These sites can also contain online journals, quotations and chat rooms or message boards where people can communicate.
[two] Because of the controversial content of these Web sites, some people have petitioned to have them shut down. Yahoo! administrators determined pro-ana/pro-mia Web sites violated their user agreement, and in 2001 pulled pages made on their servers.
“I think the Web sites are a shame because they’re helping girls ruin their bodies,” Meredith Mescher, journalism senior, said. “These Web sites are clearly a problem, but to take them down would infringe on freedom of speech. There are all kinds of horrible things on the Internet, but it’s their right to be there. Even if the Web sites were stopped, who’s to say the content still wouldn’t get out?”
Dr. David Novicki, a counselor at the MSU Counseling Center who runs a counseling group for eating disorders, said that while he doesn’t believe the Web sites have a use or intrinsic value, he agrees that they should not be shut down.
“I clearly believe that they should not be taken off of the Internet,” Novicki said. “It’s an issue of freedom of speech. It’s hard to be a faculty member and say ‘let’s censor that’.”
Novicki said the critical issue is that those with eating disorders that are trying to get healthy don’t visit the sites. The visitors are those who are looking for validation. “Part of what happens with people who have a disorder with eating is that it can be pretty well embedded,” Novicki said. “To find a site that recognizes that eating disorders happen and say that ‘it’s OK’ is somewhat comforting.”
Ronda Brokram, a nutritionist at Olin Health Center, said people with eating disorders “want to connect with others” and many “believe that they are OK and are proud of what they are doing.”
[three] Bokram also said she thinks these sites are visited for inspiration, either because visitors want to look like the thin individuals displayed in the pictures or “to show someone else that they aren’t as bad as that girl in the picture, so what’s wrong with what they are doing? As in, ‘it could be worse,’” she said.
But most people don’t even know these sites exist.
Kathryn Gruits, a journalism senior, said she wasn’t aware of Web sites entirely devoted to promoting eating disorders. “The sites are disturbing, and it’s sad that people will go that far for such destructive habits,” she said.
Gruits believes the sites should be shut down. “I know that won’t happen because of free speech issues,” Gruits said. “Nothing is taboo or sacred anymore. If you tell someone to shut down an offensive site, they will probably hide behind the First Amendment to justify it.”
Although the idea of encouraging eating disorders is appalling, there are ways the sites can be used positively. These sites can offer people whose loved ones are starving themselves or binging and purging insight into their world and give clues as to how to spot even the most well-hidden problem.
Pro-Ana sites take part in teaching anorexics and bulemics how to conceal and intensify their illnesses, but also may provide a place for sufferers to relate to one another, however unhealthy that may seem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *