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Websites that Encourage Anorexia & Other Eating Disorders for Girls Popular ... and Controversial

Close to 5 percent of young women in the United States suffer from eating disorders like anorexia, an obsession with being thin to the point that you starve yourself and exercise excessively, and bulimia, binging on large amounts of food and then purging them from the system.

Boys and men are affected too, with research from Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. suggesting that 5 percent to 10 percent of people with eating disorders are male.

But a new trend has emerged that has many people up in arms: pro-eating disorder Web sites, often run by young girls with eating disorders themselves, have sprung up all over the Internet. An estimated 500 sites already exist.

Anorexic Woman

Many pro-anorexia sites use pictures like these for "thinspiration."

"With the pressures to be thin in our culture, [these Web sites are] like placing a loaded gun in the hands of someone who is feeling suicidal," said Holly Hoff of the National Eating Disorders Association in an article.

Much press has come to this issue due to a Time Magazine article, "Starvation on the Web," that ran on July 18. The focus of the article is the pro-anorexia Web site, which is run by a 19-year-old college student with anorexia who at one time weighed 88 pounds. She has since received a host of hate mail ranging from lectures ... :

"Listen to yourself and try to make the least bit sense of it, you sound SO pathetic. Its making me nauseous. Compare yourselves to people in the third world countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, India etc. where innocent people don't know if they're going to live another day considering that they have nothing to eat, you should thank god that you are in a far FAR better state than so many people in this world."

... To all-out threats:

"Of course people are gonna hate you. You are PROMOTING anorexia. Surely, people would respect you if you weren't. oh, and when I find you... you're dead."

Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia

The pro-eating disorder sites already have their own slang names: pro-ana (for pro-anorexia) and pro-mia (for pro-bulimia).

What exactly are these sites? They're gathering grounds for people who have eating disorders like anorexia but "accept anorexia in their lives and don't yet choose to recover," as a site called "Starving for Perfection" puts it.

Some offer tips on how to be anorexic and bulimic, photos of thin people for "thinspiration," foods to eat that have few calories, how to "survive" eating in a restaurant, and message boards and chat rooms for support. There are even tips on how not to eat ("Save the money you would have spent on that meal in a jar. Lunch cost $6.74? Save it in a bottle instead and watch it grow," says one site.)

The "Starving for Perfection" site also includes these "Thin Commandments":

  • Being thin is more important than being healthy

  • You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner

  • Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty

  • Thou shall not eat fattening foods without punishing oneself afterwards

  • Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly

  • What the scale says is the most important thing

  • Losing weight is good/ Gaining weight is bad

  • You can never be too thin

  • Being thin and not eating are true signs of willpower and success

Silent Cries for Help?

Your Body is a Battleground

This picture is used on one pro-ana site "to inspire not starvation, but confidence, activism, and creativity."

Although the sites' creators appear to accept the disorders, some experts think the sites are cries for help.

"I think some of these sites are worded in a way that indicates the hosts do want help," says Vivian Meehan, president and founder of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, or ANAD. "They're putting themselves out there. But then they also put up a defense against it. Don't come on the site if you're only interested in putting us down."

Indeed. Upon visiting the Cerulean Butterfly site, the visitor must go through three sets of disclaimers, answering "OK" to each before being allowed to enter:

  1. "This site contains pro-Eating Disorder images and information. If you do not have an eating disorder or are in recovery, do not enter this site."

  2. "Seriously. You enter this site of your own volition, and I am not responsible for the decisions you make based on the information you see here."

  3. "So don't send me hate mail. It's your fault if you don't like what you see."

Will the Sites Continue?

While major Web hosters can choose to shut down Web sites based on content that could be a danger to minors, many of these pro-ana and pro-mia sites are now being privately hosted so they can't be shut down. The sites are also more difficult for recovery experts to locate.

As for how these sites could affect today's youth, Vivian Meehan had this to say:

"One of the primary goals of anorexics is to persuade others that they are perfectly fine, and that they have the right to lead their lives however they see fit. And one of the ways of doing that is to find other people who are achieving those goals--so these Web sites provide ... reinforcement, along with a forum for exchanging and picking up tips."

Recommended Reading

How to Talk to a Teenager (and Know That They're Listening)


Time Magazine: Starvation on the Web Anorexia Goes High Tech Pro-Anorexia on the Web

The Wave Magazine

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