Some of the readers may have heard about the so-called Pro-Ana sites - since I have seen many misunderstandings and misjudgings about Pro-Ana, I find it necessary and useful to write some info about it.
The first generation of Pro-Ana sites appeared on the web in the early 2000-s. These sites were real selfhelp-groups: for the anorexics, by the anorexics. In reality, this was the very first occasion when they had the opportunity to write and read about their illness without secrets and taboos. Later, there were many harnesses and misunderstandings - especially in the USA, so most of the "1st generation" Pro-Ana sites are now down. Some of them can be accessed in the web archives. (I have very good reasons for not mentioning names, URL-s and now inactive URL-s. Those who are really interested, will probably do their homeworks without my help. Those who don't wish to dive deeper... well, I am not aiming to satisfy their plain curiosity. Sorry for being so mean.)
There are many who misunderstand the term "Pro-Ana" and therefore they are horrified by the fact that such sites exist. These naive and ignorant persons think that "Pro-Ana" stands for "promoting" anorexia.
They do not know that anorexia cannot be "learnt", so none of the real Pro-Ana sites were "anorexia courses online". They were, and many of them still are help-for-selfhelp groups, mainly focusing on the question "how to survive the everyday hell we are living in?" So, you can never read anything like "come and be anorexic, it is a very cool thing!"
Of course, some Pro-Ana tips may be very confusing and insane for a "normal" person - but you all must know that these tips are very often the "lesser bad" things. This is the bloody reality, sometimes literally bloody reality. For example, I agree it is a terrible idea to look at pictures of sickly obese people (to make yourself disgusted from food...) but if I consider that this may prevent an anorexic to expose herself to more days of extra self-hatred and self-punishment, the whole thing starts to seem "slightly different", doesn't it?
I want everyone to understand: an anorexic mind works in a different way than a so-called "healthy" mind. For an anorexic person, food is not simply "food", but also the symbol of sin, laziness, greed, selfishness - and who knows how many other bad things we wish to avoid. Anyway, food becomes the symbol of bad things, and we try our best to keep ourself away from bad things. If we fail, we take revenge on ourselves - by more days of fasting, by throwing up, or by various ways of automutilation.
As long as one is not prepared and not motivated to recover, these sites can save lives. I am speaking of my own experience, too.
Being anorexic means being constantly in pain. Not only physically meaning (though feeling sick and weak all the time, and gradually falling back to the level of a helpless child is terrible enough by itself.) Anorexia also brings an enormous amount of emotional pain. Among others, it helps you to become very lonely, lonelier than you have ever been. The outside world usually does not understand what happens inside us; they neglect, refuse, mock, or force us - even the attempts to help may have catastrophal results. Many of us have spent long hours thinking and trying to imagine "how it feels to be normal?"
"Why are you doing this?", and "You destroy yourself!", and "You cannot do this to your family/friends/spouse" - I think most anorexics have heard such comments many times. Even if they are not meant to be offensive, these comments ruin our self-esteem even more. An anorexic is always convinced that (s)he can never be good enough, and any kind of negative feedback can be an evidence. "You see how worthless you are?" If we got so much negative feedback - and we take negative feedback too seriously -, of course we withdraw from the outer life, or try to hide what is happening to us. To have a community where we can share our thoughts and find understanding - can mean a lot.
It is a myth that anorexics are not aware of their illness. If it was true, then there would not be any Pro-Ana sites. If we did not know what it is, we would not want to discuss it on forums or chatrooms.
In my opinion, Pro-Ana sites might be useful for those who are:
i.) really anorexics.
Those who do not suffer from eaating disorders, only wish to lose a few kilos, would better not visit Pro-Ana sites. Not even for getting really good diet tips! I assume many dieters start to visit Pro-Ana sites with the desire of learning the best weight-loss methods.
The truth is that we know way too much about dieting. We know more than the healthy amount of knowledge. This is not what anyone would wish to learn from us.
ii.) conscious about that anorexia IS an illness and NOT a "lifestyle choice". For those who are aware of their illness it can be good to see that they are not alone with their problems. This eases many isolation/separation fears, including the ones about "there is no such other pathetic idiot in the world like me."
(Someone who is just at the beginning of his or her anorexic episode and actually feels okay and glorious, may find an extra encouragement on Pro-Ana sites.)
iii.) not prepared (yet) to have the willpower to recover.
To understand "this is not okay" and to have the nerve to change anything - these are two different things.
Of course, all communities are different! There are very sicky and really abnormal communities where the members compete with each other and motivate themselves and each other in self-destruction - but there are sober and clever ones too. It can happen that in an intelligent Pro-Ana community, the members warn that fellow who overdoes starving. If someone posts pictures about her fragile and tortured body, the sensible of the forum members will be those who warn her "now you really should stop losing weight, try to eat at least some vegetables!" This is the advantage of that anorexics are very good at estimating others' figure. In addition, it is much easier to accept the fellows' opinion than to accept that you hear from the ignorant outsiders.
There are also sites which are run and maintained by persons who, in reality, are not suffering from any eating disorder, yet they are dieting, they wish to become anorexics at all cost.
This is a very sad phenomenon, and everyone who has ever really suffered from eating disorders find it either sad or irritating.
I would not wish this terrible thing to happen to anyone, not even to my worst enemy - and there are these naive little girls who are longing for this living hell... very bad to see this, and I have many unanswered questions about it. Why they are doing this? Don't they have anything else to live for? Isn't there anything else they are interested in? Don't they have hobbies? Don't they have real friends with whom they could experience real fun and have real discussions (instead of the empty, shallow "what's trendy?" things?)
Partially, it is easy to understand that some outsiders find this so horrible that they would like to get all the Pro-Ana sites banned. Yet the roots of the problem are somewhere else: problems with self-esteem - which lead to eating disorders - cannot be banned from the internet or from anywhere else! This is why censore is not a good solution.
To make the things more clear, in the following I made a little glossary about the most common Pro-Ana terms.
Ana: anorexia nervosa, the one we love to hate, the one we hate to love. It is very-very false to think that we worship Ana as if she was a goddess. No. To be anorexic is closer to being demonically possessed.
Mia: bulimia nervosa. Compulsive and controll-less eating periods, compensated with self-induced vomiting, extreme workout or any other methods to get rid of the food (calories.)
wannarexic: mostly teenagers who cannot be considered as anorexics, but they do all they can to imitate the real anorexic behaviour. Sometimes they write desperating or annoying things, at other times they can provoke pity. When I read these typical wannarexic posts on forums "please help me, what should I do to avoid eating until 5 o'clock in the afternoon?" - I feel like shouting at the wannarexic poster: "be thankful you are able to eat normally! Why are you longing for that hell we are living in?!"
My other "favourite" is this kind of post: "I try to stay under 800 calories, and if I fail, I write 50 times 'I am greedy'." For your information, a real anorexic usually experiences the same thing like this: "I MUST avoid eating more than 400 calories, otherwise I will not be able to resist the urge to cut myself and/or hit myself so badly that the pain makes me feel nauseaous and my hands start to bleed and/or to exercise twice as much as I usually do."
There are different opinions on wannarexics.
Some say that the mere desire of "becoming" anorexic can be the first sign of being "not totally okay." I think it might be true - a healthy, down-to-earth person will not see a good rolemodel in those who destroy their lives by "dieting".
In my opinion, wannarexic individuals are more dependant and helpless than the average - and I mean physically, psychically and mentally dependant -, maybe this is why they look up to those who starve themselves. They can only see the control, not noticing that we do not control the thing, but the thing controls us (and we know that it is better not to resist it.)
thinspo, thinspiration: looking at pictures of extremely thin celebrities and/or everyday women (lately, "real girl thinspo" has been more popular) to gain motivation for starving.
In reality, this is a very bad method! It does extremely dangerous things to one's self-esteem. While you are watching a thinspo gallery, this is what happens inside you (without even noticing it):
"These girls are starving themselves, accurately the same way as I do, and their pictures are on the covers of trendy magazines."
I am starving, the same way as they do, yet my pictures are not on the covers of magazines.
So... I must worth much less than them, and even if I starve myself to death, it will not make me look any better."
another well-known way of destructing your self-image. Scaring yourself from eating, by looking at pictures of abnormally and sickly obese women. "You surely do not want to look like this, do you?" This is a very brutal self-destruction, especially when you are very tired of starving yourself. The usage of "reverse thinspo" strengthens and stabilizes the problems with self-image.
fast: not eating anything, living on water or juices or tea for days or weeks. Many experiences show that fasting for more days can easily result in enormous binges or self-induced vomiting. (Or being taken to hospital. Or both.)
food porn: another typical method for psychical self-torturing. We may call "food porn" everything you do in aim to compensate your craving for food. Collecting recipes, looking at pictures of delicious and nice-looking meals, cooking for others, anything... until your cravings turn to disgust.
It is good to know that many anorexics choose to work in patisseries, bakeries, pizzerias or fast food restaurants in order to get their daily amount of food porn regularly. This can stabilize the symptoms very effectively. (For an anorexic, it gives an extreme feeling of "achievement" to be surrounded by food all day long and to resist the temptation of eating. Furthermore, it happens even to "normal" persons that after a few months of working in a patisserie, they cannot even look at cakes or icecream.)
binge: rapid eating without control. It may differ for everyone, what they consider as a binge - an anorexic person may take eating a normal meal for a "binge".