Not unlike the the disease it promotes, the online pro-anorexia community has a sneaky way of coming back just when you thought you had it beat. Prolific on Pinterest and Tumblr even as those sites tighten their regulation of self-harm related content, "pro-ana" accounts have become increasingly prevalent on Twitter, Dublin, Ireland radio station 98FM reported.
Pro-ana Twitter users post photos and quotes, often with the hashtag #ProAna or #ProMia (pro-bulimia). Below are some examples. Warning: The following may be triggering to those who struggle with disordered eating.
So I just realized my new 'size 1' jeans were on the wrong hanger when I bought them. Tag says size 2. #fatass
— Pro Ana Only (@AnaMePretty) January 4, 2013
Pro-anorexia sites and accounts -- whose users and audiences sometimes refer to their content as "thinspiration" -- encourage readers to lose unhealthy amounts of weight and discourage them from seeking treatment for their eating disorders. The sites post photos of underweight girls (Kate Moss in an "I Beat Obesity" t-shirt, for example), ideal measurements and "thinspirational" quotes ("nothing tastes as good as skinny feels"). Some of the most disturbing images are of readers themselves -- often teenage girls -- who photograph their increasingly thin frames over time and despair that they will never be thin enough. The back-and-forth between readers creates a sense of camaraderie that can lead to devastating behaviors, like extreme dieting competitions and sharing of 'tricks of the trade' -- tips for starving or purging that result in greater or faster weight loss and/or for hiding those behaviors and their effects."
While to the outsider these communities seem wholly destructive, there is some concern that to disband them -- or attempt to -- is to remove any form of support for those suffering from a disease that is traditionally rooted in secrecy and isolation. In an Indiana University study published in August, interviews with pro-ana bloggers revealed that they felt the thinspo community aided their recovery. Writing about that study, Blisstree's Elizabeth Nolan Brown reported that she once frequented pro-ana sites herself and argued, "Is part of this about swapping eating disorder tips? Of course. But in addition ... it’s about building friendships, building community, building a support system. It’s about realizing that you are not the only one who feels and behaves this way.
Still, sites designed to offer support to those in recovery make sure to distinguish themselves from pro-ana sites. "Pro-ana, ana buddy systems & similar topics, are not permitted here. Our community provides support for those struggling with an eating disorder, never to advocate for them," emphasizes one website.
One of the primary reasons that pro-ana content can thrive on Twitter is that, unlike Pinterest and Tumblr, the social micro-publishing site is not moderated. When asked by 98FM News whether it would ban the use of these hashtags, Twitter said it doesn't comment on "specific terms or accounts."
What do you think? Should Twitter regulate pro-ana accounts?
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association's toll free, confidential Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.