The Dangers of Pro-Anorexia Websites

Whether you are watching television, browsing the internet, or reading a magazine, images of very thin people are very common. The result is a consistent messaging that the ideal body, particularly for women, is a very thin one that is often, in fact, unhealthy. Additionally, there are thousands of diet plans, workout videos, gym memberships and exercise equipment seem to be everywhere.

There has been a surge of sites over the past 10 years that are geared towards promoting a very thin body. They are called “thinspo” sites.

The Dangers of Pro-Anorexia Websites

These sites have been created to support a movement that is known by a few names: “thinspiration” (or “thinspo” for short), pro-ana (pro-anorexia), and pro-mia (pro-bulimia). This movement supports and encourages people to get ultra-thin, in most cases below what would be considered as a healthy weight. While the assumption might be that these sites are only for women, this is not the case. The desire for a super thin body has crept its way into the male population as well and there are many “thinspo” sites directed specifically at men. In 2010, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study involving 180 active pro-eating disorder websites, of which 98 percent were administered by women. Two years later, an article in GQ that was reporting on the rise in anorexia among men noted that ten years ago clinicians estimated that men made up around 5 percent of the anorexic population, while today it’s between 20 and 30 percent. Regardless of gender, the target audience of these pro-anorexia sites tends to be young adults.

Pro-anorexia websites feature photos of ultra-thin individuals and have captions with accompanying stories that, according to medical professionals, encourage and support the eating disorder. In addition, the use of social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.) and personal blogs have been cited as primary sources that assist teens in their goals of extreme weight loss and further complicate their eating disorders. As a means of offering support to each other, selfies are posted that show vast weight reduction, visible and protruding bone structure (collarbone, spine, ribs, leg bones, jaw bones), and tips on hiding purging methods, hunger suppression tactics, and even ways to prevent vomit from eroding teeth.
Treatment professionals are concerned that the population of young adults who partake in thinspiration feels that this is a lifestyle choice. In this way, anorexia or bulimia is their chosen method to attain the body they want – thereby giving them the lifestyle they choose. With names like “MyProAna,” “ProAna Tips and Tricks,” and “Male Thinspo – A Guide to Perfection,” these sites are a draw for individuals who suffer from eating disorders. Strangely, the site owners typically have some sort of disclaimer/warning statement on the front page that supports the idea that this way of living is a choice. One site called, for example, states the following message:  “This site does not encourage that you develop an eating disorder. This is a site for those who ALREADY have an eating disorder and do not wish to go into recovery. If you do not already have an eating disorder, better it is that you do not develop one now. You may wish to leave.” Another similar statement is: “Heavy dietary changes and exercise can be a deadly hazard to your life. Nothing is more precious than your life. Please make sustainable changes only. It won’t happen in a day. It will take its time. Consistency and perseverance will get you there.” Professionals are concerned that pro-anorexia sites provide people struggling with an eating disorder with the methods to achieve their goals and perpetuate this body image ideal through an enabling “support” system that is hidden away from family and friends.
The Dangers of Pro-Anorexia Websites
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