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The Dangers of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia

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What is meant by “pro-ana” and “pro-mia”?

The terms “pro-anorexia”, or “pro-ana”, and “pro-bulimia”, or “pro-mia”, refer to content, usually online, that promotes the harmful behaviour and mindset that forms part of some eating disorders. The sites and social media where such content is found often say or imply that this behaviour is a lifestyle choice, rather than symptoms of an illness. If you find yourself engaging or feeling the urge to engage in the kind of behaviour these sites promote, there are positive spaces that you can visit online, such as our confidential support services, Twitter and Instagram, where your thoughts will be listened to and your feelings understood.

Why do people create or access pro-ana and pro-mia content?

There is an assumption that people who post pro-ana, pro-mia, or “thinspiration” content are being deliberately malicious, are fully aware that they are misrepresenting symptoms as lifestyle choices, and consciously want to encourage people to develop or continue to have eating disorders. But this is often not the case, as many of the people who post this content are suffering from eating disorders themselves.

In fact, some pro-ana and pro-mia social media profiles and sites may at the same time contain content that acknowledges the destructive reality of eating disorders, or even shows a desire to recover. This might seem like a contradiction, but eating disorders are highly complex mental illnesses. It’s very common for someone to have complicated feelings about their illness and about recovery. You may be experiencing these feelings yourself, in which case finding a positive space online that focuses on encouraging people to look after their wellbeing and develop a healthy relationship with food again is a good way to explore these feelings.

We know that part of the reason pro-ana and pro-mia content appeals to people who experience disordered eating is that it is a space where they feel understood. Our support groups and Twitter and Instagram support are available every day as an alternative, offering this sense of understanding and community, where people can speak with others who are going through similar experiences, in a positive way.

Is pro-ana and pro-mia content harmful?

Yes. It may not always be intentional, but pro-ana and pro-mia content is dangerous to those who may be vulnerable to developing an eating disorder, or who are already ill. It can make people feel more negative about themselves, stir up damaging feelings of competitiveness, and push people into setting unhealthy goals and rules for themselves. It tells people that they are carrying out behaviour that is harming them by choice, rather than because they are ill. All of this can lead to the illness becoming more ingrained and harder to break away from.

Pro-recovery sites and social media are positive spaces where people who would like to talk to others who are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings can do so in a way that provides mutual support and encouragement. Everyone, whether they have an eating disorder or not, deserves a nurturing, caring environment, including online. If you’re considering visiting pro-ana or pro-mia sites, we encourage you to try out our support groups instead – some of the people there might have experiences you relate to.

What can be done about pro-ana and pro-mia content?

While we encourage efforts to help people avoid pro-ana content, we don’t believe that making it illegal, and therefore criminalising those who post it, is the best approach to this.

The guidelines for most popular social media specifically prohibit content that promotes eating disorders. Many social media sites now remove a lot of pro-ana and pro-mia content, or have a process in place for reporting content that could be harmful. Find out about how to report content on:

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest | Snapchat | YouTube | TikTok

Unfortunately, despite this, such content still appears. We strongly encourage social media sites and internet providers to take further steps to proactively tackle the issue of pro-ana and pro-mia content.

Most social media sites have a blocking or blacklisting function, or both, to help you keep your space online safe and positive. The tools offered and the extent to which they can limit what you see varies from site to site.

If you know there are particular areas of social media that are making you feel vulnerable, you could talk to someone you trust and get them to help you create a more positive experience on social media. And remember, it’s always okay to take a break from social media altogether.

It’s also vital to create a sense of community that is healthy and promotes recovery, and social media can play this more positive role as well. This is part of what we aim to do with our own online services.