Why Pro-Eating Disorder Websites Should Be Shut Down

March 2, 2017

Pro eating disorder websites, such as pro-Ana (anorexia) or pro-Mia (bulimia), have been popping up all over the internet recently. These websites glorify eating disorders and promote extremely thin figures, as well as ways to achieve the body they consider “ideal”. Through pictures and texts, these sites encourage tips and tricks on how to starve yourself in order to become dangerously thin. Although these sites can be harmful to viewers like young vulnerable girls, some may argue that they are a safe haven for teens who struggle with eating disorders and body image issues. However, these sites should be regulated and shut down because in truth, they are not a safe haven for anybody. Pro-Ana/Mia websites promote, normalize, and romanticize eating disorders as well as the idea of becoming anorexic or bulimic to achieve a low weight. In this case, the right of the individual to post what they want on social media is not as important as protecting the rest of society as a whole.

Pro-Ana/Mia websites are tremendously harmful, and promote eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. On these sites, people who have eating disorders or wish to lose weight in unhealthy ways often post pictures and texts supporting starving, fasting, or purging as ways to lose weight quickly. These websites “have harmful effects on users as they intensify weight/shape concerns and negative affect, and introduce users to new methods of weight loss” (Depowski). These new methods of weight loss resemble disordered eating, or methods one with an eating disorder would use to lose weight. Therefore, they are promoting eating disorders as weight loss techniques. Many of these sites encourage the behaviors and habits someone with an eating disorder would portray. The majority of the pro-Ana/Mia blogs “contain tips and tricks on how to maintain or initiate new anorexic/bulimic behaviours and how to resist treatment or recovery” (Depowski). These websites continuously encourage eating disorders by giving unknowing young teens harmful tips on how to partake in disordered eating behavior, as well as how to hide the mental illness so you can continue an unhealthy habit.

Along with promoting eating disorders, pro-Ana/Mia accounts normalize them, which can be just as dangerous. These accounts typically target adolescents, teenage girls in particular. Young girls are vulnerable, and many are naive about the subject of eating disorders. These sites do a good job of taking a mental illness and viewing them as a “Lifestyle choice rather than as serious mental disorders” (Depowski). Telling viewers who come to these websites that anorexia and bulimia are not serious disorders, but rather something you can choose to do for life makes them seem normal and appealing instead of dangerous. Considering “a significant number of teenage girls visit these sites” (Depowski), it is easy to convince them that an eating disorder is not a serious mental illness, but a normal habit. Members of the pro-Ana/Mia community only continue to normalize it as they post things such as the “Ana Creed”, “Ana Psalm”, and “Ana Commandments” (“‘Pro-Ana’ is a Religion and Its Members are Misjudged”). Many of these sites even go as far as to claim that “pro-anorexia is a religion” (“‘Pro-Ana’ Is a Religion and Its Members Are Misjudged”). By stating pro-Ana/Mia is their faith, it leads others to believe it is simply a way of life, not a dangerous disorder.

Pro-Ana/Mia accounts also romanticize eating disorders and unnaturally thin figures, convincing young girls that being extremely thin is equal to being attractive. These sites post photos of underweight and malnourished girls, and constantly “portray underweight bodies as ideal” (Rhodes). These websites continue to state that being underweight is beautiful, and as they do so they find beauty in the mental illness itself. People in the pro-Ana/Mia community persistently equate thinness to prettiness, and believe “if you aren't thin you aren't attractive”, and “being thin is more important than being healthy” (“‘Pro-Ana’ Is a Religion and Its Members Are Misjudged”). Members of the pro-Ana/mia community have completely adopted the use of the nicknames “Ana” and “Mia” in place of anorexia and bulimia, which further romanticizes the disorders as well as personifying them. Many people view their relationship with their eating disorder as a “friendship” (“‘Pro-Ana’ Is a Religion and Its Members Are Misjudged”) that will grow as they love and embrace it. These websites and their members are influencing viewers to love, admire, and befriend eating disorders. Romanticizing these mental illnesses makes them seem even more appealing to adolescents, and they become more likely to develop disordered eating and bad habits. Therefore, these websites should be shut down in order to prevent more young teens from developing eating disorders or disordered eating behavior.

Although pro-ana/mia forums can be extremely dangerous and should be shut down, some argue against it and believe they should not be regulated. People may argue that it is the right of the individual to post what they want on social media, and pro-ana/mia sites serve as safe havens for teens with anorexia and bulimia. They believe pro-ana/mia doesn't always endorse eating disorders, nor should they be responsible for the disorders viewers might develop. Eating disorders are seriously dangerous mental illnesses that are hard to catch onto until it might be too late. This is why few may argue that pro- eating disorder websites are helpful because they are “out in the open for us to see” and make “it easier for us to identify and address certain problems”(Laksmana). With pro-eating disorder websites, people are able to see the issues at hand and offer help to disordered eaters before it is too late. Without these websites, the mental illness would be harder to catch onto and more difficult to help.

Many supporters of such forums will argue that, not only are the pro-Ana/Mia forums a good way to uncover these issues, but they also serve as safe havens for young teens who feel lost and deserted. Users on pro-eating disorder sites claim that “Pro-Ana is a lot more pro-support leaning than it lets on”( “Pro-Ana” Is a Religion and Its Members Are Misjudged), and with these websites teens with mental illnesses are able to feel supported as they know they are not alone. Moreover, members of the pro-Ana/Mia community say that viewers or users on these websites already have anorexia/bulimia, and you cannot simply become anorexic because of a webpage. They believe “outside factors in your own environment...make one eating disordered, not text and pictures on a website” ( “Pro-Ana” Is a Religion and Its Members Are Misjudged). Members of pro-eating disorder sites should not be blamed for people developing mental illnesses, for one cannot simply develop an eating disorder due to pictures they see, and therefore these websites do not need to be regulated.

It is also argued that it is the right of the individual to post what they want on their forums, just at is the choice of the individual to visit these webpages. In Theresia Laksamana’s article, she questions if owners of the web pages should really be “held responsible for the actions of others who read those sites” (Laksamana), because it is up to viewers to decide whether or not they visit these sites. Laksamana also wonders how involved the government should get regarding the internet. She asks in her article, “If government can regulate sites that glorify ‘excessive thinness’, what about sites that potentially encourage the opposite by ‘glorifying’ the consumption of fatty foods or sweets?”(Laksamana). If the government begins to regulate all websites regarding food, what else could they regulate? By involving the government so much, it is denying website owners of their personal rights of freedom to post whatever they want.

The rights of the individual are important, and owners of pro-eating disorder accounts should not be denied their freedom to post what they want. In Ayn Rand's book Anthem, she emphasizes the importance of freedom and one's rights to express individuality. Ayn Rand believes humans possess many valuable things such as their “thought”, “will”, and “freedom” but “the greatest of these is freedom”(Rand 95). All humans have the basic right to freedom, which is why pro-ana/mia accounts should be free to post what they want. In addition, people should have the right to do what makes them happy or feel good. Everyone is deserving of happiness, and “happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it...it is its own goal” (Rand 95). If creating pro-eating disorder websites makes those struggling with eating disorders feel safe and happy, they should be entitled to do what makes them feel good. Although people may not like what makes others happy, it is not for anyone else to decide. People will not always agree with another's viewpoint, but “it is not for [us] to judge”(Hesse 34-35). Pro-ana/mia advocates should be free to post what they like, and their sites should not be judged nor shut down.

Despite it being true that people deserve individual rights, in this case it is more important to protect society a whole. Individual rights should be allowed, but to what extent? If the content posted on these sites is harmful to the majority of the people that visit them, the sites should be shut down to prevent damage. Users of pro-eating disorder accounts say that they are actually helpful, however they only “pretend to offer support to anorexics, but instead prey on the victims of the disease” (Rhodes). These websites are like traps. While it is the decision of the viewers to enter them, they may become entranced with them by mistake because they are not as innocent as they appear. On the outside, these websites may seem like they serve as a safe place for troubled teens but in reality, they “do not offer peace, help, or hope for healing. Instead, even the best-intended are still places of darkness, hopelessness, and despair” (Rhodes). Eating disorders are too sensitive of a topic to post about, even if it is for support. Any support for an eating disorder may quickly take a dark twist and turn into a promotion of it, whether it is the intention or not. Therefore these websites should be shut down, and help should be sought out by parents or friends, not other troubled teenagers. In spite of some being worried that shutting down pro-eating disorder accounts will make it easier for adolescents to hide their disorders, it will likely have little to no impact on how easy it is to identify these mental illnesses. Members on the pro-Ana/Mia community typically do a very good job of hiding their forums from parents and friends, and “parents usually have little awareness of these sites” (Depowski). Thus, pro-eating disorder accounts should be shut down because they only harm the community, as well as themselves.

Pro-Ana/Mia accounts need to be shut down because they are threatening to the viewers and their health. The promotion, romanticization, any normalization of eating disorders strongly influences young girls to develops eating disorders or disordered eating behavior. This drives them towards mental illnesses that are serious and take many lives. Although people may argue that it is the right of the individual to post what they want on social media, it is more important that society as a whole is protected. Pro Ana/Mia accounts need to be shut down in order to ensure the safety of adolescents who may view them. Eating disorders cause the deaths of many young teens, and promoting them is morally wrong, as it puts others at high risk for unhealthy habits or even death. Individual rights may important, but no individual should have the right to encourage something that could lead to the death of another.

Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

SmilesForTheCamera said...
Mar. 19 at 4:42 am
I don't agree that pro-ana glorifies eating disorders (some of it does, but not all of it), as as a former anorexic and bulimic I'm still largely pro-ana - although just by reading your argument I can tell you have brilliant potential for both opinion pieces and articles like this one
Site Feedback