”Ana” is not a real person but an identity, adopted as self, friend and foe, the embodiment of anorexia. Her speech is the self-talk and self-hate that typifies a condition that is all about internalising how you look – or think you look – on the outside, and clinging to the conviction that salvation lies in getting ever thinner.
Ana (short for ”pro ana” – pro anorexia) and her lesser known sibling Mia (or ”pro mia” – pro bulimia) are the subjects of countless posts on social media and dedicated websites, blogs and forums. In 2008, the Eating Disorders Foundation of NSW estimated there were more than a million such sites.
Pro ana is dedicated to encouraging and supporting those who identify with the community. There are tips on grim topics such as how to make yourself vomit (known as ”purging”, one involves dental floss and a lifesaver). There are images of skinny models, celebrities and users’ own ”selfies” (called ”thinspiration” or ”thinspo”). And there are heartfelt posts describing good days and bad, and real-time messaging from Ana ”buddies”.
Those who participate in the subculture appear to be overwhelmingly teenage girls and young women – although online it is impossible to be sure – using handles such as ”anything2bethin” and ”beautifulbones”. The tone of the sites combines the language of support groups and their cycles of hope, commitment, breach, despair and recommitment, with a slightly childish emo folksiness (poetry in scratchy fonts, artwork of waifs wearing knee socks) and a rather more grown-up pride in their perversity.