Since the 1990’s, pro-anorexia websites have been springing up left and right, sometimes encouraging people to become anorexic and sometimes helping them stay anorexic. About 10 years ago both Yahoo and MSN attempted to shut down these sites, making them unsearchable, but yet they have continued to infiltrate the web.
There are dozens of reasons why this is problematic. For instance, a study by Dina Borzekowski found that about 16% of 160 pro-eating disorder sites included some type of “creed” that entailed a list of rules or “commandments” that encouraged negative behaviors associated with different eating disorders. Not only are these found on “pro-ana”, pages used by those who are already anorexic, and “pro-anorexia” pages, pages that want to convert people to anorexia, but also on personal blogs.
Perhaps the largest issue with these websites is their availability to teenagers. Highly impressionable, teens are constantly exposed to images and information that can potentially cause body image distortion disorders. With the help of websites that aim to create a community of “ana/mia” (anorexic/bulimic) individuals, teenagers are able to become anorexic, bulimic, and more. What’s worse is that they can learn how to hide it.
The danger of the community created by these websites is extreme. Social networking sites that are usually viewed positively for creating strong relationships between their users can also be blamed for providing teens with the means through which to obtain information about eating disorders. Unfortunately, this idea of community within a blogging site becomes intensely negative when it is exploited by people seeking to inspire such disabling syndromes.
Teenagers are also highly vulnerable to these networking sites because they are always searching for a way to fit in. If they can find someone else to identify with their struggles, their needs, their problems, and their situation, it is likely that they will create a strong bond with this other individual. Teens need to feel like they are a part of something and that they are important and needed, and these online communities create that welcoming feeling. Welcome to the world of eating disorders, you can be at home here.
While the pro-anorexia movement gains footholds, as Borzekowski’s study clearly shows through the emergence of “thinspiration” campaigns plastered all over the internet, and social media becomes more and more prominent, it is more important than ever to educate youth. Parents must teach children that not everything on the internet is true, nor is everything good. It’s essential not to censor the evils of the internet from teenagers, but rather to educate them on how to distinguish positive and negative content.
The fight doesn’t end with education about the internet. Education about eating disorders and mental illnesses is also vital. A teen must know that sometimes seeking help is the best way to show their strength.