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A Recovering Anorexics Viewpoint on Pro-Ana Websites

After reading “Behind Pro-Anorexia Sites” by TW, I felt that I could expand upon this review with my experience as a recovering anorexic. I have had two main struggles with anorexia (although, I still struggle from time to time to not pull myself back down into that mindset). I can’t blame pro-ana websites for my struggles, but they don’t make things better for anorexics.

My first struggle with anorexia began about 6 years ago. I had almost always been skinny since elementary school, so when I started to get a bit chubby in middle school, I was appalled. When I was skinny before, I was an average to normal skinny kid. I did not look like I belonged in a poster for starving children in some other country. But when I gained weight in middle school, people noticed. I got comments about my weight from everyone it seemed, including my own mother. So I went on a diet. But being a perfectionist, I could not just lose a bit of weight and be happy. People would tell me I looked great, and I took that as a cue that I could look even better if only I lost more weight. I started out weighing roughly 130 pounds at 5’4″. By the time I was in high school and at my all time low, I was only 92 pounds. I could take off size 3 pants without even unbuttoning them. When a couple of my friends set up a type of intervention, I was scared. They told me what I was doing to my body and what could happen to me. Somehow, I managed to pull myself back up to a normal weight without any therapy or intervention from anyone other than my friends.

It wasn’t until my second struggle a couple years later, when I started college, that I found out about pro-ana websites. I had broken my previous scale and finally decided it was time I bought a new one. This time, I went all out and bought a rather expensive scale with a body fat reader included (huge mistake!). I was disgusted with myself immediately when I stepped on that scale. I could not believe how much of me that scale thought was fat. I was also disgusted that I had nearly reached my previous weight of 130. By this time, I had the internet. I decided to go online and see if there was anything better than what I had been doing before to lose weight even faster. If hiding food was good and moving it around on the plate worked, there was probably something else that someone else was doing that was even more effective. And doing a search for this resulted in many pro-ana websites. I would go online and look at photos of terribly skinny people and wish I could look like them again (and even when I did look like them, I never noticed anyway, as I always looked fat in the mirror to myself). I would look at artwork done by other anorexics and I would submit my own poetry. I was glad when others posted that they were fatter than I was. I saw someone comment that they were 130 pounds and 5’4″ when I was 5’4″ and about 105 pounds, and I wondered to myself how they could even call themselves an anorexic at such a “heavy” weight.

With this bout of anorexia, I became far more depressed than I had the first time. I was still trying to be a perfectionist about everything, but there were several days where I was just too lazy to do anything. I thought about killing myself sometimes. I wondered if anyone would even care if I was gone. I dreaded people finding my fat body dead. I would go online and read about people with similar thoughts. Their thoughts would only serve to encourage my own. I would read about how to make yourself look fatter to others so that they don’t try to get help for you. The advice would go something like this, “Even though you know you are fat, some people are jealous and will think that you are too thin and need help. If you need to be weighed in front of others, add change to your pockets.” It was absolutely ridiculous, but I soaked up every word of it.

I would read through the diet tips as if they were absolutely the most necessary thing in my life. If I wasn’t on a diet, I was even more depressed than usual. I sometimes even scared myself at the time. I thought back to my friends in high school. But in college, I had no friends to warn me. No one was going to stop me. My dad wasn’t pleased with how thin I was, but my mom was overjoyed to have a skinny daughter. My mood varied with the scale. If I was up a tenth of a pound, I was going to have a crappy day until I stepped on the scale a few hours later and my weight was down a fifth of a pound. If I was down by a pound though and my body fat percentage had gone up, my success at the lost pound was diminished. My day was going to be horrible and I needed to be punished. I would force myself to only eat 200 calories a day as punishment. I often added exercise to this to further my punishment. When I finally let myself have any kind of reward, it would backfire and I’d have to punish myself again. Fellow members of pro-ana sites only encouraged me. If I was going to give myself a reward for something, I’d often change the goal. I’d allow myself to eat lunch if I got an A on a test. But then when I got a 98% on the test, I would decide I could only have a small amount of lunch because that wasn’t 100%. The less I ate, the less nourished my body and brain were. I could no longer get the high grades I desired, and this resulted in even more punishment for my body.

Finally, I knew in my heart that I needed help and went online to a website about struggles with depression. People there suggested that I go to therapy at the very least and then see where to go from there. A few months later, I reluctantly agreed. After roughly a year of therapy, I was up to 110 pounds and much healthier. I was less depressed and was better able to cope with triggers.

While I certainly can’t blame pro-ana websites for making me become anorexic, I think they greatly contribute to making people stay anorexic. I remember reading posts from teenagers saying that their parents were forcing them to go to therapy. Everyone would encourage them to just fake being better so they could get on with being anorexic. I’m not sure exactly what caused me to be anorexic, but I think I would have gotten help sooner if it weren’t for the encouragement from pro-ana groups. Now that I can look at this issue from the other side, I am absolutely disgusted at these websites. They purposely post every type of trigger imaginable to keep people sick. They especially target their tactics towards impressionable teenagers and actually encourage low self esteem. While I know that whoever designs these websites must be seriously ill, I cannot help but wish this form of expression did not exist for them. I don’t think pro-ana sites serve to convert people to being anorexic, but it is not doing society a favor to keep anorexics from seeking treatment.