If you are an active subscriber of social media, chances are you have stumbled across some alarming photos, captions, or stories. Being a typical teenage girl, I spend a lot of my time online. On any given day, within minutes of scrolling on Tumblr, my fingers might suddenly jolt off the mousepad, as I stare blankly at a horrifying post.
Sites dedicated to encouraging and romanticizing this illness and calling themselves “Pro-Ana” or “Pro-Mia” (pro-anorexia or pro-bulimia) have become increasingly prevalent. The hosts of these sites, often teenage girls, share “helpful” tips and tricks on how to look deathly ill. Celebratory poems are written about a horrific mental illness, making empty stomachs and protruding collar bones “goals.” Movies trying to educate the public on eating disorders are often watched over and over again by pro-ana followers to keep them focused. Starving in Suburbia, a relatively unknown film, is probably the most famous within the community. The extremely realistic movie shows how a teenage girl stumbles upon these sites and goes down a dark path, ending up in a hospital and diagnosed with severe malnutrition.
One of my closest friends from SAS has had a personal experience with these websites and accounts. “I spent more time on these sites than on my homework. Skipping lunch was easy because I was at school. Breakfast and dinner were the hard part. Everyone started to treat me differently once I lost weight. I liked the attention and the positive feedback. To be honest, numbers ruled my life. Calories in and calories out were what consumed my mind. ‘Ana‘ was becoming my friend.” She remembers times when these sites and the ideals that they preached were consuming her naive, young mind.
Even just a few days ago in a school classroom, I heard two girls say “Ugh, I ate so much, I have to be anorexic this week.” Slightly offensive phrases like this normalize a disturbing disorder. We need to take more precaution as a society and not romanticize mental illnesses such as eating disorders. An issue as serious as this needs to be seriously discussed. Be careful what you idolize and what you think of as “goals”.
Eating disorders are the most fatal of all mental illnesses, with an estimate of 20% of all sufferers dying from it. Death by malnutrition and dehydration cause ⅘ of anorexia-related deaths, and ⅕ of anorexia-related deaths from suicide. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, so it boggles my mind to see the proliferation of people (usually young girls) online and proudly promoting this deadly disease.
Dr.Tan works in a counseling facility at a private Singapore hospital. She says “eating disorders can start small, but often spiral out of control into a lifelong struggle. Control is the foundation of anorexia. People want to feel in control about what they eat, don’t eat, and how they look.” I was wondering how doctors and psychiatrists help out patients because you can’t exactly force people to eat. She explains: “In many cases, anorexics also struggle with depression and anxiety, so sometimes medication is part of the solution. Weekly visits with a doctor and engaging in therapy can help deal with the emotional reasons behind eating disorders.”
The bottom line is this: Anorexia and bulimia are not glamorous, elegant, or beautiful. Eating disorders can lead to clumps of your hair falling out on your pillow at night, your bones being as weak as an 80-year-old woman, and constantly feeling cold. Mental illness cannot be romanticized anymore. Enough is enough.