Vice.com journalist Nadja Brenneisen joined an online forum characterized as pro-ana. In other words, it’s a discussion group whose participants encourage one another to become faux anorexics, and exchange tips on how to do this. She calls such forums “extremely dangerous because they combine a desire for a perfect body with a teenager’s need to belong.”
People — mostly women and mostly young — are enticed into following a “lifestyle” that could more accurately be called a “deathstyle.” They coach each other in how to put themselves through ordeals more appropriate to unethical prison regimes, such as existing on 600 calories per day.
Ana, the nickname for anorexia, is personified as the “goddess of emaciation.” This deity demands and condemns:
You will stick your fingers in your throat and, not without pain, your food will come out. You need to do this over and over and over again, until you taste blood and water… You fat cow, you deserve all the pain you get.
Brenneisen, who lives in Switzerland, lied in order to gain membership in a discussion group whose youngest member was 13. She gave information that would place her BMI at 16.6, a figure that, in any other context, would trigger a warning to seek immediate medical help. But the website moderator blithely accepted this, assigned her a target weight of 96 pounds, and hooked her up with a calorie-counting phone app.
Once a week, group members are required to submit photos of their scales and their starved bodies. The rules call for immediate exercise to cancel out caloric intake, and many other actions designed to create a condition as similar as possible to clinical anorexia. Brenneisen’s research was cut short when, after only a week, the online group was shuttered because the administrator’s mother enrolled her in a residential program at a legitimate clinic.
The mysteries of ana
Someone published an item called “Ana tip #11“, written in the earnest and informative style of genuine self-help screeds. It advised blending high-calorie foods into liquid form, to enjoy them guilt-free because:
The calories in liquids don’t count, because the body doesn’t need to digest and break down foods which are not in solid form; fluids are already liquidized, and are ready to pass immediately through the body, which means that they do not remain in the stomach long enough for the calories to be absorbed by the body.
Apparently, a number of readers flat-out failed to recognize both the obvious untruth and the humorous intent, and responded as if the advice were sincere. Others pegged it as satire, but scolded the writer for mocking people who suffer from a genuine illness. She responded that, on the contrary, she was ridiculing the offensive behavior of pro-anas who share equally ridiculous advice with serious purpose.
The writer retorted that really, the pro-anas are the ones who trivialize anorexia by promoting the message that it is just another weight-loss method, albeit a strict one only suited for those who are truly serious about avoiding obesity.
Not surprisingly, the person who started an anti-pro-ana discussion group says:
There are literally no excuses for promoting, romanticizing and minimizing eating disorders… We don’t see people who are suffering from cancer promoting and glorifying their disease… Please do not be so ignorant as to promote your diet as anorexia, thus severely minimising and mocking a deadly disease… Go find a conscience, and take responsibility for your own poor choices.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “I Spent a Week Undercover in a Pro-Anorexia WhatsApp Group,” Vice.com, 07/08/15
Source: “Pro Ana; No Ana!,” Tumblr.com, 2017
Source: “Anorexia is Not a Diet,” Tumblr.com, 2017
Source: “S**t Pro-Anas Say,” Tumblr.com, 2016
Image quotation from an online forum