This is a potentially controversial post. I like to try and write about things that bother me… it’s cathartic. I like to think that reading what I write could make somebody feel a little more reassured or a little less lonely. I know it’s not the most inspiring writing style, but I like to think it could potentially help somebody.
Anyway. I’m going to make it clear straight off: I am NOT pro- anorexia. I would never encourage somebody to eat less or lose more. I do not believe this illness is a lifestyle choice or a good thing. I really, really dislike pro-ana websites and blogs. They scare me and I think they’re dangerous places. But…
Pro-ana stands for pro- anorexia. Pro-mia is pro- bulimia, and pro- ED is pro- eating disorder. That’s where the simple part ends. Pro-ana has been defined in so many ways now.
At one end of the scale, there’s the twisted sites out to promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice, and give the disease to unsuspecting children. The other end is the ‘support forums’- places that fully support recovery, but are full of girls and boys who currently feel unable to make that step.
So which one is true?
… I used to visit pro-ana sites. A lot. I’m prepared to bet that quite a few people reading this did too.
Did I encourage people to fast or lose weight? No. Did I believe it was a lifestyle? No. Did I want to entice young children into eating disorders? Of course not!
It took a little while before the reality of what I was doing sank in and the ‘honeymoon period’ ended. I think that’s the same for a lot of people. For a while it was new. I was losing weight, I was feeling rewarded, and it was exciting. Yes, I was able to see people with low BMIs and think ‘they are too thin… I’m scared for them’- but I never thought to apply that to myself.
But of course, that changed… it had to. It always does. It stopped being fun. I wasn’t ‘choosing’ not to eat anymore- it physically was not an option. And that was when I turned to those sites the most. I wanted somebody who understood what I was going through, who could appreciate the shitty crappy disordered thoughts. I wasn’t ‘ready’ to recover. I didn’t feel I could. I just wanted to speak to somebody who ‘got’ it, and those sites offered me that chance.
Now I’m a bit wiser, I know there are hundreds of places where you can get that support… thousands, in fact. Helplines, recovery based websites, friends, family. But I didn’t know that then. I clung to pro-ana because that was all I knew.
I’m not denying that there are places that will offer the kind of thing the newspapers like to report about. But I am saying that not everybody is like that. Not every single person who has ever used a pro ana site is out to tell your kids they’re fat. I’d take a risk and say that the majority are not.
Are the sites themselves bad? I believe they’re very, very dangerous. If they were made illegal or all shut down, I would be happy. So yes, I think the sites are ‘bad’. But this is not about the concept of pro-anorexia or the sites that carry variations of its message. This is not even about the people who run them. This is about the people who use them.
I think that most of the people are just plain sad. They’re hurting. Eating disorders hurt. Saying somebody is evil for using pro-ana is telling them they are evil for suffering. It’s lonely, it’s crap, it’s sad. Most of us have been there. That’s why I clung to those sites for so long… to try and make it hurt even a little bit less.
I am NOT saying ‘go on a pro-ED forum if you have an eating problem’. Absolutely not. I wouldn’t advise those sites to anybody. I would encourage anybody who is on them to leave them and seek alternative- and to be blunt, better- means of support. There is only so much help you can receive when surrounded by triggers with every click. The bad definitely outweighs the good.
I think what I’m trying to get across is that it upsets me when people label ‘pro anorexics’ as vile, disgusting trash. I wish they didn’t just take what they read in the newspapers and magazines for granted. Calling somebody who already hates themselves a bad person is going to help how, exactly?
And if you ever associated yourself with that 'pro ana' label- I don't want you to feel bad for that. I don't think you need to feel ashamed of that. I definitely believe you need to keep strong and stay away from those dark corners of the internet- but I don't believe that you are not a bad person for having used them. I genuinely don't.
Hate pro-anorexia all you want. Hate anorexia all you want- I certainly do. But don’t hate the people who just clung to it because it was all they knew they had.
What do you think? Did you ever go on pro-ana sites? If you did- how do you feel, looking back on it now?
PS: if you're currently stuck on pro-ana, google 'recovery forums'. There are lots with varying degrees of 'strictness'. There are helplines and anonymous chat forums that can be useful too. Speaking to a friend or family member can be hard but helpful. If you're of school age, there might be a counselling department you could contact for confidential help. Pro-ana isn't something that makes you a bad person- but it's something that is ultimately only damaging you further.