Understanding the Skinny on Pro-Ana/Mia Websites

Posted: July 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

Superficiality is created in different realms of media, especially for those notorious photos shoots for fashion models. It is all around us and affecting real people’s psychology one way or another, and can be a factor that leads to anorexia or bulimia. However, with growing health concerns of young girls and women, who go through certain eating disorders, have become the interlopers of the “normal” world. Yes, the media portrayal of anorexia nervosa is negative, in which to even talk about anorexia, or to see an emaciated model walking down the catwalk or have a photo spread in a magazine is condemned by many of the public. Reading Michele Polak’s article, “I Think We Must be Normal…There are Too Many of Us for This to be Abnormal!!!”, I realized that pro-ana sites could be approached in a different way, not just the negative way. Yes their lifestyles may be wrong to us, but we treat people with these conditions as just girls and women with eating disorders – not just girls or women. Isn’t that what they are though? Instead of supporting them, we try to cure them right away.


In April 2008, France took the lead in passing a bill that bans the starting up of pro-ana and pro-mia websites. If the French government catches anyone creating these types of websites, they will subsequently be fined € 30 000, which is the equivalent to $37 000 here in Canada. In correspondence to Polak’s article, the banning of these websites discourages these girls and women to “create identity[ies], form community, and even encourage recovery among others.” Polak focuses on the building of identities through these websites and not on the medical aspects of their conditions. By eliminating these communities online, girls/women all over the globe and experiencing this condition, will not have the ability to discuss and to support each other. Instead, the French government and other governments who have followed their lead have further alienated these girls/women from everyone. They are forced to keep silent in the real world and the virtual world. Without having that sense of community, they may create even more harm than good for themselves. As Polak states, “within pro-ana, personal interaction concerning dialogue around recovery can occur without censorship or chastisement or being labeled as a bad girl or a sick woman.” I agree with what she has to say about censorship, in regards to these pro-ana/mia communities.

The idea of the internet is supposed to be a space where anyone can flock to, to be able to express their own opinions and concerns. Girls and women, especially, are the people who need this private, yet public space to create a community with others, in order to tackle the problems of the real world. Is it possible that by banning these websites we further deter their recovery?

Polak mentions Reid-Walsh and Mitchell’s argument that the online space is seen as a “virtual bedroom culture,” which they take from Harris’s idea that bedroom is a private space for girls to grow into women. As a space that harbours freedom of expression, it should possible for these girls/women to share their experiences of eating disorders and when they become ready, to share their experiences of recovery and healing. Therefore, maybe the government or the bodies that police the internet for this type of material should look more into what they’re shutting down, instead of judging the title of the website. Not all pro-ana/mia websites promote these lifestyles, some are just support groups. How can we make recovery possible for these girls/women, if we don’t focus on the word and the action of support? Moreso, I think it is crucial to also focus on the root of the problem: the media and the fashion industry who display these picture perfect bodies, which some girls/women attempt recreate in a self-harming way. Designers such as Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld have embraced the skinny and condemned the fat models, stating that “no one wants to see a round face on the cat walk”. These industries are notoriously guilty for promoting the perfect body image. Is there a way of reforming these industries to deter girls from anorexia? In a perfect world: yes. But in this world, there will always be agents that manipulate the minds of young women. However, I think that by accepting them and their forms of communication, their road to recovery might be a little shorter than when we condemn their lifestyle.

The link below is a perfect example of a recovery and support website that is pro-ana/mia and demonstrates  what Polak talks about in her article:

http://www.prettythin.com/

 

Viel T.

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Comments
  1. Karyn D. says:

    I understand that supporting people with these conditions in hopes of leading to their recovery is ideally what most people would hope these websites to be promoting, but the pro-ana websites addressed in the article are mainly support groups for people with these conditions who are looking for encouragement to continue these unhealthy lifestyles. So, I would have to disagree and take the side against pro-ana sites, stating that governments or whatever authority has the power to shut them down should – or at least strongly advise against them (since there’s not much online control that can happen, since the same thing is bound to pop up somewhere else in no time).
    I think that the fact that they are psychological disorders that are extremely mentally, physically and emotionally damaging makes it clear that they should not be encouraged by others to continue to think these ways and lead such detrimental lifestyles. We don’t encourage people with depression to get together and encourage each other to feel worse and worse about themselves because the attention they get from being sad inadvertently throws them deeper and deeper into their depressions. We want them to join support groups where they can begin to get mental help in hopes of becoming mentally healthy again. I think this is what you meant by supporting pro-ana members to be cured and that sites that promote and encourage recovery should not be banned. But these would not be seen as pro-ana sites. They would be pro-recovery sites and they would, of course, not be banned.
    People suffering with these conditions (not just girls and women, but there are many males who also suffer from anorexia and bulimia) choose this lifestyle and are very passionate about it. If everyone around them who cares encourage them to get help and to recover, they may stand a better change of conquering this difficult obstacle. However, if they find a community, online or offline, that embraces this lifestyle and offers tips and tricks and support for being this kind of unhealthy, that will only be further damaging to these individuals, who should be getting psychological help to change their lifestyles, not continue them. Banning the pro-ana sites would not deter their recovery, it would hopefully deter their constant opportunities for continuity.
    – Karyn D.

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