What Can Be Done to Combat the Pro-Ana and Thinspiration Trends?

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Now that awareness of the Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia and Thinspiration online communities is spreading, many social media websites are teaming up with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to monitor the use of their sites for posting eating disorder-promoting content.

Facebook was the first social media group to take a stand. In 2011, Facebook invited NEDA to form an alliance to help the company report and flag Pro-Ana/Mia content, including “the removal of individuals and groups, as well as photos or statuses, promoting unhealthy behavior.” Facebook also agreed to provide an FAQ section about eating disorders with information from NEDA about finding help and seeking treatment.

Following in the footsteps of Facebook, the popular microblogging social media site Tumblr also created language for directing individuals who are “using key search terms associated with these sites to resources and help,” according to a 2012 NEDA press release. “Tumblr is also in the process of removing all content that could trigger those susceptible to an eating disorder or further entrench the illness for those struggling, stating that ‘they want to do the right thing,'” the statement said.

Tumblr and Facebook aren’t the only social media websites taking a stand against these Pro-Ana/Mia groups and individuals. Pinterest, a pinboard-style photo- and idea-sharing website, also saw an increase in young people “pinning” thinspirational “motivational quotes” and images on their health, fitness and workout inspirational boards. In response, Pinterest also updated its content policies regarding eating disorders. According to an article from The Huffington Post, Pinterest “banned search terms like ‘thinspo’ and ‘thinspiration,’ and leads the user to a message that reads, ‘Eating disorders are not lifestyle choices, they are mental disorders that if left untreated, can cause serious health problems or could even be life threatening.'” NEDA’s toll-free, help-line number is also listed at the bottom of the message.

Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to catch everything when there are more than 11.5 billion total users of social media, so what can family and friends do for loved ones who are participating in or being affected by Pro-Ana/Mia and thinspiration trends? For parents, one first step is to ensure that teenagers’ online activity is being monitored if there’s any suspicion that they could be involved in the Pro-Ana/Mia movement.

A study titled “Virtually Anorexic – Where’s the Harm?” conducted by Dr. Emma Bond from the University Campus, Suffolk, concluded that “health professionals, educators and parents need to be aware of Pro-Anorexia sites and the risk they may pose.” However, Dr. Bond also warned against unnecessarily advertising these sites’ existence to children and young people. Instead, she suggested focusing on education and critical thinking regarding body image and harmful online content, also called “Media Literacy” training. The goal of media literacy is to guide consumers to approach all media as if it were advertising (as much of it is), and to question the potential ulterior motives of advertisers. Media literacy also teaches skepticism of images that may be computer-generated or digitally enhanced, as a skillful “Photoshopper” can modify photographs so seamleassly that the changes cannot be detected. NEDA has recently launched a legislative campaign that would require labeling of computer-altered photos in advertising. Casa Palmera’s Eating Disorder Treatment Program includes media literacy training as part of our weekly Body Image group.

Body-positive websites provide an alternative to websites and online communities that promote dysfunctional eating behaviors, Proud2BMe is one example of an online community that covers fashion, beauty, news, culture and entertainment – “all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.” It was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental-health organization that has licensed the concept to NEDA.

Proud2BeMe has an “Info” section that links to pages about eating disorders, body image, perfectionism, expert advice, help, resources, and true stories about individuals who have won their own battles with eating disorders. The website is pro-positive body image and anti “body snarking,” offering and survival tips on how to keep things in perspective when there’s “diet talk everywhere.”

Social media networks increasing their awareness and responsiveness, combined with media literacy training and alternative pro-health communities cannot completely eliminate the allure of Pro-Ana/Mia online communities and thinspirational blogs for someone who is determined to find them. If you or someone you care about is enraptured with disorder-promoting websites, Casa Palmera offers an online, confidential eating disorder assessment, and our phones are answered 24 hours by skilled intake professionals. Please call Casa Palmera for more information for yourself or your family member or friend.

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