Worshipping “Ana” on the Web

By Maite Cirilo Alvarez • May 1st, 2008 • Category: Public Affairs

For many people suffering from illnesses, the Internet provides information and support groups as they struggle for a cure, but when it comes to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, the Web also provides sites where victims sufferers learn better ways to starve themselves.

These “pro-anorexia” websites (there are estimated to be 500 on the web), carry names like “Ana’s Underground Grotto” and “Proana Perfection.” They are usually developed by girls and young women between the ages of 13 and 25, according to information on www.biopsychology.com.

“Ana” is the nickname anorexic girls give their eating disorder, which they sometimes personify as a friend, guiding spirit or even goddess.

Here is Ana introducing herself: My name, or as I am called by so-called “doctors,” is Anorexia, Anorexia Nervosa,… but you may call me Ana. Hopefully we can become great partners. In the coming time, I will invest a lot of time in you, and I expect the same from you.” http://community.livejournal.com/proanorexia/2006/01/27/

Ana is a coach on self-starvation. She offers tips on better ways to throw up your food — “the more you chew your food, the easier it’ll come back up,” or, she counsels, “try purging in the shower. It helps cover up the noise, and it’s more relaxing,” (www.freewebs.com/fadingbeauty/tips.htm). Ana gives advice on foods that are easier to throw up, such as bananas, pudding and ice-cream.

She teaches anorexics how to make it harder to eat in the first place Try cutting your tongue and gums with a razor blade.

She can be strict, insulting believers for looking fat and disgusting. “No piece of anything,” she demands. “If you eat, all the control will be broken…do you want … to revert back to the fat whale you once were?” http://www.freewebs.com/anasupermodel11/anorexia.htm-.

“These websites have created a controversial yet flourishing, underground community of individuals who advocate anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than a psychological disorder” said Anna M. Bardone-Cone, psychology in the University of Missouri in an article about a study of the effects of viewing a pro-anorexia website in the Journal InterScience. “Much of their appeal derives from the fact that they are seen as safe havens in which to connect with similar others away from the judgmental eyes of the rest of the world.”

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder occurring most among girls and women. It involves a distorted body image and morbid fear of gaining weight, followed by self-starvation.The affliction carries distinct medical risks, such as mineral loss, low body temperature, irregular heartbeat, permanent failure of normal growth, development of osteoporosis.

One percent of female teenagers are estimated to have anorexia, according to the website of the nonprofit organization Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders (ANRED). Cases of anorexia in children and older adults are rare.

These online communities provide “thinspiration” (or “thinspo”), motivation to continue self-starvation. The demi-goddesses are extremely skinny celebrities, models, and actresses like the Olsen sisters, Kate Moss or Lindsay Lohan, who push anorexicsto keep losing weight.

Web acolytes post pictures of these ideal figures, with comments like, “She is my goddess. I wanna be a princess like her.” or or “Princess, I wanna be like you girls, but I can´t stop eating. Please help me!” are common in forums like Ana-Mia blogsite.

The causes of anorexia and bulimia, in which victims make themselves throw up, are varied. Factors can be low self-esteem, a certainty that the sufferer is ugly, fat and stupid. Anorexics, experts say, are perfectionists and extremists; in their minds things are totally good or totally bad.

Other causes can come through personal traumas , like a family death, divorce of parents, a break-up, physical or sexual abuse or some major personal failure. In this last case, anorexics reach personal success of losing weight in compensation for their personal defeat. Over-controlling parents or other authority figures, such as a sports coach, can also trigger the disease.

There are other psychological dimensions. Many medical specialists believe that ritualistic behaviors, like cutting food into smaller pieces or chewing food excessively, suffer from suggest that anorexics anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Others believe that starvation’s effect on the brain actually affects victims’ thinking, leading them to view the disease as a deity or presence.

With make-over and workout shows all across the media, anorexia also seems to emerge from the culture of body worship in the US.

The difference between genders in the rate of the disease reflects the differing physical expectations for women and men. Even an overweight man can be called “big” in a complimentary way, but women are condemned for being overweight.

Those deprived of proper nutrition can reach a point where their physical ailment becomes mental, according to the anorexia section in www.psychcentral.com, a website dedicated to inform about the psychological effects in some diseases. Their thoughts become jumbled, and they can actually believe they gained weight when they have lost it.

Other resources girls use to motivate their “diets” is post show overweight or obese people, sometimes retouching photographs to exaggerate fatness and issuing humiliating and repugnant adjectives and comments.

“We don’t want this for us,” one girl wrote about a picture of a overweight girl in the Ana-Mia blog, “becoming disgusting cows.”

Specialists fight anorexia with four types of treatment Psychotherapy, a good starting for patients who are not suffering medical complications, hospitalization for those having mental disorders, medications ( usually antidepressants), self-help group.

Self-help groups are deemed an especially powerful and effective since they help create a new and more realistic set of social expectations about the body hosting what many regard as encouragement to self-destruction on the web has posed a problem for Internet service providers. Yahoo began to remove pro-anorexic pages, after receiving a letter from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders in July 2001. The group contended the sites violated the terms of companies service agreement, which declares that Yahoo will evaluate and remove content “with the sole purpose of creating harm or inciting hate,” said a Yahoo company spokesperson the same day. All these pages that encourage anorexia were closed according to “Anorexia Goes High Tech”, an article published in Time Magazine

In August 2007, LiveJournal, a website where people create journals, diaries or blogs as, refused to take down pro-anorexic blogs, arguing that, although they would suspend these journals people would still have the illness and this was not the way to help them recover. “Allowing them to exist, however, has several benefits,” the statement continued. “It reassures those who join them that they are not alone in the way they feel about their bodies. It increases the chance that the friends and loved ones of the individuals in the community will discover their disorders and assist them in seeking professional help,” said a staff member of LiveJournal. These sites are still working on the web.

“I´m not sure if there is any solution for this problem,” said Elías Ocaña, 45, a Spanish nutritionist, currently working on a medicine for obesity. “People with these disorders have a wrong concept about diets. They don´t know what is the way to lose weight and they are destroying their lives and their families’.”

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