While eating disorders have been a problem for many years, especially for young women, the rise of websites and social media pages promoting anorexia and bulimia is of grave concern to the medical community. Those with eating disorders can too easily find support for their unhealthy compulsions online.
Pro-Eating Disorder Websites
So-called “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites, which advocate for anorexia and bulimia, respectively, first came into the public consciousness in about 2001. These websites provide venues where anorexic and bulimic people can encourage one another to pursue their eating disorders.
The Pressure to Look Thin
Anorexics and bulimics see a parade of their friends posing for photos and selfies on all their social media platforms. When those friends look super-skinny, those with eating disorders receive a constant reminder that they too need to be ultra-thin to be accepted.
Eating Disorder Websites Spread to Social Media
Where once a person with an eating disorder had to make an active choice to go to a pro-ana or pro-mia website, now those websites have migrated to social media. When pro-ana messages shows up on your Facebook feed alongside family photos and personality test results, it makes it feel normal.
It’s one thing to participate in a chat room with other anorexics or bulimics, but modern social media platforms allow these discussions to become visual. Instagram, Flickr, SnapChat and more let anorexics show off their thigh gaps and bikini bridges with misplaced pride.
Personalization of a Disease
As those with eating disorders join together to call their diseases “Ana” and “Mia,” they personalize their disorders, making them sound and feel like friends. As a result, the women frequenting pro-ana and pro-mia websites are more likely to believe that their conditions are positive choices rather than disorders.
Those who frequent pro-ana and pro-mia websites and social media platforms are likely to pick up new ideas and techniques for avoiding food. Studies show that those who visit these sites regularly are more likely to engage in severe calorie restriction.
Constantly Changing Hashtags and Terminology
Despite the efforts of sites such as Instagram to ban frequently used pro-ana hashtags such as “thinspiration,” the pro-ana and pro-mia communities just develop new spellings that allow them to search for each other online. The sense of belonging to a secret society can be dangerously exciting.
Social media platforms allow anorexics and bulimics to encourage one another in their unhealthy eating behaviors. When a person receives cheers and “likes” for fasting for extended periods, she is less likely to abandon her dangerous food choices.
You are beautiful. Please take care of yourself (and love your body as it is)!