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Pro-Anorexia : Promoting Psychological Disorder

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Pro-Anorexia : Promoting Psychological Disorder

As described in the DSM IV, the essential features of Anorexia Nervosa are the refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight - meaning below 85% of what is considered normal for one's age and height - an intense fear of gaining weight which often increases as actual weight decreases, and distortion in the perception of the shape or size of one's body. Individuals with Anorexia develop a total pre-occupation with food and often devise elaborate rituals of how much they can consume and at what intervals. This behavior may also be accompanied by episodes of bingeing, followed by purging or the use of laxatives. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 7 million women and 1 million men suffer from this debilitating disorder, numbers which may not reflect the actual incidence of anorexia, given it's clandestine nature. With the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder ranging from 5-20%, anorexia claims approximately 1000 lives each year. Medical risks of self-starvation include heart failure, low blood pressure and pulse, weakened kidney and liver functions and increased risk for osteoporosis.Like many psychological disorders, Anorexia can be considered a coping mechanism, or as Becky W. Thompson, author of A Hunger So Wide and So Deep puts it, an "orderly and sane response to insane circumstances."1 Primarily affecting girls and women in their teens and twenties, Anorexia is an attempt to find power and control within an environment where they feel totally powerless. As Harriet Fraad persuasively argues in her essay "Anorexia Nervosa: The Female Body as a Site of Gender and Class Transition," anorexia is a disease that acts out the dramatic contradictions facing contemporary American women. She writes: "the anorexic rejects her body's needs; she rejects all 'input', hunger, or desire for or dependence on others. Anorexia is a desire to be in total control of the female body and totally autonomous. Yet, it is a control that is out of control - a control that renders its victim so debilitated that she is forced into the hospital, dependent on the care of others... It is a disease of women who often become demanding and controlling, who demand their space, who 'throw their weight around.' Yet they diminish themselves until they have no weight to throw and take up very little space... it is an obsession with food and a powerful rejection of food. It is a disease of a woman asserting her will power and mastery over her needs. Her asserted total autonomy results in her appearing like a skeleton and becoming anything but strong and autonomous."2 Over the past year or so, there has been increased media attention devoted to a growing crop of online societies that embrace Anorexia as a chosen lifestyle rather than an addictive pattern of maladaptive and out-of-control behavior. These websites, known as pro-anorexia or pro-ana, are communities for people with eating disorders who refuse treatment to as one site puts it, "get together and discuss their trials and tribulations, as well as their joys and accomplishments... a place where people can see that there are others who deal with the same issues that they do, and that they are not alone."3 Along with discussion forums where thousands of members encourage each other to stay strong, meaning resist the temptation to eat, pro-ana sites include lists of safe or negative calorie foods, tips for hiding behavior from friends and family, tricks for maintaining a state of starvation, trigger galleries of emaciated women, competitions, online diaries, and pages of what is referred to as thinspiration, or quotes like "nothing tastes as good as thin feels." In 2000, the National Association of Anorexia lobbied large web servers like yahoo and msn to remove pro-ana websites, ultimately resulting only in their being pushed further underground, thus increasing their lure. Still, type pro-ana into the google search engine and you'll get over 20,000 hits. Pro-ana websites are extremely detrimental to the minds and bodies of the young women who frequent them. Teaching tricks that can intensify eating disorders, encouraging and normalizing dangerous behavior, promoting the desirability of Anorexia and fostering a cult-like mentality, which further isolates anorexics, reducing the likelihood of recovery, these websites can even become addictions in and of themselves. I would also like to point out that pro-ana communities tend to appeal primarily to sub-clinical anorexics and your typical self-loathing dieters who use the sites to propel them into full-blown eating disorders, which they imagine to be expressions of the highest form of self-control. From a cognitive-behavioral perspective, the positive reinforcement that members receive for reaching goal weights and related triumphs perpetuates the cycle of self-destruction. But perhaps

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