Eating Disorder Websites: What Are Your Teens Reading?
We all know the Internet is a fantastic way of finding other people who have interests and passions just like you. No matter how obscure or niche your passion you no longer need to feel alone. A quick search of your favourite hobby or pastime and you will more than likely find other enthusiasts who are keen to chat, share, and include you into a like-minded community.
This ability to connect and overcome isolation has been one of the great reasons for the success of the Internet.
However the ability to for people with similar passions to connect with others easily also has some drawbacks, like when the passions or interests are not healthy or legal (i.e. child pornography).
Eating Disorder Sites
When it comes to eating disorders it is important to realise that there are two very different types of sites. One type are the information type which seek to explain the causes, symptoms, effects, and possible treatments for those who may suffer from eating disorders.
But there is also another type.
These websites called Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia websites label themselves as support web sites for those who suffer from eating disorders. However most of these sites are not offering support for a person to get better, but rather support a sufferer by encouraging them to continue with their destructive behaviours.
These sites are very common and accessible to any one who wants to join. Not surprisingly these sites are populated by large numbers of young people and teenagers, particularly teenage girls.
Pro Ana & Pro Mia Sites
Pro-ana sites are those that promote anorexia, and pro-mia sites are those that promote bulimia. When I say promote I do not mean they seek to advertise or recruit people to become anorexic or bulimic. Rather they seek to encourage those who already have eating disorders to embrace their condition and be better at it – that is how to get thinner and eat even less.
When you first come across one of these sites they can sound quite harmless. Many use language of support and community and describe their purpose as helping those who are isolated because of their illness.
However it doesn’t take much looking around to discover that these sites are not benevolent or benign.
Content On Pro Mia & Pro Anna Sites
While there is a variety of sites and forms (as there is in any niche) there are some content elements common to most. These include:
- Tips on how to shed fat and get even thinner
- Diets and weight control
- Messages of support and praise for thin bodies
- Challenges and testimonials about fasting and self denial
- Thinspiration Images – These are galleries of images of very very skinny bodies posted to inspire others to continue in their efforts
- Forums where people share their stories, ideas, and accomplishments.
Pro-ana sites are all about empowerment. The message is that far from being a weakness, eating disorders are the ultimate form of self-control and strength. To be anorexic is an act of the will, and only those who are strong enough are able to carry it off.
The message is that those who have an eating disorder are amongst the strong. They convince themselves that the reason the rest of society rejects their lifestyle choice is because the rest of society is weak and lazy.
The messages involve subtle but destructive shifts in language. Perfection is equated with thinness. Self-destruction is presented as self-control. Healthy is equated with the complete absence of fat. Denial and pain are seen as marks of strength and achievement.
These sites offer support to those who are unwilling to seek treatment for their condition. By using language that defines sufferers as isolated outsiders who are misunderstood, these sites give sufferers a sense of identity and camaraderie as an underground and persecuted minority.
The Problems With Pro-Mia & Pro Anna Sites
While those who use these sites would not see them as a problem, for those who love or are trying to treat those suffering from anorexia or bulimia these sites are a significant issue. This is because these sites allow those suffering with eating disorders to band together and support each other in their struggle to achieve their goals – thinness, perfection, and the perfect body.
Not only do they pose problems for those trying to treat teens with eating disorders, they also pose real dangers for young girls who may not have a disorder but are not far away. For a young girl surfing the net looking for weight loss tips or encouragement to diet more these types of sites could very easily be the entrance into the world of the eating disorders.
You can find more information about teenagers and eating disorders in our earlier posts.
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