The Dangers Of The Pro-Ana Community
The term “pro-ana” is short for “pro-anorexia.” According to the New York Times Magazine “pro-ana refers to the promotion of behaviors related to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.” Anorexia nervosa, often referred to as anorexia, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as an eating disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, anorexia is “characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.” Though anorexia can manifest at any age, research suggests it most commonly develops during adolescence. Young people that struggle with anorexia engage in a cycle of self-starvation that often results in malnutrition including a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. The pro-ana community views anorexia as a lifestyle, not a serious medical condition. Healthline explains that “since the late 1990s, people living with anorexia turned to the Internet for solace and support.” To remain connected with other people suffering from anorexia, they started blogs, developed websites, produced YouTube channels, and created forums. However, beneath this network of support lies an alarming subculture that dangerously glorifies and exacerbates eating disorders.
The content propagated in the pro-ana community is generally created by people who have eating disorders and lack medical knowledge and expertise. They hold a steadfast belief that extreme thinness is a positive choice and have recently come to rely on hashtags and keywords (e.g., “thinspo,” “thinspiration,” “thigh gap,” “ribcage,” etc.) to draw in supporters. The pro-ana community can be harmful to a young person struggling with anorexia as, its content often intentionally provides triggers that can worsen the disorder. Some examples of triggering content may include:
- Providing tips on how to unhealthily lose weight
- Encouraging negative body image
- Promoting images of extreme thinness
- Encouraging people that do not have an eating disorder to develop one
- Tips to avoid getting help
It is not uncommon for young people to be drawn to the pro-ana community, as it reaffirms disordered eating behaviors, mindsets and perpetuates unhealthy habits that are familiar and likely comforting to those struggling with anorexia. There are myriad adverse short and long-term effects of anorexia, and without proper treatment anorexia can lead to life-threatening consequences. The Mayo Clinic asserts, “One of the biggest challenges in treating anorexia is that people may not want treatment.” Although anorexia is considered to be a chronic disorder, with proper treatment a young person can learn how to effectively manage its symptoms.
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