Pro-ana refers to the rejection of the idea that
anorexia nervosais an eating disorder. It is often referred to simply as "ana" and is sometimes affectionately personified by anorexics as a girl named Ana.
Pro-ana is a loosely descriptive term rather than an organized social movement, and as such encompasses a wide range of views. Many pro-ana organizations state that they do not promote anorexia and acknowledge that anorexia is a real medical disorder, and that they exist mainly to give anorexics a place to turn to discuss their illness in a non-judgmental environment: some promote recovery while still supporting those who choose to defer or refuse medical or psychological treatment. Others go further, disputing the prevailing psychological and medical consensus that treats
anorexia nervosaas a mental illness rather than a "lifestyle choice" that should be respected by doctors and family.cite web|title = A Secret Society of the Starving|date = 2002-09-08|accessdate = 2007-11-04|first = Mim|last = Udovitch|publisher = New York Times|url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE3DF173EF93BA3575AC0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all] One study defines pro-anorexia as "a way of coping and a damage limitation that rejects recovery as a simplistic solution to a symptom that leaves the underlying pain and hurt unresolved."
The lesser-used term pro-mia refers likewise to
bulimia nervosacite web|title = Ana y Mia, contra la anorexia|first = Carmen|last = Serna|url = http://www.elmundo.es/papel/2004/06/09/madrid/1648484.html|language = Spanish|publisher = El Mundo|accessdate = 2008-02-05|date = 2004-06-09] and is sometimes used interchangeably with pro-ana.
Most pro-ana material is disseminated over the Internet, through tight-knit
support groups centred around web forums and, more recently, social networking sites such as Xanga, LiveJournal, Myspace. [cite web|title = "Before Spring Break, the Anorexic Challenge"|url = http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/fashion/sundaystyles/02BREAK.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all|first = Alex|last = Williams|date = 2006-04-02|lastaccess = 2007-11-11|publisher = New York Times] These sites typically have an overwhelmingly female readership and are frequently the only means of support available to socially-isolated anorexics. [cite web|title = A Disturbing Growth Industry: Web Sites That Espouse Anorexia|first = Bonnie Rothman|last = Morris|publisher = New York Times|date = 2002-06-23|url = http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E4DB123CF930A15755C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all]
Members of these support groups may:
crash dieting techniques and recipes (67% of sites in a 2006 study [Norris ML, Boydell KM, Pinhas L, Katzman DK (2006). "Ana and the internet: A review of pro-anorexia websites," "International Journal of Eating Disorders", 39, 443-447.] )
* Compete with each other at losing weight, or fast together in displays of solidarity
* Commiserate with one another after breaking fast or
* Advise on how to best induce
vomiting, and on using laxativesand emetics
* Give tips on hiding
weight lossfrom parents and doctors [citation|title = Craving Community: The Phenomenon of Pro-Anorexia Sites|url = http://angelingo.usc.edu/vol04issue02/articles.php?section=tech&article=ProAna&page=all|journal = AngeLingo|publisher = USC College of Letters Arts and Sciences|first = Marjorie|last = Slater|date = April 2006|volume = 4|issue = 2]
* Share information on maximizing the safety of anorexia.Fox, Nick; Ward, Katie; O'Rourke, Alan (2005). "Pro-anorexia, weight-loss drugs and the internet: an 'anti-recovery' explanatory model of anorexia," "Sociology of Health & Illness", 27(7) , 944-971]
* Affirm the attractiveness and acceptability of other members' current weight.
As an encouragement to further lose weight, members often exchange thinspiration (or thinspo): image or video montages of slim women, often celebrities, who may be anything from naturally slim to emaciated with visibly-protruding bones.cite web|title = Seeking "thinspiration"|url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6935768.stm|first = Jacqueline|last = Head|publisher =
BBC News|date = 2007-09-08|accessdate = 2007-11-06] Conversely, reverse thinspiration may be photographs of fatty food, overweightor obesepeople intended to induce disgust and motivate further weight loss. Pro-ana blogs often post thinspirational entries, and many pro-ana forums have threads dedicated to sharing thinspiration. Thinspiration can also take the form of inspirational mantras, quotes or selections of lyrics from poetry or popular music. [cite web|title = Learning to Love Anorexia? Pro-Ana Web Sites Flourish|url = http://www.observer.com/node/47063|first = Diedre|last = Dolan|date = 2003-02-02|publisher = New York Observer|accessdate = 2007-11-06] 94% of pro-ana websites have this type of content. [Chesley EB, Alberts JD, Klein JD, Kreipe RE (2003). "Pro or con? Anorexia nervosa and the internet," "Journal of Adolescent Health", 32(2), 123-124.]
Visitors to pro-ana web sites include a significant number of those already diagnosed with eating disorders: a 2006 survey of eating disorder patients at
Stanford Medical Schoolfound that 35.5% had visited pro-ana web sites; of those, 96.0% learned new weight loss or purging methods from such sites (while 46.4% of viewers of anti-anorexia sites learned new techniques). [cite journal|last1 = Wilson|first1 = Jenny|last2 = Peebles|first2 = Rebecka|month = December | year = 2006|title = Surfing for thinness: A pilot study of pro-eating disorder web site usage in adolescents with eating disorders|journal = Pediatrics|volume = 118|issue = 6|pages = 1635-43|accessdate = 2007-11-06|url = http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/6/e1635|doi = 10.1542/peds.2006-1133|author = Wilson, J. L.|pmid = 17142493]
A 2006 experimental study at the
University of Missourion 235 female undergraduates found that those subjected to a single viewing of a pro-ana site created by the study designers reported lower self-esteem and were more likely to become preoccupied with exercise and weight loss, as compared to control groups. A greater likelihood to exercise and a reduced likelihood to overeat or self-induce vomiting was also reported by the group viewing the pro-ana site. The study was limited by reliance on self-reports, possible non-generalizability of the results beyond viewing in a laboratory setting, and the assessment of only immediate effects. [citation|last1 = Bardone-Cone|first1 = A M|last2 = Cass|first2 = K M|year = 2007|title = What does viewing a pro-anorexia website do? An experimental examination of website exposure and moderating effects|journal = International Journal of Eating Disorders|volume = 40|issue = 6|pages = 537-48|doi = 10.1002/eat.20396|author = Wilson, J. L.] A larger study by the University of South Floridaof 1575 girls and young women in 2007 found that those who had a history of viewing pro-ana websites did not differ from those who viewed only professional anorexia websites on any of the study's measures, including body mass index, negative body image, appearance dissatisfaction, level of disturbance, and restriction. Those who had viewed pro-ana websites were, however, moderately more likely to have a negative body image than those who had viewed no websites on anorexia. It was not clear whether a causal relationship existed. [citation|title = Viewership of pro-eating disorder websites: Association with body image and eating disturbances|first1 = Kelley|last1 = Harper|first2 = Steffanie|last2 = Sperry|first3 = J Kevin|last3 = Thompson|journal = International Journal of Eating Disorders|volume = 41|number = 1|pages = 92-95|year = 2008|doi = 10.1002/eat.20408|author = Wilson, J. L.]
Criticism and controversy
Pro-ana has attracted teenage girls who believe that inducing eating disorders will cause them to lose weight more effectively. Such people are often unwelcome in pro-ana groups and derisively referred to as wannarexics. [cite web|url = http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu/node/69|title = No Wannarexics Allowed: An Analysis of Online Eating Disorder Communities|work = Digital Youth Project|accessdate = 2007-08-06|last = Pascoe|first = C J|publisher =
University of California, Berkeley|quote = According to the posters on these sites a 'wannarexic' is someone who occasionally diets but who is not dedicated to an eating disordered lifestyle.] Some medical professionals and anorexics also take affront to wannarexia as they believe it glamorizes a serious illness. [cite web|title = Pro-Anorexia Web Sites: The Thin Web Line|url = http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/pro-anorexia-web-sites-thin-web-line|publisher = WebMD|first = Charlotte Grayson|last = Mathis|accessdate = 2007-11-06]
From the medical profession
Health care professionals and medical associations have taken generally negative views of pro-ana groups and the information they disseminate:cite web|url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7259143.stm|publisher =
BBC News|title = Pro-anorexia site clampdown urged|date = 2008-02-24|accessdate = 2008-02-25]
* NEDA (The National Eating Disorders Association) "actively speaks out against pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites. These sites provide no useful information on treatment but instead encourage and falsely support those who, sadly, are ill but do not seek help." [cite web|title = Position Paper: Pro-Anorexia and Pro-Bulimia Websites|url = http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/p.asp?WebPage_ID=779|publisher = National Eating Disorders Association|accessdate = 2007-11-06]
* The Academy for Eating Disorders takes the position that "websites that glorify anorexia as a lifestyle choice play directly to the psychology of its victims", expressing concern that sites dedicated to the promotion of anorexia as a desirable "lifestyle choice" "provide support and encouragement to engage in health threatening behaviors, and neglect the serious consequences of starvation." [cite web|title = Position Statement on Pro-Anorexia Web Sites|url = http://aedweb.org/policy/pro-anorexia_sites.cfm|accessdate = 2007-11-06|publisher = Academy for Eating Disorders]
ANAD(The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) states that "pro-ana and pro-mia web sites and communities create the opportunity to compare to more and more dangerous methods of weight loss, and increase the drive and interest, and increase the severity and frequency of eating disorder behaviors." [cite web|title = Pro-ana and pro-mia sites|url = http://anad.org/282800/283121.html|publisher = National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders|accessdate = 2007-11-11]
* Eric van Furth, a board member of the AED (the international Academy of Eating Disorders), notes that pro-ana sites have relatively few visitors and advises against sanction of such sites, claiming instead that popular media play the more important role in establishing ideals of female thinness. [citation|last = Esser|first = Luuk|title = Anorexia-sites weinig bezocht|publisher =
de Volkskrant|date = 2008-04-17|page = 3|url = http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/article527915.ece/Anorexia-sites_weinig_bezocht|accessdate = 2008-07-03|language = Dutch]
In the media
In October 2001, the "
Oprah Winfrey Show" hosted a special on anorexia; the pro-ana movement was discussed briefly by the guest panel, who expressed alarm at the appearance of pro-ana websites and recommended the use of filtering software to bar access to them. [cite web|title = Archives: Girls Who Don't Eat|url = http://www.oprah.com/tows/pastshows/tows_past_20011004.jhtml|date = 2001-10-04|accessdate = 2007-11-11|publisher = The Oprah Winfrey Show]
In February 2002, the television series "
Boston Public" aired an episode that centered around a teacher becoming upset at a student's eating disorder and discovered that another student was running a pro-ana website. [ [http://www.tv.com/chapter-thirty-six/episode/115668/summary.html Boston Public Episode Summary from "TV.com", episode aired on February 11, 2002] .] [ [http://www.drury.edu/multinl/story.cfm?ID=8107&NLID=224 Rutledge, Kara, "The Skinny on Pro-Anorexic Web Sites," retrieved on 2008-09-18] .]
"Growing up online", a January 2008 episode of the PBS Frontline television program, also featured a brief discussion of pro-ana. [cite web|title = FRONTLINE: growing up online|publisher =
Public Broadcasting Service|date = 2008-01-22|accessdate = 2008-04-04|url = http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline]
From Internet service providers
In July 2001,
Yahoo--after receiving a letter of complaint from ANAD--began removing pro-ana sites from its Yahoo Clubs (now Yahoo Groups) service, stating that such sites endorsing self-harm were violations of its terms of service agreement. [cite web|title = Anorexia Goes High Tech|first = Jessica|last = Reaves|url = http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,169660,00.html|publisher = Time Magazine|date = 2001-07-31|accessdate = 2007-11-11] LiveJournalhas not made a position statement regarding pro-ana. In August 2007, however, a staff member declined to respond to an abuse report filed against a pro-ana community hosted on its network, stating that: "Suspending pro-anorexia communities will not make anyone suffering from the disorder become healthy again. Allowing them to exist, however, has several benefits. It reassures those who join them that they are not alone in the way they feel about their bodies. It increases the chance that the friends and loved ones of the individuals in the community will discover their disorders and assist them in seeking professional help." [cite web|title = LiveJournal forum thread|url = http://community.livejournal.com/lj_biz/241428.html?thread=12329748#t12329748|date = 2007-09-07|accessdate = 2007-11-11|author = LiveJournal user [http://thevelvetsun.livejournal.com thevelvetsun] ]
In November 2007,
Microsoftshut down four pro-ana sites on the Spanish-languageversion of its Spaces social networking service at the behest of IQUA, the Internet regulatory body for Catalonia. [cite web|title = Nueva ofensiva contra páginas pro anorexia y bulimia|language = Spanish|url = http://www.iqua.net/?go=S3iJ27PQ09INywzsO3FyalSoH3yDxSSX+1VQGEz7ZjalkPdWyhbnGEcwa7kvOKg=|publisher = La Agencia de Calidad de Internet (IQUA)|accessdate = 2007-11-30|date = 2007-11-21] A Microsoft spokesperson stated that such sites "infringe all the rules on content created by users and visible on our sites". [cite web|title = Online anorexia sites shut down amid claims they glorify starvation|url = http://timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article2916356.ece|first = Thomas|last = Catan|date = 2007-11-22|accessdate = 2007-11-30|publisher = Times Online] MySpacedoes not ban pro-ana material and has stated that "it's often very tricky to distinguish between support groups for users who are suffering from eating disorders and groups that might be termed as 'pro' anorexia or bulimia. Rather than censor these groups, we are working to create partnerships with organisations like b-eat." MySpace has chosen instead to cycle b-eat banner advertisements through pro-ana members' profiles.
United Kingdom, 40 MPs signed an early day motiontabled in February 2008 by the LibDem member for Cheadle, Mark Hunter, urging government action against pro-ana sites. [cite web|title = "I just want to be thin. If it takes dying to get there--so be it"|first = Martin|last = Croucher|publisher = Epoch Times|date = 2008-02-29|accessdate = 2008-03-13|url = http://en.epochtimes.com/news/8-2-29/66794.html] The motion was timed to coincide with the UK National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. [cite web|url = http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/science_technology/call%20to%20check%20proanorexia%20webpages/1644752|title = Call to check pro-anorexia webpages|date = 2008-02-25|accessdate = 2008-03-14|publisher = Channel 4] [cite web|title = Eating disorder sites "despicable"|first = Brian|last = Lashley|date = 2008-02-25|accessdate = 2008-03-13|publisher = Manchester Evening News|url = http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1037998_eating_disorder_sites_despicable]
In April 2008, a bill outlawing material which "provokes a person to seek excessive thinness by encouraging prolonged restriction of nourishment" was tabled in the
French National Assemblyby UMP MP Valérie Boyer. It imposes a fine of €30,000 and two years imprisonment (rising to €45,000 and three years if there was a resulting death) on offenders. [citation|url = http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23515919-2703,00.html|title = French anorexia law targets websites|date = 2008-04-10|first1 = Charles|last1 = Bremner|first2 = Marie|last2 = Tourres|accessdate = 2008-04-11|publisher = The Australian] Health minister Roselyne Bachelot, arguing for the bill, stated that "giving young girls advice about how to lie to their doctors, telling them what kinds of food are easiest to vomit, encouraging them to torture themselves whenever they take any kind of food is not part of liberty of expression." [citation|url = http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSL1578685820080415?sp=true|title = France to crack down on "pro-anorexia" Web sites|first = James|last = MacKenzie|date = 2008-04-15|accessdate = 2008-04-17|publisher = Reuters]
Any legislation to shut down pro-ana or pro-mia websites in the United States (where many are hosted) would be
prima facie unconstitutional, as only incitement to imminent lawless actionand the utterance of fighting words(breaching the peace) are criminally actionable under U.S. law. (For more information, see the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.) U.S. companies hosting pro-ana and pro-mia websites may speak freely as well - and can refuse to host sites as they choose.
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