84% of Pro-ana sites feature thinspiration: images or video montages of slim women, often celebrities, who may be anything from naturally slim to emaciated with visibly-protruding bones.*

People, especially young people, who suffer from any sort of eating disorder, are extremely vulnerable. They are not only physically weakened by malnutrition but they are also mentally and emotionally weakened by their condition.

It is shocking then that some porn sites and unscrupulous people are taking advantage of this by preying on them when they are at their most fragile. In many cases young girls are coerced into posing without clothes or in sexually explicit poses. These images are then posted on porn sites for others self gratification.

The Guardian recently reported on an anorexic teenager named Sasha McDonald who received an email from a pornography agency specialising in anorexic images. The email read as follows:

“As you know, beauty has one name: being thin. Our models are underweight, skinny, thin, bony – just like you.
We want you. Regardless of the costs, we want you to join our agency. Let’s face facts, on anorexic porn websites, men are masturbating watching your pictures.

You are a superstar of starvation and if you were selling and marketing your frame you would be more wealthy than most of us because men would pay any price for watching those pictures.”

So how did they even know that Sasha was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa?  Not from medical records but from a website she had been using that was supposed to give young people like herself support.

Instead pro-ana sites promote eating disorders and anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle choice. It is often referred to simply as ‘ana’ and is sometimes affectionately personified by anorexics as a girl named Ana.

Sasha said “I was very lonely and felt worthless, I retreated into an online pro-anorexic [pro-ana] community and shared everything. I didn’t realise the danger I was putting myself under.”

Medical professionals treating eating disorders have long noted that patients in recovery programs often “symptom pool”, banding closely together for emotional support and validation. Anorexics, in particular, may come to collectively normalize their condition, defending it not as an illness but as an accomplishment of self control and an essential part of their identity.

Many people with eating disorders become socially-isolated and these sites encourage each other to remain thin at all costs.

These internet support groups may promote skinny as beautiful in some of the following ways:
• 84% endorse anorexia and/or bulimia as desirable*
• 83% share crash dieting techniques and recipes*
• Coach each other on using socially-acceptable pretexts for refusing food
• Compete with each other at losing weight, or fast together in displays of solidarity
• Commiserate with one another after breaking fast or binging
• Advice on how to best induce vomiting, and on using laxatives and emetics
• Give tips on hiding weight loss from parents and doctors**
• Share information on reducing the side-effects of anorexia**
• Suggest ways to ignore or suppress hunger pangs**

“I was dangerously underweight and so ill that I felt proud of the comments from other website users saying how beautiful and skinny my body was. I relied on the judgments of the friends I had made on pro-anorexia websites because I assumed they were people like me – scared, depressed, exhausted and battling an illness that torments you continuously,” says McDonald.

However posting such images also attracts the attention of other people and Sasha was horrified to discover that a friend she had met through a pro-anorexia website was in fact a 46 year old man who wanted her to join a pornography agency.

“My anorexic friend was actually a 46-year-old male with a fetish for skinny women… He had pretended to be a young girl and persuaded me to share sexually explicit pictures and tried to convince me to join his modelling agency for the super-skinny,” She said.

McDonald also found that emaciated photographs she had published of herself on her blog had been posted on anorexia porn forums for users with fetishes about super-skinny women to admire.

McDonald now 19 was lucky, she managed to avoid being drawn into the world of anorexic pornography, others are not so lucky.

The story of Ronny Bi from China illustrates the point; according to The Guardian she was held against her will and forced into anorexia pornography because she was too weak to resist her captor.

“He forced me to pose for photos both in revealing clothing and nude, it was sickening. I was too weak to fight back because of how thin I was. I was completely powerless.”

It was only after her escape that she discovered “he had posted all of the photos he took of us online and they spread to all the pro-ana and anorexia pornography websites like wildfire.”

Bi started Eating Disorder Refuge, an online support community and developed a ‘shame list’ of nearly 50 people and websites to look out for to try to prevent vulnerable people with eating disorders from enduring what she went through.

Optenet, an international IT security company, reported that between 2006 and 2008 the number of pro-ana websites globally increased 470% to more than 1,500 and social networking and blogging has seen a surge in online pro-anorexia content.

Some of this porn is free to access while other ‘professional’ agencies charge a monthly membership fee for regularly updated sexually explicit images and videos of emaciated women. Agencies also host anorexia porn on YouTube and advertise on anorexia pornography forums.

If you or someone you know needs help with an eating disorder you can contact Healthinsite, which is a government sponsored website. 

*Borzekowski, Dina; Schenk, Summer; Wilson, Jenny; Peebles, Rebecka (2010), “e-Ana and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro–Eating Disorder Web Sites”, American Journal of Public Health 100 (8)

**Harshbarger, Jenni; Ahlers-Schmidt, Carolyn; Mayans, Laura; Mayans, David; Hawkins, Joseph (2008), “Pro-anorexia websites: What a clinician should know”, International Journal of Eating Disorders 42 (4)

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Guardian