My 17 year old daughter does not mind my telling the world she suffered with anorexia, and beat it! And I’m so proud of her! Some 4 years ago, she began to restrict her food intake and in effect, starve her body of food and water. Fortunately, we sought professional help and she beat the illness. As a mother, one of the most terrifying aspects of the ordeal was when I stumbled across her scribbles in a notepad. She was an active member of pro-anorexia sites.
Until this point, I had no idea what these sites were or that they even existed. Put simply, these sites promote anorexia and members share tips on various things. For instance, my daughter had become friends with a number of people on these sites. They would share tips on how to disguise the illness from
Fellow ‘teenagers’ – who of course, could have been anyone, would ask her for pictures of her body. Aside from the dangers of promoting anorexia, these sites are obviously a playground for predators where they can meet vulnerable young people.
I’ve written this post to highlight the problem, the danger of these pro-anorexia sites. For obvious reasons, I won’t make reference to any particular sites my daughter was using. I’m writing from a mother’s perspective, for all the parents out there who’s children could be visiting these sites. And for all those people who are battling this illness. To raise awareness and support the movement to have these disgusting sites taken down.
Anorexia – Some Statistics
According to Anorexia Bulimia Care, the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders has increased by 15% since 2000, could this be due to the rise in internet accessibility? Young and old, men and women, boys and girls, no one is safe from the grips of
Eating disorders do not discriminate against ages or gender. The stereotype of anorexia only affecting women and young girls is completely incorrect. Recent statistics reveal that up to 25% of Britons struggling with eating disorders are male.
Over 1.6 million people in Britain are affected by an eating disorder and around two thirds of them have visited a pro-anorexia site.
Pro-Anorexia Sites, a Dark Corner of the Web
Imagine someone you know being diagnosed with an eating disorder. They scour the internet to find out more information about their disease. Imagine them accidentally stumbling across pro-anorexia sites with tips on how to worsen their illness. If you found this out, would you really want other people to find these websites and have access to them?
Well, I certainly don’t!
Pro-anorexia websites define themselves as Medicine. They promote the belief that anorexia is a viable lifestyle choice rather than a disorder. They promote unhealthy relationships with food, unrealistic body goals, and unnecessary suffering.
Mainly targeted at young, impressionable girls, pro-anorexia websites flood the internet with toxic tips, dangerous diets, and disturbing depictions of the body, leading to deadly consequences.
Most of these sites have an age limit warning of 18 years old. Does this really make a difference? Younger people can access them as there is no way to verify your age on most of the websites. Can you imagine an innocent child finding one of these awful sites and being exposed to their sickening content, indoctrinating their young, delicate minds, encouraging them to take part in repulsive rituals?
Some of these disgusting websites make people think that eating disorders are a choice and not a disease. They create a stereotype that anorexics are attention seeking.
Eating disorders are serious and these stereotypes need to stop. These stereotypes also create expectations of how people diagnosed with an eating disorder should act. This might make peers think that someone’s eating disorder is ‘not real’, preventing sufferers from receiving vital, much-needed help. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, they are serious diseases that have no rules or specific symptoms. They affect individuals differently.
Eating disorders are an illness!
In 2010, a study was published by D.L.G. Borzekowski, S.Schenk, J.L. Wilson and R. Peebles. They examined pro-anorexia websites and assessed their content and their purpose. The study revealed that the websites teach visitors how to control and conceal an eating disorder, offering methods and ideas.
The study involved 180 of these sites and their findings are terrifying:
- 91% are open to the public
- More than 70% offered dieting strategies
- 16% claimed to be maintained by adolescents
- 68% listed ‘safe foods’ or low-calorie foods
- 50% gave purging tips or advice on the use of laxatives or pills
- 43% provided specific instructions on how to conceal an eating disorder
- 85% had “thinspiration” images
Pro-anorexia sites romanticise eating disorders and give the people they are reaching a warped sense of reality and perfection which they are being encouraged to achieve.
“Skeletal models” – or ‘
Don’t you think that these websites need to be banned to prevent them from reaching more people?
My Own Research
When I discovered my daughter was using these disgusting websites, I obviously searched for them online. Within minutes, I was a member of three of these groups. Here’s some of the disturbing things I found:
- These sites treat anorexia as a religion and personify ‘ana’ as a sort of goddess.
- ‘Ana’ makes demands which are quite terrifying.
- Stomach cramps due to starvation are to be celebrated.
- Wear a rubber band around your wrist and when you feel hungry, snap it so it hurts.
- Avoid friends, they will try to detract you from your goals.
- One researcher discovered a disturbing group ethos from a pro-anorexia site ‘written by Ana’:
- “I will force you into the bathroom, onto your knees. You will stare into the empty toilet bowl. And you will stick your fingers in your throat and, not without pain, your food will come out. You need to do this over and over and over again, until you taste blood and water, and know it’s all gone. When you stand up, you’ll feel dizzy. Don’t faint! Stand straight! You fat cow, you deserve all the pain you get.”
I found all this out with a quick google search!
An Ongoing Problem
The campaign to remove and ban pro-ana websites is ongoing. It was first highlighted by Oprah Winfrey in 2001! In 2006, many of the sites were taken down. Today, pro-ana sites simply try to disguise their real purpose. They need not conceal themselves too well, for a quick internet search will reveal hundreds of them.
Under Section 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act, an individual who knowingly gives another HIV is to be persecuted under reckless behaviour as they are passing a lethal disease to another person – isn’t this the same as a person controlling one of these pro-anorexia websites?
The people that post on these pro-anorexia sites make disgusting comments which can be triggering and harmful to other sufferers. Furthermore, the comments can be abusive and threatening. Their primary purpose
These disgraceful websites are so addictive that once vulnerable people find them, they feel like they cannot stop visiting them. This prevents their recovery.
Pro-anorexia sites simply prolong illness and encourage others to join the community to embrace, rather than battle this horrific illness.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and every 62 minutes at least 1 person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder. This is an incredibly high number which will continue to increase unless we make a change and make it now.
If you are suffering from any type of eating disorder, or suspect or know someone who is, please, please, please see a GP and begin the healing process. If you’d like to know more about an eating disorder, please use reputable sites, such as the NHS website for further information.
Written with the help of my daughter, a former member of pro-anorexia sites and one who has beat anorexia!