Today’s society is full of desire for perfection and instant results. There are serious dangers lurking in the shadows for children who have low self esteem and are searching for that perfection. One of these dangers has taken the shadowy form of an internet friend named “Ana”, or to call her what she really is, instruction and support for Anorexia Nervosa.
Although anorexia has been a problem in America for some time, many people still do not know much about it. In fact, more Americans have seen the consequences of anorexia by watching commercials for starving people in other countries than they have for the dangers in our own society, even though a person that is forced not to eat because they have no food is quite a bit different than someone choosing to starve themselves in an attempt to be thin.
So, what is anorexia? Anorexia (anorexia nervosa-AN) “is an eating disorder characterized by refusal to maintain a healthy body weight, and an obsessive fear of gaining weight due to a distorted self image which may be maintained by various cognitive biases that alter how the affected individual evaluates and thinks about their body, food and eating” (Wikipedia). It is a serious mental illness that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder and also ranks very high as far as comorbidity – “the presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in addition to a primary disease or disorder, or the effect of such additional disorders or diseases.”
Our society normally stereotypes a person suffering from AN as young, white females but AN is also a disorder suffered by men and women of all races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Unfortunately, some people have taken this eating disorder and are attempting to turn it into a lifestyle choice. “Pro-ana” refers to the “promotion of anorexia” and is simply referred to as “ana”, sometimes affectionately referred to as a girl or friend named “Ana”. Any person who would promote this kind of disorder as a lifestyle choice instead of the serious disorder that it is could not possibly be classified as a friend, or even a responsible person.
All parents should watch for signs of low self esteem in their children. Some signs of AN are low self esteem, depression, isolation, serious weight loss, obsessive exercising or even wearing a red bracelet, which some people do in order to secretly recognize other “pro-ana” participants. All parents should learn about AN and find out what it is, the dangers of it and the warning signs. If you see these signs, please get help for your child.
In our society where there is so much obesity, AN can, and often does, become a method of choice for young people to avoid excess weight and that is what “pro-ana” use to motivate people…the disgust of obesity. This not only promotes dangerous behavior but also leads to discrimination and a greater chance of more substantial isolation for a person suffering from low self esteem. Which can also lead to more complications and disorders such as depression, suicidal behavior or worse.
Pay attention to who your children’s friends are. Pay attention to their internet activity…you do not have to stand over their shoulder to see where they were, you can check the history of where they have been on the computer. Take precautions.
I have known several people who have eating disorders. There are many ways that eating disorders can cause damage to a person’s body, not counting the psychological harm. Most of the people I have known that suffered from eating disorders also had some type of history with sexual abuse, alcohol and/or drug abuse or serious emotional abuse.
There are many potential causes for eating disorders and none of them are pleasant.
Eating disorders can, and often do, cause irreparable damage to the human body or even death…this should never be taken for granted and it is our job as parents to make sure we know what to look for that can aid our children to be not only physically healthy but mentally healthy as well.
Every child is a miracle and each should feel secure in the fact that they are loved, no matter what they look like.