banning pro-ana

Okay, so now let me upset friends and foes alike.

I am not at all interested in whether Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram, or anyone else bans "Thinspo" and pro-ana materials.

1.   You can't clean the internet
2.   Parents are in charge of what their children access
3.   This stuff is symptom, not cause

I understand the worry over it, but the objections -- and then the objection to the objections -- are mired in just plain wrong-headedness about EDs.

The amount of horror and energy that people put into banning this stuff is better spent elsewhere, in my opinion. All this media attention is only serving to bring more young people to that material. Plus, the prurient media attention is yet another excuse to show thin people - the media loves that - and is only meant to shock, not educate.

The ANGER generated toward these sad people and their sad sites feels really inappropriate to me. They're ill.

What bothers me most is the belief out there that pictures and disordered ideas on the Internet will spread or cause eating disorders. Images don't cause, inspire, promote, permit, or spread mental illness. Do sites about UFOs cause schizophrenic delusions or soap commercials cause germ phobia? The people creating and consuming pro-ana and pro-mia stuff are often quite ill, and that is sad, but they're not causing other people to be ill - they're providing a scratch to the itch that ill people are feeling.

"Thinspiration" and pro-ana stuff is symptom, not cause. I don't look at it because it is upsetting to see the pain and distortions of mental illness and feel helpless to help the sufferer.

Look at it this way: if someone is telling us that they are in pain, or see little green men in the bathtub, or have terror of their own body size, does it help to say "Stop feeling that!" "Stop telling me that!" "Those are unacceptable thoughts!"

No, we don't. We feel sympathy and, if possible, we try to help. When we can't - because the people are anonymous and unreachable - we respectfully avert our eyes.

P.S. Why am I writing about it here? Because I'm getting more and more media queries and forwarded messages from friends and family because of media on it.


  1. I absolutely agree with you too.

  2. I agree too, and was upset at a recent conference when delegates sat tut-tutting in an almost thrilled manner through two papers on Pro-Ana and then walked out before a paper on carer strain which presumably wasn't exciting enough for them.

  3. The biggest trouble with recognizing Thinspo as a symptom (which it absolutely is, thank you!) is that there is a second phenomenon which seems identical to the outside observer - people who are trying to lose weight, healthy or otherwise, enjoy seeing images of thinner people to help motivate them, and this is not necesarilly an unhealthy behavior. A related example would be the strength/fitness/bodybuilding community - what do they do? They spend their free time looking at images of others they admire, reading books on the topic, participating in blog circles of like-minded people....

    The reason people want to ban Thinspo is because they want a simple solution to a problem they clearly don't understand.

  4. I completely agree with you!!! It is so misguided on so many levels!

  5. As someone with a long term history of Anorexia, 10 years ago I became involved in a site that many might have considered to be 'Pro Ana'. To me it was a support site, similar to the ones I attended back in the 80s. You didn't have to be in recovery to get support, you could bitch and moan about feeling fat, what you were, or weren't eating, weights and numbers, what life was like with the illness, your fears, and frustrations, and so on. There were a few rules, such as no tips, and no encouragement, but apart from that you were pretty much free to talk about whatever was bothering you, and you were guaranteed to receive support from the group as a whole.

    Support ranged from sympathetic and empathetic, with people letting you know you weren't along, they felt the same, right through to people openly challenging your thought processes, and trying to get you to see things from another, more healthier perspective.

    There were members of the group were in full recovery, and I began to take notice of them, and to see just how their lives were improving by accepting recovery. I knew I had the support of the group, the people who had become my friends, and who I knew cared about me beyond my diagnosis, and I knew if recovery didn't work out I would still have that support and encouragement to try again when I was ready (recovery was always celebrated and encouraged where possible). So with that in mind, I started thinking to myself, "You know what? This recovery deal actually looks pretty appealing, I think I want me some of that!"

    So I took the first step on the road to recovery. It took me a year of what is often known as 'Stasis', which menat maintaining my weight, whilst slowly beginning to challenge the ED thoughts and behaviours, and also getting myself mentally prepared to go into full recovery, which I defined as weight gain up to my healthy set point, and full nutritional restoration. It was hard at first, but I had so many people cheering me on, it was like a battle cry - I CAN do this, just keep going, one day, one meal, one mouthful at a time, whatever you do, don't give up. If it hadn't be for that support group, that many would have decried as being 'Pro Ana', I seriously doubt I would even be in recovery today, let alone have made such good progress.

    I've been in recovery now for 7 years, apart from some minor hiccups along the way, for the most part I have maintained my weight at its healthy set point, and have also maintained a healthy nutritional intake of between 2000 and 2400 calories a day. I do still struggle with some of the psychological aspects - urges to ritualise around food, for example, difficulty with food shopping on occasion, eating still not always feeling right for me (it still feels like I'm doing something fundamentally wrong by nourishing myself), but I'm constantly working on these things, and making progress with this side of the illness as well.

    As for that demanding, all encompassing 'voice' of Anorexia, I've managed to take it from roar, to a whisper, to more of annoying buzzing sound that decides to rear it's annoying head every now and then. And considering I developed Anorexia Nervosa when I was 8 years old (way back in 1980), I was actively sick for almost 25 years, I was given two separate death sentences in that time, and pretty much every therapist I saw kept telling me I was too chronic a case, and there was no real hope I would ever recover, I reckon I've done pretty damn well under the circumstances. :)


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