Starving for Support Online

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By Ana Nakano, 16, Schurr High School

In the seventh grade, my health class watched a movie on anorexia and bulimia. Most of the class was appalled. Not only with the desperate actions that the girls took in order to lose weight, but also with the end results - figures barely recognizable as humans. They were nothing but skin and bones.

Anorexia is a disorder where people diet to the point of starvation and exercise excessively to lose weight. Bulimics eat large amounts of food and then either throw it up or use laxatives to get rid of it. Both diseases can be deadly. Although female teenagers often come to mind when thinking of eating disorders, people of all ages—including men—can suffer from them. With all the campaigns out there raising awareness over the deadly effects of eating disorders, I thought the nation’s obsession with being skinny was over. But it was only hidden.

And the Internet was the perfect hiding place. Some of those suffering from eating disorders created pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia Web sites. These sites encourage anorexics and bulimics to lose more weight. They give tips to avoid being detected by family members and friends. They recommend punishing yourself with an extra hour of exercise if you eat.

These sites don’t come right out and say, "I’m pro-anorexia or bulimia" anymore, because they attract too much negative attention. In fact, many Internet providers are forced to shut down those sites, because the content is harmful to minors. It makes them hard to find, but doesn’t stop them from existing.

So they, like their disease, find ways to disguise the Web sites by using names that are plays on words, such as "The Thin Page," "Starving for Perfection" or "Beautiful by Bones." Other times someone starts a home page on a site like Geocities. It resembles a personal page at first, but it’s really devoted to eating disorders.

Pastel images mixed with scary stuff

They are neatly arranged Web pages, adorned with cute pastel-colored borders or even pictures of Hello Kitty. I couldn’t comprehend how such heinous advice and images could be intertwined with things that were innocent and pretty. People from all over post messages and use clever nicknames like "ana butterfly," "the fasting princess" and "lean-n-mean," to name a few.

The sites contain message boards, chat rooms, and guest books. Some chat room topics were called "the culinary arts - talk about evil, oops, I mean food" and "underweight champions" for those already below their ideal weight in the charts. "The purgatorium" chat room shared experiences about throwing up and even had a most embarrassing story section.

The more I read the sites, I noticed they all had one major characteristic that could be quite appealing - they offered support. The recurring theme of these Web sites was that they encourage each other with their diseases, the way a coach would push a star runner to run even faster and make a better time. They end their messages with what looks like personal mantras and write things like "what nourishes me also destroys me," at 88 pounds, and "I just want to be bony. My next goal is 66 pounds."

I started to think about it. It made sense that these people wanted some kind of comfort. In their own way, they guide each other by sharing what’s good and what’s not. It’s like they’re part of a secret club and they all understand the rules. They all relate to each other and understand where they’re coming from.

One particularly repulsive message was, "Have you ever noticed that the people who try to "help" us are all fat? Could it be they’re jealous?" Many messages have a them-against-us attitude. I think that people who aren’t secure with themselves could find these messages convincing.

REAL help for eating disorders

If you think you have an eating disorder, check out the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Web site at www.anad.org or call (630) 577-1330.

Or go online and check out these Web sites: