This post is going to discuss sensitive matters relating to eating disorders therefore I strongly suggest against anyone who is either suffering from, recovering from or who has recently been affected by an eating disorder reading this. I am most certainly NOT promoting anything in relation to what I am posting about and I have never been a part of it. But the first post (what you are reading now) will give an insight into the history of it, while the second aims to provide a greater understanding.
What is “Pro Ana?”
“Pro Ana” refers to “a movement that promotes anorexia nervosa as an acceptable lifestyle choice”. This may seem rather vague and funny until you read on and understand more about this. But to make things clearer for now, “pro ana” usually refers to the glamorisation, and even teachings of the behaviors associated with anorexia and other eating disorders.
How it Orginitated?
Centuries ago, long before the term came about, it is speculated that “pro Ana” behaviors were promoted. Such as under the rule of the Catholic Church in Europe, women who performed extreme fasting were phrased as holy. Jumping to the 1990s as the internet rose, people suffering from EDs and not necessarily in recovery began to congregate on chat rooms such as yahoo…
However as you know, most things deemed inappropriate on the internet will eventually get found out, leading to the removal of the content. This is exactly what happened around 2000. Chatroom users therefore had to find a new “space” to congregate, ideally somewhere a little more quiet where there was less chance of them being discovered. An individual website/blog was perfectly ideal. But from going from a small chat room to a full on website, created a whole new scope for content to be published. Leading to the potential for words and graphics having a far longer lasting impact.
The content which would get put onto the few websites at the time, was agreed upon by a few people who had initially met over the chat rooms. The illness was depicted as a “philosophy”, “art” or even “science”. Although from a grammatical point of view, the content was very well written (far better than how I write😜) which included phases like “mysticism”, “saviour that enlightens” and “esoteric, spiritual, or philosophical paths of self-transformation”. To sum this up, the content appeared to be embracing anorexia as literally a “lifestyle”, for the “elites”, as if it was literally being promoted. However reading between the lines this is more of a silent cry, as if the creators felt like there was no alternative for them. Therefore the only way to cope was by pretending it wasn’t an illness, and in essence strongly glamourising it.
How this took off?
Come the mid 2000s, these websites began to spring about all over the place. Which was probably where the movement became known and gained its identity. Yet the content significantly differed from the original websites that had been set up, as much of it was taken out of context. Instead of the text resembling a sad “reality” that the creators and readers probably shared to an extent, these websites were far more explicit, far further reaching and I would argue more dangerous. Images of skeletal frames (mainly of young white women) were shared around as “inspiration” whilst diet and exercise “tips” may as well have been named as “ED tendencies”. Young girls without EDs (labelled as wanna-rexics) were attracted to the websites, although it is hard to know the extent of how much they would have been affected. More chat rooms and “buddies” emerged, and even so called coaches who would claim that they would “teach”usually young teenagers how to develop an EDs by giving them advice and asking for body checks emerged; who in reality were pedophiles!
Tumblr and TikTok…
Not before long, much of the content seen on “pro Ana” sites moved onto tumblr. Here the content was potentially more damaging as it was easier for it to reach people. This was as many of the “pro Ana” blogs shut down. I think here the competitive nature really was augmented as young people could look up to the bloggers endorsing it, and it made body and diet comparisons easier still. This of course spilled onto other forms of social media including Instagram, twitter and even Facebook, however as you can probably guess, these pages got wise to it over time and took down the content which was harmful. Then for a couple of years, it seemed as if this movement had quietened down, due to the improvement of regulations, although of course it still occurred. But now we have TikTok…
Arguably what we see on TikTok now is the equivalent to what was seen on tumblr, although the majority of videos on TikTok certainly aren’t explicitly providing tips and images of small bodies which people should aspire to. At the surface we have people literally documenting their personal struggles; often their very small bodies and their unhealthy tendencies are also shown. Now there may no longer be a “community” where people can express their deepest thoughts concerning the illness, leading to the acceptance of very unhealthy tips and bodies, however these videos can give off a very similar message to someone who is trying to recover from an ED, which can be extremely triggering. However the nature of these videos could still be just as harmful if they reach the wrong people and what’s really worrying is that they may well be more likely to do so. Thanks to how videos on TikTok are presented to viewers through an algorithm. Which cannot always distinguish between seemingly between content with parallels, meaning that often someone who searches for pro recovery content will end up having far more triggering content in their feed. There may no longer be a “community” where people can express their deepest thoughts concerning the illness, leading to the acceptance of very unhealthy tips and bodies, however these videos can give off a very similar message to someone who is trying to recover from an ED, which can be extremely triggering.
As you have gathered, “Pro Ana” has basically been around for as long as the internet; and from this chances are is that it is not going to disappear anytime soon. However much effort goes in to regulating content of the like. Therefore my next post on this will aim to discern the causes of this movement, will argue how harmful this is, and will suggest what really should be done to rid of it.