Pro-Ana / Pro-Mia Underground

*NOTE: Trigger warning* Also, please note that there is an increasingly large number of males participating in Pro-ana sites, and anywhere within this piece where ‘girls’ or ‘women’ are mentioned, men should also be included.

The terms “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” refer quite literally to “pro-anorexia” and “pro-bulimia.” As time progresses, more and more people are becoming aware of this terminology, but not everyone knows the extent to which this underground movement consumes and controls every aspect of some people’s lives.

Pro-Ana/Thinspo Websites

Pro-ana and Thinspo online communities have become a Mecca of sorts, a gathering place for many of those suffering from eating disorders. In order to legally protect themselves, these sites post disclaimers stating that eating disorders are a serious medical issue and could result in death. Once you get past this supposedly heartfelt warning, you look down at what follows and the real message begins to make itself clear – these sites provide tips, tricks and inspiration on how to lose the most weight possible, at whatever cost.

Pro-ana sites, often referred to as “Thinspo” or “Thinspiration” sites, are both run and followed in almost a religious manner. They are a gathering place where endless galleries of images containing waif-like models and celebrities are praised and worshipped. Where pictures of celebrities who have ‘gained weight’ or got caught photographed from an ‘unflattering’ angle in a bikini are posted to remind vulnerable onlookers what they’re running from. More and more, these galleries include images of the users themselves – pictures of protruding hip bones, ribs and collar bones.

On some sites, articles like “The Thin Commandments” and the “Ana Creed” are posted as an oath or a form of governing law. Seemingly endless lists posted all over the pages give advice on a variety of topics – how to starve oneself, successfully binge and purge, lie about and avoid eating around others, abuse diuretics, diet pills, laxatives and prescription medications, force oneself to learn to love the feeling of hunger, dangerously excessive exercise and how to structure one’s life around the goal of losing as much weight as one possibly can. To thinspo followers, it quickly becomes a way of life.

In order to make money and stay online, pro-ana websites get creative. Some sites sell diet pills and even offer free samples of so-called “Thinspo Pops” (hoodia lollipops), which are made with a supplement that is said to be an appetite suppressant. Other ways they make money include asking for donations from their users and by employing some of the most aggravating advertising strategies we’ve ever seen. On some websites, pop up ads are so frequent and so obnoxious that they appear left and right, dozens at a time. As soon as you close one window, another pops up. Without these rogue tactics, these sites could not fund what they are doing.

Who is providing free samples of diet products? Who is selling diet pills to administrators of pro-anorexia sites? Do these companies understand the implications of what they are doing?

Needless to say, the goal of Thinspo sites is not a healthy one. Their objective is to shame people, play on their innermost insecurities and hopefully, hook them in. Much like the pull of an addiction to drugs or the manipulative control of a cult, people begin to rely on and become obsessed with the pro-ana mentality, its resources and its sense of supportively self-destructive community.

Social media fueling the underground

Today, nearly every single social media site has been infiltrated by thinspo followers. Networking sites provide a safe, anonymous environment for girls to be able to post real pictures of themselves or pictures of celebrities who emulate what they’re trying to accomplish. Images posted by pro-ana members are really just a different take on this generation’s trend of arm length, self-portraits. Instead, these images usually focus on areas of the body where bones tend to protrude as one loses weight: hips/pelvic bones, shoulder blades, ribs, backs, knees, arms… You get the idea.

There is almost an entire language that has developed amongst these so-called “ana” communities. Many females post their own weight statistics using GW, LW, HW, CW, etc. These acronyms stand for goal weight, lowest weight, highest weight and current weight. They come up false screen names, which often creatively include symbols and the words “ANA” or “ED” in them (ANA: anorexia and ED: eating disorder). For example, someone might call themselves “*~waistED away~*” or “-/\-ANAbelle-/\-.”

As some girls fall deeper into this secretive life, references to ‘Ana’ begin to shift into those of an actual person or entity. Ana begins to take on a persona of her own. From a figurative standpoint, she slowly becomes someone’s friend, adviser, closest confidante and comfort. For those struggling with recovery, “Ed” can also take on a certain personae of his own, and in some cases, refers to the shackles that seem to trap one in the disease. These symbolic references attach a human name to the often lonely and destructive habits of an eating disorder.

With sayings and “Be strong,” images and words are all used as reminders to one another of their end goals.

One of the most heartwrenching things I’ve observed, specifically on social networking sites, personal profiles and blogs, is the dichotomy between the exhibited loneliness, fear and pain that come with having an eating disorder and the confident, competitive drive towards perfectionism, beauty and control. It’s the wanting of help, but being too terrified to take it. While thinspo pictures and pro-ana terminology such as “Think thin” and “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels” cover these girls’ profile pages, hidden within are messages of pain – hints of a girl’s reaching out but not knowing how to stop the vicious cycle.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that eating disorders are an addiction, just as there is no doubt in my mind that these kinds of thinspo sites are addictive. Ironically, these websites offer comfort to those who feel like they are the only ones in the world suffering with this disease. Suddenly, their personal struggle does not seem quite so lonely.

Unfortunately, this competitive camaraderie comes at a steep price. Pro-ana and social media profiles may feel safe, but they feed addictions. Even girls who begin regularly participating in these communities with the intention of not going ‘too far’ can get swept away by the alluring messages. Some people are genetically predisposed to being more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, while others simply fall prey to these sites when they were just in search of support.

NOTE: For more information, please see our blog posts on the issue. Doing your own research is ONLY suggested if you feel you may not be too heavily impacted by the words and images you may come across. While it is one thing to read about these sites, it’s an entirely other thing to see them firsthand. PLEASE consider your own health and wellbeing before Googling any of the terms in this section.


Revealing the Secret Underground of PRO-ANA:

Kate Moss and Her Unintentional Confession:

Blog from ‘We are the real’: (**TRIGGER WARNING**)