Supermodel Kate Moss once said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” Though reportedly taken out of context and misconstrued, nonetheless, remains a mere thread to a web of convolution, and at its worst, self-destruction.
It is that mantra, among variations of it, which fuel thef devotion to Ana and Mia. To the earnest, Ana and Mia are old friends—imaginary but with tangible influence. In reality, Ana and Mia are nicknames—personified representations of serious eating disorders, anorexia nervoasa and bulimia. They are a euphemism to allow the people struggling with such disorders to openly talk about them with others, to mask the grim reality of an illness. What was once viewed as a private issue now has a disturbingly vast online community. Instead of receiving professional or beneficial help, victims encourage and support the disorders through social media, blogs, forums, and message boards.
Images and words related to the philosophy of “thinspiration” or “thinspo” infiltrate these pages and include photographs of stick-skinny women with protruding hip and collarbones. Tips and tricks that range from how to lose drastic amounts of weight in as little as two weeks to how to cover one’s tracks from friends and family are available at the fingertips. Mottos likened to “I was way prettier when I wasn’t eating anything at all” echo the burning core and sentiment of the movement—the belief that perceived thinness is the archetypal prize at the end of the mythic hero(ine)’s arduous journey. That in physical emptiness is where one will be able to fill a gaping emotional hole—which ranges from a relationship to a cure for depression.
Written by Tara Storozynsky for Cluster Mag on the topic, “The disease’s most visible subjects—white, upper-middle class women, often in the throes of adolescence—also happened to be at the same intersection of class, gender, and age that has ample free time to browse the Internet, and more than likely, a personal computer.”
And while Dr. Andrea Vazzana, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychiatry at New York University claimed that evidence proved having access these web pages aren’t likely to cause an eating disorder out of raised body dissatisfaction in an individual, for those already struggling with an eating disorder, such websites can be fatal. Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites are especially damaging for young children, Vazzana said.
Studies reveal that children as young as 12 are accessing these sites. “They are particularly prone to buying into these websites and their bodies are changing at this time when they are trying to develop a better sense of identity and sense of sell-social comparison.” It is not unusual to stumble onto a Pro-ED site, sometimes tacked with an ineffectual disclaimer. “The information in the following pages contains pro-anorexic material. For this reason, it should NOT be viewed by anyone who is in recovery or who is considering recovery.”
Ironically, Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia individuals do not necessarily view themselves as having an eating disorder, but rather, living a lifestyle (another euphemism) that embraces a militant control of food intake. Lifestyle or disorder either way, the same 500 caloric or less day that goes against the US Department of Health and Human Services suggest 1, 000+ to begin with based on a person’s gender, age, and daily exercise amounts. It is only recently that online communities have begun to take a stance against allowing this punitive environment to flourish.
By July 2001, Time Magazine estimated that there were more than over 400 Pro-Ana sites on the internet.
Livejournal and Myspace do not actively push to halt Pro-ED discussion, though Facebook was quick to curb as soon as a spike in such activities were noticed. Some host sites even require members to submit pictures to prove their eating disorder before being allowed membership.
This past February, Tumblr banned Pro-Ana blogs, as well as aggressive forms of self-harm that oftentimes tie in. From the statement released on the site: “One of the great things about Tumblr is that people use it for just about every conceivable kind of expression. People being people, though, that means that Tumblr sometimes gets used for things that are just wrong. We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr…
Our Content Policy has not, until now, prohibited blogs that actively promote self-harm. These typically take the form of blogs that glorify or promote anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders; self-mutilation; or suicide. These are messages and points of view that we strongly oppose, and don’t want to be hosting.”
Photo sharing site Pintrest soon followed Tumblr’s lead in March by updating its acceptable use policy when the community displayed signs of converging there. Yet despite efforts to reign in the cult, Pro-ED users slip through the cracks, regrouping without being phased. Any quick Google search or perusing through Tumblr tags can and will provide a gateway to photographs of (photo-shopped) emaciated women yet reported.
The argument pertaining to the freedom of speech on the internet has been brought up in light of whether or not it right to delete, censor, or ban Pro-ED material. One response to this question points out the weakness behind attempts at censorship. However, freedom of speech is a blanket term operated on liable restrictions.
According to a piece ran in Body Space Society by Antonio A. Casilli,“If in 2010 a public health information campaign would target the Web sites in the middle of the graph and hope they relay the message to the margins, in 2012 the middle is virtually deserted. The only option is to cut through the dense clusters and hope your message will reach one of the more central influencers. But this is clearly a long shot. Ana-Mia Internet users are constantly putting in place new strategies to elude general public visibility. Websites use cryptic language, password protections, and special software applets to circumvent search engine indexing. For these sites, censorship is a risk they have to constantly manage by fine-tuning their visibility.”
Fundamentally, the only way to get to the root at the issue would be to reach out to the leaders of the Pro-ED groups—the forum moderators, the website administrators with the all of the latest diet tips, the star pupils who post pictures of their weight loss progress stark in underwear, so on and so forth. The meticulous effort obligatory in coordinating a mass sweep is not within grasp or within priority. The struggle against illegal copyrighted downloads trounces the aforementioned in media attention alone.
On the flipside, it is the very same media and culture that has driven Pro-ED individuals, men and women alike, into the deluded thought of physical appearance equating directly to success, happiness, and universal beauty.