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March 11, 2009

Pro-ana? I'm pro-food!

11 March 2009

The South African edition of the Marie Claire this month made me aware of an Internet trend that has been increasingly favoured by anorexics and bulimics.

There are sites all over the Internet that claim to pro-ana or pro-mia – ‘ana’ used for anorexia and ‘mia’ used for bulimia, presumably used so the victims of these eating disorders have someone ‘real’ to which they can refer.

It is not easy to become anorexic or bulimic, as these sites announce. Some even go so far as to feel that anorexia and bulimia is something only a few people can do, as though they are chosen to do it. They feel anorexics and bulimics are stronger, because they do not give in to the weakness of hunger and eating food in the name of beauty.

Although these sites are usually introduced with disclaimers, saying that eating disorders are dangerous, and that if you are recovering or considering recovery, you should not enter them, this warning, to these people who are very obviously suffering from some sort of mental problem, can certainly be seen as a dare.

I feel that these disclaimers are contradictory to the content of the sites: many visitors to the sites do ask for advice - advice on how to avoid eating, advice on how to go about your next deprivation diet, advice on how to hide the fact that you’re not eating from your family and friends…they give support to those who are being “victimised” because of their lifestyle choice.

It is a strange, and seemingly illogical, dichotomy of warnings and support.

I was wondering after I read the article how many people who were suffering from these disorders were now aware of the sites, and would go searching the internet for them – not for ways to get better, but for support to continue.

However, an article by Time magazine, from way back in 2001, believes that, beyond the obvious “ick” factor, the sites opened up a path of insight into the world of the anorexic. The very language that these sites employ provides insight into the psyche of those with disorders. Some believe that they are begging for help, but at the same time they defend themselves and their lifestyles vehemently.

The problem is also that those visiting these sites often are not in peak mental condition, and they are bombarded by images of the waifs of stardom. Furthermore, the target market of these sites is incredibly vulnerable: the Time article goes on to say that studies back then indicated that 80% of anorexics experience their first onset of the illness by age 20, and this age range was only getting younger, with an increase in 2001 of cases in the eight- to 11-year-old range.

Eight to 11!? These are children who are still growing, and need all the nutrients possible to grow up healthy and happy, and they’re depriving themselves?

I have to wonder what the world is going to be like when these children grow up and have to become the leaders of the next generation.

The Altantic's column The Daily Dish of No Party or Clique reported that the phenomenon has now taken Facebook by storm, and users’ real-life profiles can be linked to their eating disorders. I did some searching myself, and just under Groups there are pages of pro-ana groups.

Although many think that the exposure of these sites can be dangerous, some think this is not necessarily the case: it is making society more aware of these disorders, and if teenagers are more and more willing to talk about their problem, perhaps they’ll be more comfortable asking for help when they or someone they know is showing signs of having an eating disorder.

For myself, however, I love food too much to even think about starving myself! :) Bring on the tinkies!