64: Exposure to Pro-Eating Disorder Websites Influenced by Risky Online Behavior

Websites that Promote Eating Disorders Provide Dangerous Weight Loss Tips

Source: Saylor Truce
In todays society, there is a heavy emphasis on vanity and the human body, especially when it comes to the "ideal" figure. Even with body-positive fashion campaigns from Aerie or Dove, there is still a void in how our world tells people of all different shapes and sizes how to feel about themselves. 

One of the main platforms we see talk of weight and vanity is on the internet. Specifically, with blogs and online journals where people document their experience with eating disorders, or even promote the idea of others taking part in disordered eating behaviors. These websites are called pro-ana/mia (short for anorexia and bulimia, respectively.) 

These websites essentially encourage women (and men, to a lesser extent) to lose unhealthy amounts of weight by offering tips and tricks on how to restrict their diet and hide their disordered eating so as to avoid concern from family members and medical professionals. In addition to offering tips, these sites usually work to glamorize eating disorders by posting pictures of models and other thin, often famous people, who are usually referred to as "thinsporation." 

Clearly, these sites can be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of it's viewers, especially when they push diets of 50 calories or less a day and hours upon hours of rigorous exercise.

Viewers of Websites that Promote Eating Disorders Tend to be Riskier in Life

In a study done by the Institute for Research on Children, Youth, and Family at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, researchers were interested in evaluating behaviors related to those who view pro-ana/mia content. Specifically, the research looked at those who tend to be more emotionally open online, known as having high online dis-inhibition, and those who partake in risky, high adrenaline activities, know as sensation-seekers. 

Researchers administered confidential surveys asking a variety of questions about level of digital skill, exposure to pro-ana/mia content, and other online behaviors. The study found that although sensation seeking plays a role, online dis-inhibition has a slightly higher impact. 

Additionally, the results indicate the those vulnerable to online manipulation could be at a high risk of being exposed to pro-ana/mia content, which is troubling considering many young children have made their way onto sites where this content is posted. 
1 in 10 of the children surveyed (ages 11-16,) had been exposed to content which depicted extremely thin, emaciated people, and is expected to continue to grow over time. 

Society's Growing Value on Vanity Can Keep These Websites Around

It should come as no surprise that these websites are beginning to infiltrate every corner of the internet, especially in our beauty-obsessed culture. Most women in the United States are a size 16, contrary to popular belief and media representation, according to Washington State University's Department of Apparel Merchandising. 

Many of the models we see nowadays tend to be extremely thin, however, that is simply unrealistic, especially when clothing companies are supposedly selling to the average American woman. 

Stores also have a varying degree of fit for the same sizes, usually making what would actually be a size 12 in 1950 a size 6 in current day sizing, according to TIME. This is hugely problematic in the sense that the sizing down is done to make women feel good about themselves, insinuating that there is something inherently wrong and shameful about being their actual size. 

These focuses on vanity and size do not inherently cause eating disorders, but they do play into the culture that promotes them. The skinny women seen on the runway are often used on thinsporation and pro-ana/mia blogs, and the inconsistent sizing is frustrating enough to make those with poor body image vulnerable to online weight-loss tactics, which makes it hard to think that these websites will cease to exist. 

Measures Being Taken to Ban Pro-Eating Disorder Content

Many countries and media platforms are trying to find ways to deter the posting of pro-ana/mia content online, but it has proven to be difficult.

The issue of freedom of speech cannot be forgotten when discussing this topic, especially when many of these websites act as platforms for self-expression, and there is a grey area regarding intent to harm other and if peoples mental illness is enough to prevent the potential consequences. 

Apps like Instagram and other social media platforms have taken strict measures when it comes to posting content of this sort by banning certain hashtags like "#proana." The only problem is, if the content is not tagged with a hashtag, it usually will not be found until another user reports the post and the account gets suspended. Additionally, variations like "#pr0ana" are being used to keep the content more under wraps, according to Huffington Post.

Given the extreme nature of these websites, many countries, like Australia, have worked to ban these sites, but have had problems due to the mental illness aspect at hand. Instead, the idea of having limitations of what can be photoshopped and how thin models can be have come into play, in order to find a way around the issue. 

Similarly, the Daily Beast reports that in Italy, parliament proposed a bill that would apply hefty fines (up to $65,000) and a year in prison for posting pro-ana/mia content. Again, this may not be the right move, especially since this might causes the groups struggling with eating disorders to isolate themselves even more.

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