Pro Ana websites and the dangerous culture they instilled
I hate to admit this, but I am going to. I used to be obsessed with Pro Ana websites. If you don’t know what that means, that’s probably a good thing. Pro Ana is short for Pro-Anorexia, and in the late nineties and early 2000s, these abounded on the web on sites such as Live Journal. I previously wrote about this in my blog post Does Anyone Remember the Pro-Ana Sites on Live Journal?
What was Pro Ana?
Pro Ana was never a good thing. Back in the era I was referring to, the community was made up of mostly women who had eating disorders in various forms. Some had anorexia, some had bulimia, some had EDNOS (an eating disorder not otherwise specified), or other less common disorders like orthorexia.
Live Journal could be compared to a modern website like Tumblr. It was an online “diary/journal” website, where people could post entries, photos and milestones, and connect with others with similar interests. After gaining a lot of weight and living on my own away from my family in another state, I fell into the rabbit hole of these Pro Ana website communities. Personally, I lost 14 kilos (30 pounds) within only a few weeks, by starving myself and constantly uploading images of my body fr others to comment on and judge.
What were the dangers of Pro Ana websites?
Anorexia and other eating disorders can be contagious. They are mental disorders that play on insecurities and can become “competitive”.
“Eating disorders can spread between us through no fault of our own – we are social beings, some of us with especially vulnerable genetics – who live in a world full of potentially dangerous messaging, misinformation and profit motives,” explains Dr Stephanie Haines, a prevention education specialist. She mentions that modern attitudes to beauty and rigid food rules are to blame.
Personally, I did not develop an eating disorder, but I did develop a disordered attitude to food. I would starve myself for two days, eating as little as I could, then I would overeat and gorge myself on sugary treats, leading to feelings of worthlessness. Read about my experience with fasting in My Experience with Fasting for Weight Loss and the 6 Small Meals Debate.
From thinspo to fitspo
I wrote back in 2013: “Women would post what they called ‘thinspo’ – these were shots of women looking particularly thin. The idea is that users of the site would look at these photos when they were thinking about eating. It’s the modern-day equivalent of putting a shot of Cindy Crawford in a bikini on your fridge. But much more disturbing.”
Thinspo was a name given to images of (mainly women) who were particularly thin. Women who were trying to lose weight would look at these images for “inspiration” and as an antidote to wanting to eat food.
The trend is still around now. If you search the hashtag #thinspo on Instagram you’ll find 0 results, leading me to believe that the hashtag has been banned. Search #fitspo and you’ll pull up 66 MILLION results, and counting. Is fitspo better than thinspo? Personally, I believe that both could be harmful to a vulnerable mind. These pro ana websites caused harm, they really did.
Does Pro Ana still exist?
Yes, it does. Of course it does. However, I am now at peace with food, and therefore I no longer seek out these communities. If you google my name and the word “obesity” – you’ll find a few posts where I talk about my struggles with food, ever since teenagerhood. I had to make peace with food, and now I can eat “whatever I want”. The tricky part was, that I naturally had to change “what I wanted”. Now nothing is forbidden to me, and I am free. Head to the DIET tag of this blog to read my many articles on food, dieting and weight loss.
Anorexia and men
Yes, about 5-15% of anorexics are men and boys, so the majority of sufferers of this disease are women and girls. The number of male anorexics is on the rise, and the growing culture of narcissism and the influencer phenomenon doesn’t help. Teenagers and young adults (and older adults) all navel-gaze to such a disturbing degree now, it makes me worried for the future. After all, we all get old, we will all get wrinkly, and our bodies will not be young and beautiful forever.
Get over it. You are more than the sum of your parts, and focusing on the exterior will always lead to pain and suffering. Focus on health and wellbeing and growth of your spiritual self. This is the only path to peace. Remember, pro ana websites were never a good thing.