Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

pro-ana?


So here it is.  The promised entry stating what I think about pro-ana and pro-mia sites.  I’m sure I’ll get a lot of comments with questions or alternating view points because I tend to have some controversial opinions regarding these sites.

Here’s a couple of things I want to throw out there, however, before we all start jumping down anyone’s throat who says they have a pro-ana site or are a frequent visitor of one:

A) When a lot of us were ill, before we wanted to recover and during the ambivalent stages of recovery, we went to pro-ana and pro-mia sites.

B) A LOT of users at pro-recovery sites such as Something Fishy (an absolutely wonderful site.  I have one of their stickers on my laptop.) also visit pro-ana and pro-mia sites at the same time.

(And for simplicity’s sake, I will now use “pro-ana” to refer to both pro-ana and pro-mia sites. Ana=anorexia and Mia=Bulimia.)

Okay.  I don’t believe they should be shut down.  I don’t believe they should be censored.  For one thing, we’ve tried to do this before and the main sites reemerged within hours under different URLs, which ended up hurting the original reason for shutting the sites down.  At least when you typed in “anorexiasplayground” (or something similar) you knew what you were getting.  When you type in “famous panda” (not an actual pro-ana site), however, and suddenly get “thinspo” and “pro-ana tips” as a result, that can be problematic.  You actually end up reaching more people, the people who knew how to get there for the pro-ana information and the people who were legitimately searching for panda information but who are also susceptible to an eating disorder to begin with.

But there are two important reasons, to me, why I don’t believe these sites should be shut down or censored.

1) If you shut them down or censor them, we give the users of those sites the message that they should not exist and that they do not have a voice.  This is already a major problem for people with eating disorders: the silence, the voicelessness. Just because you may not like what someone has to say does not mean they should be silenced.  A lot of us grew up that way.  Keep it in.  Keep it down. What did that amount to?  Isolation.  Shame.  Eating disorders and other self-harming behaviors.

But they’re talking about eating disorders in a positive light, encouraging each other to keep the eating disorder, right?  There are sites like that.  I tend to call them the more militant pro-ana sites.  But the most of them admit that they have an eating disorder and that it’s not a lifestyle choice and that it’s pure hell having one.  Most of the sites warn people to leave if they don’t already have an eating disorder and state that you can’t “become” anorexic and that they will not help someone do so.  A lot of sites have memorial pages dedicated to the ones who have died.

What do they talk about?  Yes, weight loss/weight gain.  Food.  Sizes.  Exercise.  All the same things two people with EDs will talk about if left alone and if they are not recovery oriented, but on these sites, it’s in the open.  But more importantly, these sites are a place where people get support and get heard.  They can’t voice their fears on boards like Something Fishy.  They can’t talk about their ambivalence towards recovery there.  Because everyone is supposed to want the eating disorder to be gone, right?  Except think back and remember how long it took you to want to let go, if you’ve gotten to that point yet.  These men and women are honest in the stages they are at in their illness.

But if someone wants to get better, everyone tries to convince them not to do so, right?  Wrong.  Some of the main pro-ana sites have had owners who were pro-ana and then decided to recover.  Members of these sites know how hellish an eating disorder is, but they know they are not ready to let go. But when an individual decides she is ready and strong enough to try to recover, she will find support there, and will often get responses such as, “I wish I was in your position.  Maybe some day.”

2) The second reason I’m against banning or censoring the sites is related to the first.  Let’s say we silence them-which is impossible.  What would happen is that the sites would once again go deeper underground.  The sites would be more difficult to find.  That’s great, right?  Wrong.  Because then the individuals that use those sites are more difficult to find.  And if we can’t find them, then we can’t talk to them.  We can’t engage in a dialogue with them.  We can’t understand where they are at, where they are coming from, and what they need.  And if and when they decide to recover, we can’t be there to help them.

Silence=Shame=Death.

I was inpatient once with another young woman who had talked in groups and was working very hard toward recovery.  And the rest of the girls on the unit supported her.  Then in one group she announced that prior to coming into treatment she had shut down her pro-ana site and was nervous about going home and finding a different online peer group.  From that group session on, the rest of the treatment community shunned her because they were outraged that she used to be involved with the pro-ana community.  It didn’t matter that she was now throwing herself wholeheartedly into recovery, that she was compliant with all of her treatment plan, that she had shut down the site.  The therapists were not equipped and/or didn’t want to mediate the situation, and the girl ended up leaving AMA because of the now harmful treatment environment.

No, I don’t believe the sites are healthy in terms of the weight loss tips and tricks and the thinspiration pictures.  But read almost any eating disorder memoir and you will find the same exact information.  I have only read one memoir that didn’t provide thinspiration or tips and tricks: Good Enough by Cynthia Nappa Bitter.  It’s actually about recovery.  Open up weekly tabloids, watch the television, go to the movies, read cookbooks or cooking magazines or fitness magazines and you will find the same exact information.  Open your eyes and look around you at school or at work and it’s there.  If you want to use something as thinspo, you will, regardless of how anyone else sees that object or person.

We need to have open discussions with individuals in these groups.  We need to know what needs are being met in pro-ana communities.  Until we understand these things, we can’t meet those needs in healthier ways.  And if deny ourselves the opportunity to learn about these communities, we deny a significant number of people the opportunity to heal.

So there it is.  Lay it on me, folks.  Politely, please.

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November 18, 2009 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, identity, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

19 Comments »

  1. I was a member of a pro-ana site a long time ago. Then, some drama erupted on the site and a new message board was created. Maybe 10 of us came to the board, with a few people coming and going at different times after seeing the URL on old posts.
    It was still a pro-ana board even after we left the site’s message board. For a while.
    We would be up at all hours of the night, writing messages on the board.
    An article was even written about the board, by an under cover reporter.
    Then they changed the URL again to divert the reporter.
    Then it changed, as we all changed.
    Some of us went into treatment, therapy, counseling. Others found different outlets. New relationships.
    Slowly, we became more recovery-oriented.
    Now, it’s about 7 years later.
    I’m still in touch with six out of the ten girls. I’ve met two of them in person.
    We’re not as close as we used to be, but in some ways that’s good. We have real life relationships.
    And we’re all relatively out of our eating disorders.
    Some further than others.
    But still, it was valuable to me, at that time in my life.

    Comment by Jess K | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. I think, in general, the public assumes that the pro-ana sites are out there to recruit girls to become anorexic/bulimic. They think that it’s a choice and that it’s some sort of club. (Well, I guess it kind of is, but it’s more about finding others to not feel so alone.) The thing is, even if someone without an eating disorder wandered to the site unintentionally and did end up with an eating disorder, they were prone to getting an ED anyway – regardless of the site. I’m further in recovery at this point and looking at pro-ana stuff now shows me just how distorted the thinking can be when you’re trapped in the ED. No one who isn’t already on their way to having an ED will be brainwashed into it, just by what they see on the screen. Seeing pro-ana things shows me just how sick some people are and how the ED takes over, and it makes me sad. I used to think that way and it’s definitely not a good place to be. But you’re right, taking the communities away would make things worse.

    And I hope that made sense…I’m in a rush. 😛

    Comment by Jen | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  3. I believe they should be shut down and even did a presentation on this in school. I think these websites promote eating disorders as a lifestyle, when it is a disease. Its an insult to me having struggled with anorexia for as long as I did, to see some of these websites out there promoting this type of lifestyle. Anorexia/Bulimia is not a lifestyle, it is no way to live. Also the pics that are posted on these sites are not body images that are attainable. In a way it is false advertising, this is what you can look like if you starve yourself….no you will never look like some of the pictures, which are media altered. Starving yourself will lead to a lifetime of medical complications, hospitalizations and maybe even death. Its a shame for people without eating disorders who come across these sites, like children and get the wrong idea about food and weight. This sites are nothing but harmful and even if they may be “supportive” or make the people feel heard or like they exist, they still need to be shut down, If you want to be heard, or exist, thats what recovery is all about. Use your voice, write poetry, but don’t flaunt your sickness to the world. Make a journal of your thinspiration, but keep it to yourself.

    Comment by cheryl | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. You could pretty much say that everyone is prone to an eating disorder with the media and the way the world is about food/weight, add proana in the mix and it increases the chances. There are healthy support groups for people feeling alone, and they wouldn’t feel so alone if they weren’t so caught up in the ED.

    Comment by cheryl | November 18, 2009 | Reply

    • True, pretty much everyone has the risk of developing an eating disorder with the kind of media we see every day. But I know that a lot of people would probably be shocked at some of the things on pro-ana sites. Others are enticed. Yet they all see the same media. I think anyone who has/had an ED would suffer from something else (drugs, alcohol, etc.) had they not developed the ED. The coping mechanisms are there for some reason and there isn’t just one thing that sets it off. A girl doesn’t stumble on a pro-ana site and just decide to “become anorexic” for fun. She might try it since it tends to be glamorized, and then get bored and think it’s stupid. Those who fall prey already had predispositions to developing an ED regardless.

      Comment by Jen | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  5. You guys may call me naive but I have never seen any of these sites and God willing never will. However- I can venture numerous guesses as to what they are all about and what they include.
    At this stage in my recovery I think of ONE THING and ONE THING ONLY

    HEALTH
    Ok – maybe 2 things health and energy.

    Health = energy and we need both to live full happy productive joy filled lives. I have wasted enough time and stolen time from my child too on this disease. I wont give it any more time in any way shape or form

    From here on in- its positive energy for me. Even discussing this to me is a waste giving this type of crap-ola more time than its worth. Lets plow forward and focus only on the good for us both mentally and physically. There is a LOT to be read about, learned and gained from positive healthy web sites. Learn about organics, vitamin suppliments, alternative treatments good for the mind body and soul like aroma theraphy and massage. Look for good books to read, music to lift your spirits, crafts to start. Connect with friends- make new one. The computer is the worlds biggest library use it sure but use it positivly to build your self esteem, mind and soul- Why waste time and give power to looking at and or discussing these sites? Move on- nuff said!

    Comment by Lisa | November 18, 2009 | Reply

    • Why waste time and give power to looking at and or discussing these sites?

      Because we can’t deny their presence. They cannot be shut down. We’ve tried. Not only with pro-ana sites but with other types of sites as well (pornography-fail, make your own weapon sites-fail).

      Most importantly–why discuss these sites? Because the individuals who use them are suffering. They are meeting some need by going to these sites–nothing exists unless it serves a purpose. Obviously, these needs are not met in pro-recovery sites, most likely because not all people are the same. we have different needs. And we cannot ignore an entire population because we don’t like what they have to say. history has shown us that much.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | November 18, 2009 | Reply

      • YES- Alexis- agreed – sadly agree –

        wondering praying thinking how to help- what to do…..

        Comment by lisA | November 19, 2009

      • The people using the websites are only still suffering because they choose to. I do not feel sorry for them at all.

        Comment by cheryl | November 19, 2009

  6. I agree with alot of the points here!
    Of course, I will never say that pro-ana sites are a “good” thing that should be encouraged. However, I do think that putting all the focus on just shutting them all down is a bit short-sighted.
    For example: Every forum software I’m aware of requires an email and/or other contact info for registration. So, if a pro-ana message board gets shut down, the owner simply emails everyone that registered and moves on to a new URL.
    In other words: not the most effective tactic for eliminating pro-ana sites.
    Personally, I’m a big fan of creating more recovery-oriented places that are more welcoming of people in ANY stage of the illness. We created The Joy Project message boards for exactly that reason– a big first step in the recovery process involves contemplation. And contemplating whether or not you even want to TRY recovery usually involves asking some very eating-disordered questions. Unfortunately, many ‘pro-recovery’ sites seem to shush any question that expresses any point of view other than “yay, recovery, 100%!”. In truth, recovery is a tough process, and it’s not uncommon to battle on a daily basis about whether or not to even continue. Members should never be banned or censored because they’re struggling to find a reason to keep going– that’s when they need support the MOST!
    Back to pro-ana sites- I think it’s important to address the issue of “Why do people keep visiting these sites?”. What need does this address? As someone who visited pro-ana sites myself back during the days before my recovery, I know that what I wanted more than anything was to just not feel so alone. People with EDs are especially prone to social anxiety, fear of how they will be perceived or judged by others, and feelings of intense isolation and loneliness. Reaching out to someone who understands ANY part of their life, and being able to do it from the comfort of their own home can seem incredibly desirable to an ED’d person.
    Personally, I’m a big fan of visiting pro-ana sites to invite people to join more supportive (and less destructive) forums. In my experience, if they know that a place exists were they are welcome to speak freely about all the questions they have about recovery and what it might mean to give up their ED, they’re usually happy to make the switch.
    Shutting down pro-ana sites is a noble goal– on the surface. I just personally believe that there are more effective ways to go about it, and I also believe that we can’t do it without trying to reach out to those individuals who congregate there. Let’s face it: If people were totally thrilled with their life, had high self-esteem, and had great body image, would they be there? Obviously, there’s a need there. Pro-ana is NOT the best way to fill that need. It’s a great opportunity for us to share with them a new place to go.

    Comment by Joy | November 18, 2009 | Reply

    • Good points!

      Comment by cheryl | November 19, 2009 | Reply

    • And I think we’re forgetting one very important thing: when they initially tried to shut down the sites, people who did so were doing so out of anger and hostility. What happened? The individuals using the sites felt attacked. And what happens when someone feels attacked? They freeze (go underground) or fight. Neither is productive in this situation.

      Joy, I don’t think these are “good” sites, but I can’t label them “bad” either, for reasons such as Jess said in the first comment.

      They exist. And we are not going to be able to change that. But we can talk about it–using language lacking hostility and anger and blame–and hopefully open a helpful and healing dialogue. or at least we can show people that we are here when they are ready.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | November 19, 2009 | Reply

  7. this is a take on the sites i hadn’t considered. it makes a lot of sense. thanks for voicing it.

    Comment by Marisa | November 18, 2009 | Reply

  8. I want to thank all of you for posting that have done so politely, even if you disagree. I’ve had to delete two comments because they verbally attacked me and called me names and ignored the content of my entry entirely.
    Disagreement with me is totally acceptable and was expected on this site. But I refuse to be attacked.

    Comment by surfacingaftersilence | November 19, 2009 | Reply

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