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"A medium fries, or the gap between your thighs?"
"Fat people can't fit everywhere."
"Starving is an example of excellent will power." I'll admit, I started laughing when I stumbled upon these sayings on blogs, after all, they couldn't be serious, right? However, after a few clicks on links marked "Tips on Fasting" and a list of "Excuses to Avoid Eating," I stopped laughing. The people behind the words meant everything.
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These bloggers are part of an alarmingly growing web community, dubbed "Pro-ana" and "Pro-mia," where personal sites promote, even glorify, anorexia and bulimia as lifestyle choices. Some have even gone to the point of personifying the eating disorders, "Ana" and "Mia," as their best friends while others have likened them to a religion. Highly defensive and self-critical, the anonymous faces behind these blogs (most with over a hundred followers) are usually young girls around 16 and 18. "I feel like a complete fatass after I've just given into eating an orange. An orange. I really didn't want to go over 500 calories today, dammit," one writes.
Typically, pro-ana and pro-mia sites are run by the girls who document their personal journeys to being stick-thin. Many have start weights at merely 125lbs and goals of getting to 80lbs. They weigh themselves daily, share their nearly nonexistent calorie intakes, and promote "helpful" tips (one including a disturbingly detailed "how to purge.")
The sites also serve as platforms for all pro-ana and pro-mia followers to find each other, feeding into an ongoing conversation of bashing food like its the devil and praising the feeling of hunger.
"I am your best friend, and if you eat, you are failing me and letting me down. If you eat, it shows how little self control you have. That pain in your stomach right now, that is me, and that is your fat melting away"--from a popular pro-ana mantra.
Another crop of the pro-ana, pro-mia movement are images marked as "Thinspo" or "Thinspiration" pictures. They can range from runway images and editorials featuring famous size 0 models to regular girls taking faceless before and after photos, usually leaving little more than skin spread thinly over ribcages. More powerful than the girls' personal narratives, these pictures evoke a profound pro-ana/mia impact on their own. Bloggers fill pages with these emaciated idols, enamored with the idealistic body-type. It's inescapable even on Facebook, where a facebook page dedicated to the gap between thighs alone currently has over 330 fans, men and women alike.
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Obviously, anorexia and bulimia aren't new issues at all. What is new, however, is the startling power granted by Social Media. We're no strangers to this either; after all, our favorite fashion bloggers all have their success stories, but its critical to know that just as quickly as Jane Aldridge's cute outfit garners one thousand views, pro-mia and pro-ana attitudes spread with equal, viral power. Seeing dozens of blogs dedicated to anorexia and bulimia make the attitude acceptable, normal, even, as the severity of the disorders themselves get masekd.
It's human to have body image issues, especially as a teen, when change is most drastic: blemishes, breast size, hip width - every shift is magnified a hundredfold in adolescence. Pro-ana and pro-mia girls, however, are consumed in self-esteem poison, and by putting themselves out there on blogs, they're especially vulnerable. Imagine being sixteen and reading somewhere that guys find that "gap" hot? Or interpreting a hundred followers and liked posts on your pro-ana blog as a sense of friendship? Or seeing a blog quote Kate Moss, who may very well be your fashion idol, say "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels." When you're that fragile, its too easy to get sucked in while reading a "motivational" list citing,"Fat people are so huge, yet people look away from them as if they don't exist."
But who is to blame? The fashion industry's proud display of skinny, teenage models? Social media for giving it means to become a pandemic? Everyone reading and dismissing it as satire, like I did? Or perhaps there's no use in blame. Maybe all we can do is make known this is frighteningly real issue murmuring beneath the glamour of idealism that fashion promotes.
Ladies, if you really want slim bodies: excercise, eat healthy, look to each other for support (and not the kind that condemns you for eating). It's not a sin to eat more than 500 calories a day. It's not ok to relish in nausea from hunger. And if someone asks you again, "a medium fries or the gap between your thighs?" it's not wrong to still feel beautiful even when you sometimes take the fries.
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