By Sarah Miller
People all over the globe struggle with a mental illness known as an eating disorder. This illness comes in many different varieties, but the most famously known are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. According to Deanne Jade, psychologist and founder of NECD most cases of Eating Disorders stem from the lack of control one has in their own life causing them to control their food intake. These disorders cause those affected to become immensely obsessed with unhealthily controlling with their weight and body image often resulting in extreme dieting, exercising, binging and purging, so much that it often affects their social and familial lives (Jade 1-5). Within this, there are websites which essentially promote the continuation of dangerous behaviors of those who are already struggling and do not wish to seek recovery. Examples of these sites would be Pro-Mia (Bulimia) and Pro-Ana (Anorexia). The community within these websites give each other tips to stay slim, along with group fasting and pointing out insecurities of people who aren’t at par with their ideal body image in order to trigger them. Those involved with these groups seek to control others actions through manipulating others and expressing them toxicities due to the lack of control they feel they may have within their own lives and mental illness.
Pro-Ana leaders go as far as creating commandments for their group members. Many follows this religiously making “Ana” or “Mia” the goddess they worship. These people, often congregating on Tumblr and other social media platforms, have commandments that some users strictly follow. Dina Borkowski, an expert in mental health and media, cites Carolyn Costin’s book Your Dieting Daughter…Is She Dying for Attention”?
- If you aren’t thin you aren’t attractive.
- Being thin is more important than being healthy.
- You must buy clothes, cut your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.
- Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.
- Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterward.
- Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.
- What the scale says is the most important thing.
- Losing weight is good/gaining weight is bad.
- You can never be too thin.
- Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success” (Borzekowski 30).
These are the commandments in which many Pro-Ana members follow. This demonstrates the forceful aggression leaders use to push their views and own insecurities onto other vulnerable minds of the mentally ill to ensure that they’re in control of other people’s actions while acting as a God-like figure. According to Franzisca V. Roerich, a psychologist at the University of Southwest Australia, Sydney “Several other authors have proposed models of AN maintenance that emphasize the role of control within the disorder, noting that individuals use control over weight and shape as an index of overall self-control and self-worth , that they control their environment, especially close family members through their illness , and that the condition is reinforced through the individual’s intense fear of loss of control . Although the representation of control within these accounts do vary to some extent, they share the underlying premise that obsessive restriction over food and weight represent strategies to cope with generalized feelings of perceived lack of control. In the absence of adaptive personal control strategies, the individual may be driven to enact ritualistic body control as an auxiliary control mechanism,” (Roerich 5). This goes to show the need for control people generally have in eating disorders
In addition to taking over easily manipulated minds, leaders will sometimes have odd and back and forth attitudes, sometimes being strict and using harmful, toxic approaches and other times being supportive of their “improvement” with a “can do” attitude. It can be very harmful and almost impossible to want to recover while in situations like these. Nadja Brenneisenn, a German editor for Vice joined a Pro-Ana group chat through WhatsApp” and translated the texts into English, “So, everyone: STARTING TOMORROW, EVERYONE FASTS. UNLESS YOU’VE GOT A GOOD EXCUSE!! If you can’t, try to eat as little as possible. “Ok?” As the text’s go on, a group member states that her parents force feed her, so she cannot partake in the fasting. She goes on to say that she hopes she isn’t kicked out for not following the guidelines of the group” (2015). The leader of this chat specifically is extremely pushy for the rules of this group, even typing in all caps to show the importance of the message. The other member replies, almost in fear of being kicked out. Groups like these where everyone shares a common goal, age and interests can be difficult to leave because through these subcultures, with good intentions or not, people make friends and share bonds. These people may become friends which can be more influential on others and more likely to experience peer pressure, making it harder for someone already mentally sick to leave Pro-Ana. The leader of this group is essentially forcing everyone to follow her standards and goals.
Furthermore, pro-ED (Eating Disorder) groups often encourage members to have “thinspos” or “thinspiration’s”. Thinspos are often times a model or an actress, that are thin or even underweight that these members strive to be like. These are encouraged so that the members will have more motivation to achieve their goal appearance and weight. A young girl by the user of “THESKINNYME4EVER”, who blogs about the unhealthy journey of her weight loss, posted pictures daily in 2014 of models and other thin women with comments like, “I NEED to be skinnier than them”, “her waist is soooo small, I am not going to eat until I’m like her” “look how thin she is” along with many more comments about their appearances (SKINNYME4EVER 2014). Within her blog, she is constantly comparing herself to other women, posting workout regiments and low calorie “meals”. These encourage others to want to do the same because they are just thrown photos of skinny women with comments of a girl saying that she isn’t good enough because she isn’t skinny like them, going on to manipulate others involved in the conversation.
Ultimately, pro eating disorder group members, especially the leaders struggle with control in their own lives, so they attempt to control other vulnerable minds by manipulating and promoting their own toxic insecurities. Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia groups are all people who want to form a community based on their similar situations. These intend to promote the toxic behaviors of their mental illness. Leaders exert power and dominance to withhold a god-like status while showing back and forth behavior, both supportive and vile, and force unrealistic body expectations down the throats of young impressionable minds all in all manipulating the members into delving further in their illness.
Borzekowski, Dina. “e-Ana and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro–Eating Disorder Web Sites.” LCC Authentication, 2010, www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.lcc.idm.oclc.org/pmc/articles/PMC2901299/?tool=pmcentrez&report=abstract.
Brenneisen, Nadja. “I Spent a Week Undercover in a Pro-Anorexia WhatsApp Group.” Vice, 8 July 2015,www.vice.com/en_us/article/vdx7ex/i-spent-a-week-in-a-pro-ana-whatsapp-group-talking-to-the-goddess-of-emaciation-876.
Froreich, Franzisca V, et al. “Dimensions of Control and Their Relation to Disordered Eating Behaviours and Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms.” Journal of Eating Disorders, BioMed Central, 3 May 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853853/.
Jade, Deanna. “Why People Get Eating Disorders.” National Centre for Eating Disorders, 2019, eating-disorders.org.uk/information/why-people-get-eating-disorders/love2bethin4life. “Thinspiration.” Theskinnyme4ever, 30 Mar. 2015, theskinnyme4ever.wordpress.com/.
Professor Melissa Lucken had this to say about Sarah Miller’s work: ” I really appreciated her bravery as she struggled and wrestled with this tough topic. She was willing to find her own structure and accept that the writing might be lumpy as she worked with putting all the ideas together. Perhaps she could have condensed the list or added more analysis about it. I would have appreciated more information about the blog sites, or discussion and analysis. But I liked this piece because she had to find her own shape for the research and the writing.” She wished Sarah had stopped at point 10 in the list and then talked more about it and perhaps more reflection about the list before moving on. She’d have liked more details about what Sarah saw on the sites and more help for the readers in understanding and thinking about all that Sarah had found in her research.