Given all the education and warnings on the subject, it’s surprising that so many women still suffer from anorexia nervosa, a disorder that leads people to starve themselves. If left unchecked, anorexia can lead to serious longterm health consequences and can even be fatal.
Knowing all of this, why do so many young women succumb to this dreaded disease? Has the Internet played a role in fanning the fires of what its sufferers often affectionately refer to as “ana”? Young women are gathering on what are called pro ana or pro anorexia websites. These sites feature message boards where women can bond and share tips on how to lose weight. Whereas anorexia often used to be a lonely and secretive part of a woman’s life, now it has become a way for women to bond, a club anyone can join as long as they desire to be thin.
In addition to message boards and chat areas, these sites also feature “thinspiration” photos, usually photographs of extremely thin models and actresses. The Internet makes it easier to collect these photos and post them so they can be shared and admired.
In combination with the Internet, the obsession with celebrity in recent years has caused the pro ana movement to explode. Tabloid reports about young actresses who seem to be wasting away to nothing sell a lot of copies. The popularity of gossip websites has also exploded. People talk obsessively about celebrity, including how thin certain actresses seem to be getting.
Most of us can’t figure out why our fellow humans would willingly starve themselves since throughout our evolution, we have always tried to avoid famine and starvation. In a society that has an obesity problem, in which every plate of food is supersized, the idea of anorexia is both unthinkable and morbidly fascinating.
Perhaps anorexia will always exist. It is not a modern problem, after all. It’s just that modern technology seems to be making it easier to become seduced by the fantasy of bodily perfection. Hopefully, the same technology that allows women across the world to bond over starvation will eventually help save them.
Websites that promote recovery are popping up just as fast as sites that promote anorexia. The message is getting through to many young women. The more people who share their stories of recovery rather than stories of starvation, the more positive voices there will be on the Internet for the next generation of women.