The Dark Side of the Web – Pro-Anorexia Sites

The Dark Side of the Web – Pro-Anorexia Sites

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 their families. How to make oneself vomit. Offer tips on how to overcome hunger pains and worse. How to cut oneself and inflict self-harm and how to disguise it.

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 an eating disorder.

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!

Recent Studies

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 ‘thinspirational images’ shown on the sites. They encourage site users to strive to achieve this goal. Visitors to the site can become isolated and driven to achieve these unrealistic, dangerous, possibly life-threatening goals.

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 however is to glamorise serious mental illnesses. The sites turn eating disorders into a competitive, infectious, poisonous game.

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!

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26 Comments

  1. kattieh
    April 17, 2019 / 8:06 pm

    Something really needs to be done to stop these sites. I used to go on these sites when I was a teen, back in the mid 2000s. I’m so grateful to have left that part of my life behind, but I really feel for those who are struggling. I feel like these pro-Ana and Mia sites really made it worse for me. Good on you for bringing this topic up.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 29, 2019 / 7:52 pm

      I’m so glad you left that part of your life behind you – these sites can consume you! Thank you so much for reading lovely xxx

  2. Kim
    April 17, 2019 / 8:44 pm

    This is awful to hear. I haven’t heard of these websites existing but I have heard of, and sadly used, self harm ones in the past. Where teenagers could come and share their photos, try to out do each and share tips either for doing it or for trying to hid it. It’s horrifying what information is out their that young people can have access too.

    I’m sorry to hear about your daughter but glad to hear you helped her through it and she made a recovery.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 17, 2019 / 9:59 pm

      Thank you for reading Kim – I’m so proud of my daughter, she’s amazing! xxx

  3. April 17, 2019 / 9:38 pm

    I have heard of these websites before, and I have actually visited one to see what they are like. It’s scary to think they encourage each other and share tips. Thank you for sharing this. I think people need to be aware of the sites and how easy it is to access them.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 29, 2019 / 7:52 pm

      Thank you my lovely xxxx

  4. April 17, 2019 / 9:54 pm

    Wow! Very informative post! It’s remarkably sad that these websites exist. But happy to hear that your daughter has healed and is doing well! Thanks for sharing.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 29, 2019 / 7:53 pm

      Thank you Roger xxx

  5. April 18, 2019 / 1:03 am

    Congratulations to your daighdau! That’s wonderful! But how she got there to begin with is so sad. I can’t believe there’s a group out there that would do such a thing!! How horrible!

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 10:29 pm

      It’s horrific isn’t it Michelle xxx

  6. mercedes england
    April 18, 2019 / 2:13 am

    So glad to hear you and your daughter had a successful journey through it all. The information our children are exposed to is horrifying

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 10:34 pm

      Thank you lovely xxx

  7. April 18, 2019 / 3:15 am

    WOW – reading this post, I feel a sense of disgust and outrage that there are sites like this out on the web where children and other at-risk individuals can easily access this type of disturbing and detrimental content. Thank you for shedding light on this issue. Hopefully, as more of the public becomes aware of these sites, they can be shut down.

    I completely agree that eating disorders are illnesses, NOT choices. Also, your daughter is a very courageous and inspiring young lady to have overcome her battle.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 10:38 pm

      Thank you so much for reading – as you say, as awareness grows, hopefully, more will avoid these horrific sites xxx

  8. April 18, 2019 / 5:17 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! That’s terrifying that these websites are out there. I’m glad to hear your daughter beat the disease 🙂

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 10:38 pm

      Thank you Megan xxx

  9. April 18, 2019 / 10:06 pm

    I had no idea that sites like this existed! Its terrifying to think that they do and what harm they can cause. Thank you for sharing yours and your daughters story, I’m so glad to hear that she has overcome this x

    https://www.femaleoriginal.com

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 18, 2019 / 10:42 pm

      Thank you for reading lovely xxx

  10. April 19, 2019 / 7:07 pm

    I am so glad your daughter beat anorexia. These sights are so scary and so readily available. I remember searching for diet tips when I was a teenager and I found so many of these sites, they are so easy to find even accidentally.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 29, 2019 / 8:05 pm

      You’re absolutely right – they are so well disguised – sometimes you just find yourself stumbling across them xxx

  11. April 20, 2019 / 11:42 pm

    Very glad to hear she’s doing well now! I did a huge research project on eating disorders online when I was doing my GCSEs (10 years ago) and became very familiar with sites like this then. Probably dumb, I didn’t have the best relationship with food then either. But it’s such a shame that after all this time they’re still so prominent. Hopefully that will end soon! x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 29, 2019 / 8:11 pm

      Thank you for sharing your own experiences Sophie – it’s so shocking how many of these sites are out there! xxxx

  12. April 30, 2019 / 1:15 am

    Wow, this is absolutely terrifying. When you wrote about your experience with your daughter and your discovery that she was active on these sites, my stomach dropped. It’s so clear how proud you are of her, and I think this post clearly demonstrates your desire to help others who might be going through similar situations. Thank you for sharing!

    • Lellalee
      Author
      April 30, 2019 / 9:11 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words xxx

  13. May 7, 2019 / 8:30 am

    I’m reading all the comments from other people and I feel really…stupid? There was a time in my life when I was actively searching out pro-ana sites and I could never find any from google. Maybe I was using the wrong search terms or maybe there was a short period of time when they cracked down hard on the search algorithms.
    I mean, it’s good that I didn’t find them, it’s just reading that others were finding them so easily leaves me feeling somewhat deficient.

    I think a part of the increase in dx number is down to an increase of awareness all eating disorders and the inclusion of binge eating disorder in the DSM since 2000; but there is undoubtedly more pressure on young people today than when I was in my teens (and I’m not even in my 30s yet) because social media has them on view to a much wider audience and there is more open (because you are hidden behind a screen) critiquing of body shape and size and fashion choices.

    • Lellalee
      Author
      May 13, 2019 / 9:06 pm

      I’m so glad you weren’t able to find these sites when you were actively looking for them. I have spoken to others who had eating disorders and they have never come across these sites or couldn’t find them. As you say, perhaps timing is a factor. I was so surprised to find out how many people knew about these sites! Until our family experience, I was totally in the dark xxx

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