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David Baxter

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Pro-Anorexia Websites: A Cult of Starvation
by Tara Sena-Becker, Suite 101
Dec 6, 2007

Enter the disturbing world of pro-anorexia websites. A quasi-religious online community, guided by the Ana Psalm, where thinspiration is the key to happiness and success.

Type the word anorexia into a search engine and the results will be largely identical ? hundreds of websites providing information, support and advice to sufferers of a serious and deadly mental illness. Add the prefix pro- to that original term and a startlingly opposite picture emerges. Here is a world where norms break down, disease is greeted with respectful jealousy, and sufferers are lauded for their ?efforts? and ?control?.

Pro-Anorexia Revolution
Despite having first come into the spotlight in the late-1990s, the expansion of Internet blogs and online communities in recent years has brought about the emergence of a pro-ana revolution. The internet service provider Google devotes an entire category to ?pro-anorexia?, through which more than 200 sites may be uncovered ? everything from crash-diet blogs to online ?universities? that offer customised how-to courses on the maintenance of an anorexic lifestyle.1

It is in this online pro-ana community that a chilling new portrayal of eating disorders immediately becomes apparent. Anorexia, lovingly nicknamed ?ana?, is not to be seen as a disease, but as a religious lifestyle ? a cult of starvation.

The Ana Psalm: Thinspiration
?Strict is my diet. I must not want. It maketh me lie down at night hungry.?

It is with these chilling words that the ?Ana Psalm? begins. Bearing striking resemblance to the Twenty-Third Psalm of the Bible?s Old Testament, this disturbing mantra has become the catchphrase of pro-eating disorder websites world wide.

Young women in the grips of anorexia are no longer perceived as ?sufferers?, but as ?holy figures? who have proved themselves to be spiritually worthy. Throughout such sites, visitors are bombarded with photographs of gaunt models and super-skinny celebrities such as Lara Flynn-Boyle and Mary-Kate Olsen. More unsettling are categories devoted to ?bones? ? images of skeletal (?beautiful?) young women, which are used by visitors for ?thinspiration?. A deity of starvation, the anorexic body represents a state of complete purity and inner peace.

Pro-Anorexia Criticism
With access to such extreme content, pro-anorexia sites are no doubt readily criticised for the negative impact that they may have on young women. Yet whilst there have been mass closures of these websites in recent years, large numbers are now operating underground to escape censorship, with individuals being screened before granted exclusive membership.

Having become so widely established in the online community, it seems that overtly criticising and repressing the philosophies of pro-anorexia websites is not the answer. These communities exist largely due to values that are deeply imbedded in society, and it is only through greater understanding of alternative perspectives and reassessment of social expectations that a change may come about.

For more information about eating disorders and recovery programs, visit the Eating Disorders Foundation or call 9412-4499.


1 Admin comment: Google is not an internet service provider but a search engine, and the statement that "Google devotes an entire category to pro-anorexia" is also inaccurate. Google has a directory titled the Google Directory which is actually a feed from the notorious DMOZ Directory (aka Open Directory Project). It is DMOZ that created and maintains the pro-anorexia category, along with various other choice categories, including those dedicated to pro-suicide and child sexual abuse or pedophilia. See my blog articles on this for more information:

See also Action against and recovery from pro-anorexia websites | PsychLinks Blog
 

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