Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pro-Ana?

I'd heard about these places, internet groups and chat rooms where those suffering from "ana" (anorexia) and "mia" (bulimia) can find support and encouragement to pursue the illness, tips from others on how best to purge, the best exercise to quickly compensate for eating a 50 calorie salad, how to hide desperate eating habits and extreme weight loss from loved ones. In response to a post here, I looked up some of these places and I am just stunned.

One of the dangers of the internet, in my opinion, is the fact of being able to find a community of likeminded souls and to find folks in sufficient numbers to be able to convince oneself that some very destructive behaviors are actually quite normal. I think of the many sites devoted to pre-school "modeling," in which lunatic parents post seductive photos of their children for the enormous internet community of "child love" afficionados (previously known to us as child molesters before huge numbers of these dangerous individuals got together and normalized their sickness). This is, of course, also one of the benefits of the internet ~ at least being able to find a community of likeminded souls is a benefit when the reason for coming together is healthy and positive. Using such a group to justify behaviors that are deadly or destructive or harmful to others is the danger.

This stuff made me feel physically ill. There is so much opportunity in our society to feel less than, unworthy, not good enough. The common thread on the pro-ana sites I visited was self hatred. It took me back to the worst years of my eating disorder, when I was so appearance obsessed and filled with self condemnation that it was purely a misery to live in my own skin. I was actually pretty thin, but I don't think there was a more miserable woman in existence.

My weight and my Self are two different things. Many years I confused the two, discounting any positive thing about me because of the number on the scale. Even external events ~ graduating with honors, a promotion, a success of any kind ~ were celebrated or not dependent upon my size. It's very odd that at my top weight I had fully separated the two and the weight, through horrifying and near-crippling, was not impacting my positive view of myself. I don't mean I liked it: I hated it. But I didn't think my weight made me bad or unworthy or not good enough.

I know the change happened through years of 12 step work, counseling, positive retraining of my thinking, but I've never felt so profoundly grateful for it until I read these sad, tragic, heart-breaking people who are pro-ana.

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