Maggie Baumann, MA: As someone with a past history of anorexia, I remember going online to seek information about eating disorders. I could do it in the privacy of my home, it's anonymous and it was a way for me to understand the disease I had (or was trying to accept I had). During my "surfing" expeditions for information, I only looked at pro-recovery websites (such as SomethingFishy.com).
However, some people with eating disorders veer away from the recovery sites and go to sites that actually promote eating disorders. In the Internet world of eating disorders, these sites are called "Pro-Ana" (pro-anorexia) and "Pro-Mia" (pro-bulimia).
Pro-Ana/-Mia sites form a special "supportive" community within themselves, providing extreme dieting and exercise tips and "dangerous weight-loss secrets" designed to help readers achieve extremely thin or skeletal appearances. On many of the sites, you'll see the active promotion of "thinspiration" -- a catchall term used to describe the emaciated images of models, celebrities and regular people that serve to encourage readers in their own extreme weight-loss efforts.
Pro-Ana/-Mia sites were featured this morning on "Today":
According to the National Eating Disorder Awareness Association (NEDA), a national organization that focuses on the prevention, treatment and awareness of eating disorders, a recent study estimated that Pro-Ana/-Mia websites outnumber pro-recovery sites at a ratio of 5 to 1. These sites started popping up in the early days of the Internet; by 2001, they were becoming increasingly visible. Due to public pressure, Yahoo! and many other site hosts starting shutting down existing Pro-Ana/-Mia sites, and banned new ones. However, the sites continued popping up under the radar screen of those attempting to shut them down.
NEDA states, "The sites show pictures of very thin supermodels, or 'thinspiration' intended to invoke the desire to lose more weight. They encourage the behavior through chat rooms, poems, weight-loss diaries and personal stories. Although most of these sites give explicit warnings that they are Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia and may contain triggers for relapse, it is still very important to be aware of them, because they may pose a threat to anyone who is in recovery. Many of these sites are transient, and new ones emerge as older sites disappear online."
A recent NEDA press release pointed out that the Internet is public domain, meaning that users have free rein to post content and create websites on whatever topics they choose, no matter how harmful or dangerous.
If you are a mom obsessing over your weight and modeling poor body image for your daughter (or son), know that your actions are being noticed and watched. If you focus on your child's looks or promote dieting, these acts increase anxiety in your child and lower her self-esteem. These are the types of kids who can be more at risk of developing an eating disorder and coming into contact with Pro-Ana/-Mia sites.