The contradictory world of “pro-anorexia” forums
Before you begin this article, please be aware that it contains details about my own eating disorder and experiences on ‘pro-ana’ forums. If you struggle with disordered behavior or body-image issues, it may be best to avoid reading on. I do not advocate the behaviors I describe.
I have been using “pro-anorexia” forums on and off for eight years. When I started, aged 14, I was at the height of my illness. To this day, ‘Ana Sophie’ lies nestled in my contact list, the ghost of an online friend with similar height/weight stats to me, her phone number long disconnected. I wonder if she is okay.
It used to be that I only turned to the forums when I was having a relapse. They were a shameful secret, a dark phenomenon that had sparked thousands of articles. I liked the infamy. It meant that logging in was the mark that I was really out of control.
I was out of control, undoubtedly. Pro-anorexia communities saw the posts that tracked the three weeks where I spat most of my meals out before swallowing them, the two weeks of the “ana boot camp” diet I managed before I fainted, the week I decided that standing in a cold shower would force me to burn calories to warm myself up. Like family photo albums, the forums archived all of my awkward phases. The most famous of the websites housed progress pictures of my hip bones sticking out more and more, my eyes sunken and gaunt on a camping trip, my head strangely large on my body.
Before I go any further, I have to address the terminology. One of the main websites I used proudly claims the phrase “pro-ana”, though I am fairly certain that they adopted the label after it had already caught on as the blanket term to describe anything which didn’t outright condemn and discourage disordered eating. The other websites I used were less keen on the term, not accepting the idea that they were promoting eating disorders though they would almost certainly be described as “pro-ana” websites regardless. I make this distinction clear not to claim that these websites don’t at least in part promote harm, but to acknowledge that they are nowhere near as deliberate or conscious of it as journalists might have you believe.
Ironically, the negative media attention only encouraged footfall. I, a…