Pro-Ana Websites "Not All Bad"
Do controversial "pro-ana" sites actually provide support communities that could help anorexics recover?
"Pro-ana" websites that controversially support and encourage eating disorders may actually have a practical element of offering anorexics the support of an online community, reports Fix columnist Maia Szalavitz. The content of these 'pro-ana' sites—such as “thinspriation” images of emaciated celebrities and models, and tips on how to stay anorexic—can be alarming, and Yahoo, Tumblr and Pinterest for example have banned them. But a new study by researchers at Indiana University actually found that these websites may provide a rare network of support for those suffering from the widely stigmatized, and often fatal, illness. “The Internet is a very good place for people to find support from similar others,” explains Daphna Yeshua-Katz, a doctoral student at Indiana University, who co-authored the study, adding that those with eating disorders often suffer in silence and isolation. Of the 300 pro-ana bloggers Yeshua-Katz contacted, only 33 were willing to be interviewed, due to the private and controversial nature of the sites—but those she did speak with shared the belief that the sites allow anorexics to express themselves in a place where they would not be judged.
“There was no one in my life that I could speak to openly about what I was feeling and experiencing. I wanted to have a voice that I didn’t have to censor for fear of upsetting people I knew or having them judge me,” said one of the anonymous bloggers. But as Szalavitz points out, a support community of people who are still actively participating in self-destructive behavior could reinforce and possibly prevent recovery—since these friendships may focus not on recovery, but on remaining sick. “They go online to vent and they find friends. But at same time they are aware that being a pro-ana blogger might encourage their eating disorder and those of other vulnerable young girls,” says Yeshua-Katz, “I’m not saying it’s only beneficial or all bad; it’s a double-edged sword.” She adds that she doesn’t support banning the sites as almost all of these “thinspiration” photos can be found in mainstream fashion magazine and websites. “I think we need to provide [people with anorexia] with better ways to lead them into recovery online.”