Feb 26, 2008

Pro-Anorexia Messaging On Web, In Teen Mags

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Amazingly, in recent years, Eating Disorders (ED) have gone from disturbing to almost glamorous. Given the user-driven content of the internet, pro-anorexic websites have provided millions with tips and the tools to achieve unhealthy behaviors. In response to these “support groups,” social networking sites are being forced to monitor their group pages.

Given Facebook’s popularity among the teen/college crowd, one would naturally think first to look there for pro-“ana” sites, right? (ana is slang for anorexia) Well, no, not me. As an avid F’book user, the option never crossed my mind. Given I’m not looking to join a pro-ana site, but I didn’t even think Facebook had them!
B-eat, an eating disorder charity is calling on MySpace and Facebook to do something about the pro-anorexia groups. As of right now, both social networking sites remove content that is seen as “dangerous”, or could encourage young people to do dangerous things, but these groups until now have been left untouched. Research shows that young women exposed to pro-ana websites feel more negative, have lower self-esteem and are more likely to compare their bodies with other women, reports BBC News.

To take matters into my own hands, I picked up my detective badge and went straight to …. Facebook. I searched the groups with the keyword “pro-ana.” Someone apparently made a group called Pro-Ana but it’s actually in support of a friend named Ana, who is apparently super nice and has friends who lack something most of us have, common sense. My search for pro anorexia provided more accurate results, yielding 49 groups.
Apparently there are 1,386 members of the “Facebook to remove pro-anorexia and bulimia groups” Group, which is great and all, but still isn’t a pro ED group. I found one group with 16 people that claims it is pro-ana… hardly a “community.” “Get Thin or Die Tryin’” has over 2,000 members. Their community appears to be fairly tight however it is not exactly pro-ana, but rather they want to end discrimination against thin people. Here is an except that I actually think is pretty funny:

“PURPOSE: TO END DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THIN PEOPLE!
Thinspiration: We love Gisele Bündchen and Kate Moss!
**IMPORTANT: PLEASE DO NOT post pro- eating disorder content. We are strongly against these practices. You will be deleted and banned. The title is a spin on 50 Cent's album Get Rich or Die Tryin'. For people who actually take the name seriously, they really need psychological counseling. There's no substitute for common sense. We also do not care to be politically correct.
Would you assume that a group called "Get Rich or Die Trying" is intended for suicidal CEO wannabes? Why does "Get Thin or Die Trying" - one word of difference - imply that we're goddamn anorexics?-Laura LeGault!”


Now, I did find one group that had less than 100 members but no real posts. The only post was from a journalist who carelessly gave out a few websites that provided pro-ana info. For my sake, thank you but I refuse to post the site given I do not want a young girl looking for sites of this nature and stumble upon it through my blog. Some journalist, huh? I will give you a little excerpt though:

“This is a pro-ana website. That means this is a place where anorexia is regarded as a lifestyle and a choice, not an illness or disorder. There are no victims here.”


In regards to social websites serving up social responsibility, what about message boards that are hosted on some of the most popular teen magazine websites? The boards at one teen fashion magazine (which will remain anonymous) were worse than any group I found on Facebook. These boards provide anonymity to the users. They were easy to find on the magazine’s website, and the category for fitness read more like a book of “thinspiration.” I can honestly tell you that I worked hard to find pro-ana groups on Facebook and failed to find anything that was harmful. Maybe a few girls like to be thin, and say it loud and proud. My thoughts in regards to Facebook are that it is public and people can see you are a member. Most girls who are suffering don’t really want their friends to know. Therefore maybe they will look at the tips but won’t join. I’m not an expert, but a message board on a national magazine’s website was extremely simple to find. In fact, the tips were listed under the “Fitness Category.”

In response to B-eat’s request that Facebook and MySpace take these groups down, I ask, “Is this a problem we should be seriously concerned about given its little existence?” Facebook has much worse groups and they are not revealing any dangerous tips from what I found. (DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional search engine but a girl on a mission). B-eat should call out teen magazines, who more so promote eating disorders with their monthly articles obsessing about image and weight. I have one magazine in particular I am thinking about that I feel has an obligation to make some changes in order to act more socially responsible. They are professionals and should be looking out for the betterment of their readers. With almost 2,000 threads and 17,000+ posts, one board reads like pro-ana website. And oh yeah, I’m talking about Teen Vogue.
***
I wrote this article yesterday and today I just checked the boards at Teen Vogue and here is one of the most recent post:
WARNING: to all new users.
Posted: Feb 25, 2008 10:08 PM
STAY OFF THE FITNESS FORUMS
there is a 99.9% chance that after being on here for a while, there will be a change in your eating/exercise/body image.
seriously, no joke
it doesn’t seem like it, but these forums will honestly mess with your head.


Looks like the problem is finally being noticed. Will the magazine take action?

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