Written by Kate Fisch, LCSW – AVP of Clinical Partnerships, Eating Disorder Network
Due to the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia among young people, as well as other eating disorders, it’s vital to understand how social media sites can contribute to the development and sustainability of these disorders. According to a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study, young adults who use social media are much more likely to develop negative body images and eating disorders. Two examples of damaging social media that encourage eating disorder behaviors are Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites. Read on to learn more about these sites and their detrimental effects on children and adolescents alike.
What Are Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia Sites?
Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites are informal, unofficial collections of blogs, social media accounts, and other online forums promoting behaviors and faulty thinking associated with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Ana-Mia websites normalize eating disorder thinking and behaviors as “just a way of life.” These sites even suggest that eating disorders are a “choice” and not a diagnosable mental health disorder. They’re incredibly harmful, especially for children and adolescents who are more impressionable.
The Dangers of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia Sites
Both types of sites are incredibly dangerous because they:
- Glorify eating disorders and the associated dysfunctional behaviors, thereby diluting the actual risks of eating disorder behaviors like calorie restriction, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise.
- Personify anorexia and bulimia into “friends,” often referred to just as Ana and Mia.
- Offer advice on maintaining eating disorder behaviors like how to suppress hunger, lose weight, and hide evidence of vomiting.
- Provide “support” and visual “thin-spiration” to encourage visitors to continue their eating disorder behaviors.
These sites are also harmful because they constantly work to attract and maintain members. They undermine recovery by reconceptualizing it as a weaker choice than maintaining the eating disorder. Eating disorders often leave a person feeling isolated and alone, so Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites offer a type of “membership” to a community, creating a sense of belonging that a person with an eating disorder might feel desperate for. Additionally, Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia sites spin the truth and suggest that individuals who can stay at a low body weight are “special.” The members in these communities are led to believe they are part of an “elite” group and thus offer a sense of identity and even a feeling of personal effectiveness.
Social media, including Ana-Mia sites, is just another obstacle that individuals with eating disorders face on a daily basis. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, Toledo Center and our compassionate team are here to help. Contact us today at 419-885-8800, and we can help answer any questions you may have.