Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The New Myspace? The deadly rise of Pro Ana websites.

Casually browsing the internet looking for my next hot purchase from Ebay, I happen to stumble across at first glance a seemingly innocent site. Not unlike the social networking sites like Myspace where pretty young girls share their thoughts and feelings, posting up pictures of themselves posing, this site at first seems no different.

However, this is a site with a difference. The young girls are not happy and healthy, chatting merrily with their friends. They are suffering from a serious eating disorder: Anorexia Nervosa.
Anorexia has always been around; a deadly eating disorder that has taken many lives, it has a higher mortality rate than any other psychological disorder taking 50,000 individuals lives per year. It is thought that 7 Million girls and women suffer with an eating disorder, however experts can never be sure as many will never admit to having the disorder.

In an appearance obsessed society, where looks are the most important thing the mantra “thin is beautiful” is continually emphasized in the media. Constant images of abnormally thin models dominate, creating an unrealistic body expectation for young teens. It has been found that 61% of young women feel inadequate compared to the media’s image of beautiful women.
The “skinny” look is in, according to a recent study, over 1/2 the females between the ages of 18-25 would prefer to be run over by a truck then be fat, and 2/3 surveyed would rather be mean or stupid. Glamorized by celebrities such as Kate Moss who was criticised for stating “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” our society is a dangerous place for those with an eating disorder.

It was only a matter of time until the skeletal images from women’s magazines progressed to the web. The rise in popularity of blogging and social networking sites sparked a new and deadly trend: Pro Ana websites.
The first influx of Pro Ana sites hit the internet in 2001. Termed as the first wave of Pro Ana sites, they were designed to help fellow anorexia sufferers reach out to each other. Whilst before anorexia was a taboo subject, Pro Ana sites propelled anorexia into the spotlight, providing an “Ana” community for young sufferers to share what they were going through with each other.
PrettyThin, a Pro Ana website is a place where young girls can make friends with fellow sufferers; it is where they feel accepted and supported. Several members state it has “saved their life”, that they would not know what to do without it. As a one member Dollface states, when she is on the site she feels she is not alone, that people understand her.

“Sometimes when i'm on this site it just hits me, i can't believe there is a place where i can come and talk about my eating disorder; openly and honestly. it's amazing, and i am so glad this site is here for me to have as a safe haven. i feel understood. when i look at a comment on a post and its exactly how i am feeling or thinking i am just blown away at the realization that i am not alone. thank you pretty thin. <3>

False support.

However, whilst this seems positive that girls or boys for that matter can openly talk about their disorder. The website shockingly does not offer support for sufferers to recover; rather they encourage the girls to “stay strong”, to “keep motivated”, providing tips and tricks on how to in one case hide the symptoms of the illness.

“At a certain weight, which is different for everyone, you will lose your period. This is a good thing because it means that you’re losing weight…..Don’t let your mother find out about your lost period because she will most likely take you to the doctor. Never under any circumstances tell a doctor that you’ve lost your period. They will have you in an eating disorder clinic faster than you can say "What the hell?"

As the health professional body (NEDA) The National Disorders Association says Pro Ana sites ultimately provide a false support system that instead of provide treatment and help to recover, encourage the girls to carry on with the illness.

“These sites provide no useful information on treatment but instead encourage and falsely support those who, sadly, are ill but do not seek help."

Young teens, as like with other social networking sites, become hooked, they look to Pro Ana sites for a source of “support” where others will not criticise their eating disorder, but will help and encourage the individual to “achieve their goals”. As one member of PrettyThin says,

“I start every day by checking out the forums to keep me motivated. I never walk away from the computer after checking up on PT feeling sad... Everyone is kind and really helpful. Not only has PT helped me lose weight and achieve my goals, the people on it are all wonderfully supportive”

An unhealthy Community.

Pro Ana sites like PrettyThin are ultimately destructive as whilst they can talk to others with the same condition, this results in the girls sharing tips and tricks on how to loose weight. As Health professionals the National association of Anorexia Nervosa and Assiotated disorders (ANAD) argue whilst at first it provides a community for sufferers to feel understood and not so alone, it is ultimately is an unhealthy community that,

“Creates the opportunity to compare to more and more dangerous methods of weight loss, and increase the drive and interest, and increase the severity and frequency of eating disorders behaviours.”

The chat forums are dangerous for young teens suffering from the disorder as the girls encourage each other to “reach their goals”. As one member Empty Eyes found when she stumbled across PrettyThin whilst researching for a university project.
She initially had bulimia; however by joining the site she states how by merely hearing the tips and tricks “helped” her become a complete anorexic.

“It just helped get me past being bulimic and began to help me to decrease my intake just by hearing tips, and having other girls support me in general…. Over a course of four months I ended up loosing lots of weight and became completely anorexic”.

This depicts how Pro Ana sites are a negative influence as they intensify existent eating disorders. Empty Eyes shockingly posts how she “never thought she could do it” (become anorexic) until going on the site.

I never thought I could do it and this site helped me to feel accomplished with other girls almost "cheering me on".

The girls shockingly spur each other on to loose weight, either through the chat forums, discussion areas or blog posts. Whilst in some cases it is positive as the girls can discuss painful situations they are going through, it is dangerous as they share and compare dieting tricks, often providing new ideas for the members. One member of PrettyThin shockingly posts a dangerous fasting diet she is going to undertake, and asks if anyone wants to join for support. One response states,

“I’l join we can be diet buddies, it would be nice to have support”.

Glamorization of a serious Illness.

Not only does this normalize the illness; undermining the dangers of Anorexia but it in turn glamorizes the illness turning it into a mere lifestyle choice, chosen by the individual because it is seen as “cool” and suits their interests. Radical Pro Ana sites such as PrettyThin have been criticised for glamorizing anorexia as a cool, lifestyle option, as it states it is a site “for those choosing to take the Ana lifestyle upon themselves”.
This according to the Academy of eating disorders plays directly to the psychology of victims as those who have the disorder deny they have the illness but claim it is their “choice”, it is a “lifestyle” that they choose to adopt.

“One of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa is denial of the seriousness of the illness; thus websites that glorify anorexia as a lifestyle choice play directly to the psychology of its victims.”

The glamorization of anorexia by pro- ana sites is ultimately dangerous as not only undermine the dangers of a serious illness, but it turns a deadly mental disorder into a fashionable lifestyle statement. As in recent years there has been a rise in what is termed “Wannarexics”, individuals who choose and seek out to be anorexic, because it is now seen as “cool”. They hope to learn “how” to be anorexic via Pro Ana sites, picking up tips and encouragement from others to stay skinny.
This angers first wavers of the Pro Ana movement who claim “Wannarexics” are “probably sicker than the person who has the real eating disorder” as they are happy to be anorexic, they want and choose to have the disorder. Karen, a sufferer of anorexia and founder of first wave Pro Ana site argues this trivialises anorexia from a serious mental disorder to some fad diet chosen by the individual. As she claims “wanna’s”,

“seek consciously to become anorexic. They don anorexia because it is stylish. They “usually think [anorexia is] cool, it’s the thing, it’s a fad diet but it’s not.”

Karen argues ultimately “Wanna’s” fulfil society’s expectations that anorexia is something feigned, something that the individual can just choose to don because it suits their interests.
“They assume it’s feigned,” she says. “They think, ‘Oh, just eat the sandwich.’ And it’s not that easy.” She says how anorexia is not something you choose to one day simply have, but is a way of dealing with pain. Speaking from her own experience she found anorexia met her needs, it was a means of coping with her suffering.

“ I hated myself so much I would so anything to get rid of myself. So controlling my weight emerged as a way to deal with self- hate, pain, and in some measure to make life bearable”.

Second wave sites like Pretty Thin are often more dangerous than the original Pro Ana sites as they undermine the dangers of an eating disorder like Anorexia Nervosa, as the Academy for eating disorders (AED) says

“The Web sites pose a danger in that they promote anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle, provide support and encouragement to engage in health threatening behaviours, and neglect the serious consequences of starvation.”

The look: “Thinspiration”

Pro Ana sites like PrettyThin turn anorexia into an attractive “cool” look for girls to aspire to. Whilst the “skinny” look is already glamorized by celebrities in magazines, the sites similarly post up images of emancipated celebs as an act of “inspiration” for Anorexic sufferers.
Coined “thinspiration”, it is a common trait of Pro Ana sites, who often post pictures of shockingly thin celebrities and runway models. Pro Ana website Pro Thin Spo claims it has the largest selection of “Thinspiration” in the world and shockingly states it is the “Queen of the starvation scene!”; posting numerous shocking images of gaunt young women from the skinniest runway models to categories merely titled “Bones”.

PrettyThin takes this one step further, by asking members to post up pictures of themselves on the site. They have a feature of “picture of the week” and “hall of fame” in which girls pictures are chosen on the pretense because of their “artistic quality” or having a “cute theme”. The images are all of scantily clad young girls, some only wearing underwear with bones visibly protruding from their emancipated bodies. One image that is deeply shocking is of a girl lying down with their rib cage visibly jutting out. The comment exclaims what a beautiful shot of beauty this is, how it has “great lighting, great focus, great pose”!
This not only provides inspiration for the girls to loose weight, but instills competition between members for who has the skinniest body. The website seems to applaud those who are skinny, placing them in the “hall of fame”.

PrettyThin turns anorexia into a fashion statement, a certain way of beauty that others may not understand. They hide under the guise of “beauty”, claiming they are not a Pro Ana website but are about “beauty in our eyes”. This could be because many Pro Ana sites are being shut down; therefore Prettythin is changing its tactics to avoid the same fate.

However, sites like PrettyThin are ultimately more dangerous for young girls as not only do they normalize, but glamorize a serious life- threatening mental disorder into a mere fashion statement. As PrettyThin whilst it has the usual thinspiration pictures, has sections of “Bitchspo” and “Scenespo” pictures where skinny young girls either rock the alternative look, or take on a feisty “you suck” persona. This makes “thinspiration” images more fun, attractive and essentially relatable for young teens. However, this is ultimately worrying as under the guise of beauty and expressing yourself, it turns worrying anorexic images into something cool and artistic. The slang of “Btichspo” and “Thinspo” also is used to target the vulnerable young teens. Found on many Pro Ana sites the terms, ED, Thinso, Ana, Ana-mia create a sense of cool for anorexics. They are terms for only those “in the know” and ulitmately glamourize and take away the serious meaning of the terms. The health professionals Bodwhys (the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland) note that pro-ana sites,

encourages obsessive ness and minimisation of the seriousness of these potentially deadly disorders.”

To ban or not to ban? A complex Issue.

The simple answer would be to ban all Pro Ana sites, however this is more difficult than it seems. Whilst service engines Yahoo and Geocities reguarly shut down Pro Ana sites, as soon as they do a new site pops up in its place. There are more than 500 Pro Ana/Mia sites out there and it is proving difficult to control. There are so many out there, and sometimes it often hard to tell the difference between supportive recovery sites and those that are Pro Ana, as a spokesperson for Myspace says it is “often very tricky to distinguish between support groups for users who are suffering from eating disorders and groups that might be termed as “pro” anorexia or bulmia”. Like PrettyThin, they often take steps to conceal themselves claiming they are not Pro Ana, but are neutral or recovery sites. Also they become private, so only members can see the full content; making it extremely difficult for moderators to shut down sites.

Whilst there has been numerous campaigns for the government to take action and clamp down on Pro Ana sites; with talk of banning all sites and plans to introduce laws that fines or jails the owner of the Pro Ana site. Beat the eating disorder charity argue it is not the answer, as it would not solve the root causes of the problem.
They argue by banning the sites the government would be taking away the only refuge young sufferers have. “People who use these awful sites tell us it can be the only place where they feel understood, accepted and not judged” it would be taking away the only support the young teens have. Therefore they call for not a complete outlaw of the sites, but to regulate and provide more support online.
Essentially whilst many argue Pro Ana sites are dangerous, they alone do not cause eating disorders like Anorexia. Charities like Beat recongise that the root problem is in fact within society. A lack of understanding causes the young teens to search for acceptance within Pro Ana sites. They state that if there was a general understanding from everyone, sufferers would not need to seek Pro Ana websites for refuge.

"We are calling on everyone to provide that understanding, so that a pro-ana site is no longer the only refuge."

Cause of Anorexia? We need to look closer at society…

It may be easy to blame Pro Ana sites for the increasing deaths of Anorexia. However that is the easy option out, we need to look closer at our society at large until we can truly blame Pro Ana for the cause of eating disorders like Anorexia. Everywhere we turn thin, beautiful images of women are drummed into us. The cultural ideal of female beauty is instilled in us from a range of media, glamorized by stick thin celebrities in magazines to skeletal size zero models on the runways we are constantly told: thin is beautiful. It is a minefield for vulnerable young teens insecure about their body image. Therefore until society changes, anorexia will continue to exist and will keep killing young girl’s lives.
If you need help…..

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, or know someone who is please find support and information to help overcome the illness.

Telephone the Supportline Helpline for confidential emotional support on any issue. It also keeps details of other agencies, support groups and counsellors throughout the UK.
Call 01708 765200, or email
For support, advice, information and befriending to sufferers to families. Anorexia and Bulimia care can put parents of sufferers in contact with other parents of sufferers. Call 01462 423351 or see
For Information on eating disorders including diagnosis, signs, causes, risks and treatments. Visit
Visit a recovery site like Something fishy which includes support forums, information and help for parents and carers.

Sorry Simon who? Glamour’s top Do’s and Don’ts to get over the dumpee blues.

We’ve all been there. One minute you’re swooning in love, the next - bang -you’re out of the door. At the time it feels like the end of the world, all you want to do is hide beneath that duvet and stay there. But with Glamour’s guide we’ll show you how to survive that awkward breaking up stage and come out fighting.

Okay, so at first all you want to do is hideaway in your room, never to see light again. You’re feeling a mixture of emotions, but mostly hurt and confused. Questions rush through your head, why did he do this to me? Is there something wrong with me?

When you’ve been dumped,(oh that awful word), you lose all rational thought, replacing your normal self with an insecure, irrational self. Claudia Hammond, author of Emotional Rollercoaster: A journey through the science of Feelings, says that being dumped rocks your self confidence. “After a dumping your irrational self, goes AWOL. We know that we dump people who are attractive, bright and funny because the chemistry is off, yet when it happens to us, we assume it means were faulty”.

Do: Get yourself out there!
Don’t: isolate yourself.

Being dumped saps your self confidence. You immediately assume something is wrong with you. All you want to do is crawl into a dark corner, however Glamour states this as a mighty Don’t!
Instead of isolating yourself, the best way to bounce back is to get yourself out there! Don’t cancel party plans, wasting time feeling sorry for yourself. In stead, plan fun girlies nights out, to cheer yourself up. Also, your self confidence may be low, but don’t let your appearance go down with it! Treat yourself to some new clothes, and show him what he’s missing!

Instead of wallowing in your room, watching sad, romantic films get yourself out there by getting fit! Experts have proven that exercise is the best way to beat the dumpee blues. Better than any anti- depressant, it is scientifically proven to lift your spirits! As psychologist and author Christine Webber of How to mend a broken heart points out, “No matter how hard your mind wants to wallow the endorphins will inevitably fire it away, making your mind sharper, your body hotter, and sending a message to yourself that you’re worth bothering with”. So exercise not only makes you feel happier, but in the process you get a hot body, for him to brood over.

Do: Talk, talk and talk about it!
Don’t: bottle it up

Surround yourself with your gal pals. Whilst you may be embarrassed about the whole thing, the best therapy is to talk about it. As Webber observes, the best way to get over him is to “talk and talk about it until even you are bored of the subject- or all your friends have changed their phone numbers and moved house”. The worst thing you can do is isolate and distance yourself away from your friends. As women we tend to be embarrassed by being dumped - we don’t want to publicly announce that we have been ditched by our lovers. However, Glamour thinks it’s important to be open about our dumping war stories. Chances are your mates have gone through similar experiences that you can share and make light of. At the end of the day I bet most of your gal pals have suffered from terrible dating disasters- so we at Glamour urge you to open up and share your pain. As it will not only make you feel better, and help to get over him but will bring you closer to your friends!

Do: maintain a dignified silence.
Don’t: leave angry text messages.

However, when you’re on your new single gals’ nights out, make sure you do NOT, repeat NOT leave angry drunken voice messages. Whilst it may be tempting to bombard your ex with texts demanding what went wrong (and believe us we’ve all been there), it will only end up making you look bitter and show that you still care, deep down. You may be angry, but in the long run it will save embarrassment if you maintain a dignified silence! For women this is especially hard, as unlike men, we want to talk things through - we want to understand why it all went so wrong. As Webber states the impulse to talk is instilled in us as part of our nature, dating back to caveman times. Whilst men have a fight or flight response to stressful situations, women generally have a “tend and befriend” attitude. This means that when confronted with a spilt, whilst women want to talk and understand, men simply want to run.

As women we tend to become more attached, so when a spilt happens we tend to turn into mini- stalkers, hacking into their emails, pouring over their face book pages and generally watching their every move! This temporary obsession with our ex- lovers is similar to Obsessive compulsive disorder reveals Hammond, as when you have been infatuated with someone, your serotonin or happy chemical is already low, therefore when you have unceremoniously ditched it’s even harder to recover- and you become obsessed!

The Ultimate Don’t…

If you only remember one rule, then remember Glamour’s ultimate don’t: never sleep with him again! It will be undoing all your hard work to detach yourself from him, placing you back to square one. A lot of men return to their exes, saying they are confused and “want to talk” when in fact they are just horny. But if you succumb you’ll only end up regretting it the next morning, and you’ll feel used and hurt - so sleep with your ex is a big no no in the breaking up rulebook!
It may be tough to get over him - apparently it takes half the length of the relationship to finally get back to your normal chirpy self. But if you stay strong and follow our rules you should be quickly on the road to recovery!

Trust us it will get easier, but, whatever you do, don’t stop your life because of him. Get out with the girls and have some fun. And soon you may realise life is much better without him anyway!

Sorry? Simon who?

"Oops I did it again": Celebrity Scandals.

We probably think celebrities lead a perfect life. They seem to have it all, the flash car, designer clothes, the massive mansion, however they, just like everybody else manage to mess up! And when they do, there’s always a camera handy to capture their embarrassing moment! When will they learn, eh?

From serious public meltdowns, to celebrity mishaps Glamour takes you through the top celebrity scandals they would rather you not have seen….

1.“Cocaine Kate”

When the grainy pictures appeared in the Daily Mirror of “Cocaine Kate (Moss)”, they shocked the nation. The photos depicted a clearly drugged up Kate snorting a fat line of Coke for all to see. For years, rumours had circulated that Kate was a Class A drug user, but she had always denied it. However, the images made it plain to see that Kate not only did Cocaine, but was a practiced user too. Expertly chopping up the drugs for her rock star boyfriend Pete Doherty and his gang, she appears relaxed, openly using the drugs.
The incriminating images looked set to put an end to Kate Moss’s fabulous career, as Burberry, H&M, Rimmel and Chanel decided to axe her from their lucrative campaigns.

However, Kate came back stronger after the drugs incident, turning it around by sealing multi million deals with Long champ, Stella McCartney, Virgin mobile and Calvin Klein- earning her double than before the scandal!

2. Britney Spears Public Meltdown

In the 1990s, Britney Spears was a chart topping pop princess, who was known known for her sweet and innocent image. But then she hit the headlines when she suffered a very public meltdown.

The year 2007 marked a low point for Britney. After breaking up from her husband K-Fed, and losing a custody battle of her kids, Britney was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

A series of scandalous images emerged of the star that shocked, and worried the nation. From out partying with Paris Hilton, flashing her knickers to driving with her son Sean Preston on her lap, Britney seemed caught in a downward spiral.

Her erratic behaviour was clear for all to see when she rushed into an LA salon, grabbed a pair of clippers and shaved her long brown hair off completely. According to Steve Dennis, author of Britney biography Inside the Dream it was an act of rebellion. Fed up with being told what to do all the time, she shaved her head as a way of rebelling against her sanitised pop identity. Dennis suggests:

“What better way to rid herself of the performer's identity than by losing the very hair she famous for - sabotaging the act to free the person?”

The star swiftly checked herself into a rehab clinic- only to check herself out a mere 24 hours later!

Now, after a turbulent few years, Britney appears to have her life and career back on track. She released her sixth studio album Circus, which was an instant smash hit, with single Womanizer topping the charts all over the world. With various projects in the pipeline, the future looks bright for Britters!

3. Kerry Katona meltdown on This Morning.

Kerry Katona, was once a fresh faced pop star and one third of successful band Atomic Kitten. But she’s better known now for her scandalous personal life and drug-fuelled erratic behaviour.

Things came to a head, when Kerry appeared in an interview for ITV’s This Morning programme back in 2008. Repeatedly slurring her words, Kerry appeared under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She seemed so out of it that interviewers Phillip and Fern could not ignore the state she was in. They questioned if she had been drinking, but this only angered the dazed star who insisted the only thing that had passed her lips that morning was cups of tea. She claimed that the reason for her slurred speech was a side effect of prescription sleeping tablets she had taken late the previous night.

The interview shocked the nation, Kerry later stating that she was “nationally embarrassed” by the whole episode. She claimed that she was upset that This Morning jumped to the conclusion that she had been drinking, rather than ask her about her mental illness and medication.

However, after a turbulent few years Kerry is back on track with her life looking happier and healthier than ever before. Now separated from hubbie Mark Croft and newly signed to a new agency she looks set to be back on TV this year.

4. Vanessa Hudgens nude photo scandal.

Vanessa Hudgens, famous for her sweet fresh faced High School Musical character Gabriella, shocked the nation when naughty nude pictures of her surfaced on the internet. Posed provocatively for her boyfriend co- star Zac Effron and wearing little else apart from a gold chain, the star was left red faced when the sexy images were leaked onto the internet. Vanessa believed the shots would remain private forever - for her and her boyfriend eyes only. But she was totally wrong when multiple racy nude pictures appeared on the net.

The images look set to tarnish her squeaky clean persona and they have brought controversy to the whole High School Musical phenomenon sweeping America. Vanessa swiftly apologised for her “lapse in judgement” stating that the images were a stupid mistake and that she regrets ever taking them.

But in 2009, yet more racy pictures of the star emerged; this time from when she was only 17. This caused people to wonder - okay once is a mistake…but twice? Was it all a big publicity stunt to break free from the sweet, innocent image of HSM? As for HSM IV she is unlikely to have a starring role, now she has made sure at least she has one starring role- and a sexy one at that!

5. Paris Hilton: “One night in Paris” Video shocker

A little known Paris Hilton shot to fame and stardom in after a graphic sex video from 2003 surfaced on the internet of her and her then boyfriend Rick Soloman frolicking on a mattress. At first Paris denied the existence of the tape, calling Rick a liar and a scumbag. However, it soon became clear that the tape was all too real when it began circling the internet.

The Hilton family were outraged. They threatened Soloman with legal action and attempted to ban the video. Meanwhile, Paris portrayed herself as the innocent victim, who was deeply embarrassed and humiliated by the whole thing.

However, Paris is never one to miss a business opportunity and she turned the bad press around by using it to further her career. The notorious sex tape shot her to a whole new level of fame, with numerous book deals, magazine covers and her own MTV reality series with pal Nicole Ritchie, “The Simple Life”. As for the tape, this became an overnight sensation on the internet and Hilton now owns the rights to it.

Whilst the celebrity scandals at first cause embarrassment, threatening to ruin careers, a risqué moment in the headlines never does any long- term harm. In fact, the attention gained from the scandals often creates a new lease of life for the stars’ careers, making them more successful than they were before!