Pro-ana websites are popping up all over the internet. Promoted as supportive places for those with anorexia, pro-ana (or “pro-anorexia nervosa) websites are anything but. In fact, pro-ana websites are so dangerous, they should be banned.
Up until recently, I’d never heard of the term ‘pro-ana’. More on the chubby side than the anorexia nervosa type, I’m not a woman ever likely to become anorexic. I like food too much. But, a few months ago, I watched a British TV show called “The Truth About Beauty” and an episode with Brit television presenter Fearne Cotton about pro-anorexia websites. And it sickened me.
According to many of the people who run pro-ana websites, they’re a place where people with anorexia nervosa can talk to others with the same problem. They can get support and help and hopefully feel better about themselves. In reality? Pro-ana websites are nothing more than a place where girls and women, already sick with anorexia, encourage each other to not eat, fast for days sometimes weeks, do hours of extreme exercise to lose weight – in other words, anyone with anorexia comes away from those sites feeling even worse and desperate to lose more weight so they can keep up with those “more successful” than them.
On all the pro-ana websites, you’ll also see photos of girls who are so thin they’re barely standing upright. Ribs poking through non-existent fat, knees and thighs that are nothing more than the outline of their skeleton and arms that look like snapable twigs. Yet, girls and women, who already look like these photos, flock to these sites in an effort to get ‘support’ to lose more weight.
After researching more about pro-ana websites and the types of girls and women who frequent them, it should be obvious to any sane person these websites should be banned, for the following reasons and more.
1. Pro-ana websites are not a place of ‘support’ and are not intended to help girls get back to a normal weight. From the name alone ‘pro-ana’, they’re intended to be supportive of anorexia. Some even state anorexia is a valid ‘life choice’ and should be respected like any other.
2. Pro-ana websites are dangerous and should be banned as it’s not only adults who are coming to these sites. Girls as young as seven and eight years old are going on diets after finding photos of their favorite celebrities featured on these sites. When a child becomes anorexia at such a young age, the chance of them ever recovering is small.
3. On the pro-ana websites, instead of helping girls with their addiction to losing weight, competitions will begin between already vulnerable girls, to see who can lose the most weight in the shortest period of time. This type of competition is not only dangerous to a girl’s long-term health it can also cause her to die.
4. On pro-ana websites, girls find information about how to vomit to purge themselves of food they ate and what dosages for laxatives to take to, again, prevent the food they ate from being utilized by their bodies. Without pro-ana websites, this information would be much more difficult for girls, particularly young girls, to find.
5. Thinspiration is used on pro-ana websites. Thinspiration is the posting of photos and videos of women who are either anorexic or naturally thin. It often includes photos of skinny celebrities, which are used to encourage the girls and women that come to the sites to lose more weight. In a society already obsessed with body image, to have the mentality that only “thin women are inspirational” is extremely dangerous, as well as obviously wrong.
6. A study at the University of Missouri showed women who only went to a pro-ana website once reported a lowering of their self-esteem. They also showed a higher incidence of eating less, exercising more and becoming more obsessed with body image than a control group of other women didn’t view a pro-ana site.
Pro-ana websites have been on the internet for at least the last 10-15 years. As governments and internet groups talk about the pros and cons of banning these sites, visits to pro-ana websites are increasing at alarming rates and anorexia rates are increasing.
A few years ago, Yahoo banned all the pro-ana websites on the services it runs and now shuts down any it finds popping up as new sites. Other providers have not been as pro-active and women and young girls are suffering because of it. In the United Kingdom, the debate has been ongoing for a few years about pro-ana websites, with UK doctors saying they should be censored, or at least named at ‘harmful online content’, but no concrete decision about banning pro-ana websites has yet been made.
As a result of threats of sites being banned, some pro-ana sites are now stating they are there to “help women recover from anorexia”, all to hide their real intent – to support women who are or want to be anorexic. If these sites were banned, they couldn’t continue to lie about their intent while pulling more and more women into the downward spiral of anorexia nervosa.