Do You Know What Your Daughter Is Looking At?

Here are a few terms that may be unfamiliar to parents: Thinspiration, Pro-ana, and Pro-mia If you’ve never heard these words, consider yourself blessed, because the subject matter they refer to is deeply disturbing and highly destructive.

All three terms are descriptors for websites that promote extreme dieting and “Anorexia Nervosa as a lifestyle choice.” Sadly, these “thinspo” websites have hordes of girls following them.

The sites feature galleries of photos of skeletal women (and sometimes men). Tips for losing weight are offered, and unhealthy slogans for “thin thinking” abound. Following the advice could lead to what nutritionists refer to as “disordered eating,” a major facet of eating disorders.

One Pro-ana site presents a gallery of average-sized celebrities who are scrutinised and denegrated for their flaws and “imperfect” body shape. Negative and even crude language is used to describe any size other than super-skinny.

Pro-ana (Ana meaning Anorexia; Pro-mia refers to Bulimia Nervosa) sites exalt skinniness as the only acceptable body shape, regardless of body type, bone density, and age, which is unhealthy and damaging, particularly to developing young people.

Girls who regularly visit these sites could possibly absorb some of the distorted views or have their unhealthy perceptions reinforced. And if you have a son, remember that boys are not exempt. The number of boys with diagnosed eating disorders is on the rise.

It’s a wise step to make sure your daughter (or son) is not a fan of Pro-ana sites. Thinspiration content can be found on blogs, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest and other declining sites, such as Myspace and Xanga. Parents need to be aware of sites that promote self-harm as well. The mind boggles, but apparently some people enjoy looking at wounded limbs. Non-suicidal self injury, the clinical terminology for cutting, is a maladaptive coping strategy and may require professional intervention.

“If you are a parent, please monitor your child’s internet history.”

This plea comes from a 19-year-old Sydney girl who is on the long recovery road from an eating disorder. She fears for young people whose parents don’t know what they are looking at. Read her article here. And if you’re not sure how to check a browser history, here is a link to a video.

A content filter service such as OpenDNS and parental control software allow parents to manually select categories to block, for example, self-harm, dieting, anorexia and so forth. Be aware that the Pro-ana movement often strategically swaps to new terminology, such as “healthspo,” so it is worth updating your controls regularly.

If you find your teen has been viewing Pro-ana sites, a visit to your GP or a psychologist may be necessary. Early intervention is crucial to avoid the development of an eating disorder.

6 Comments

  1. Scarlett

    The latest research indicates that eating disorders have a neurological/genetic component as strong as that of schizophrenia. As instinctive as it is to want to protect children from the “dangers” of pro-ana, blocking “thinspo” tags is not going to prevent an eating disorder. Those predisposed to develop anorexia or bulimia will be triggered by something at some point even if they live in a beauty-standard-free world (after all, EDs are actually NOT about appearance or even weight), and if one is not predisposed to this sort of “maladaptive coping mechanism”, as you put it, all the Kate Moss quotes in the world won’t incite a case of anorexia.

    These sites are not a good thing, but they are not the horrible contagion the media enjoys making them out to be. The unexciting but simple truth is that the vast majority of eating disorders are not actually preventable.

    1. Alison

      Thanks, Scarlett, for visiting and taking time to comment. I do not intend to suggest that Pro-ana sites “cause” eating disorders or that blocking them will “prevent” an ED. Early intervention gives the suffer the best chance of recovery, and in some cases a predilection for Pro-ana sites might be the first clue that the girl is struggling, buying parents precious months in recovery time.

      Sadly, many parents do not have a clue what their children view on the internet, nor do they know how to check.My intention is to raise parents’ awareness of the existence of these sites, equip them to monitor their children’s usage, and empower them to take steps, if necessary, to intervene. eQuipped is a website for parents about media safety.

      Pro-ana sites reinforce disordered eating and therefore may be unhealthy or even dangerous for certain vulnerable people (you mentioned the neurological/genetic component.) However, beyond the health ramifications, there are antisocial aspects that are concerning. Many Pro-ana sites promote nastiness towards people (particularly women) of average or large size. Most parents do not view hatred as socially acceptable behaviour or a healthy mindset, so apart from the damage that these sites do to a girl’s physical health, they also encourage meanness towards others and may induce self-hatred in the vulnerable.

      Parents are right to see Thinspo sites as a danger and to take steps to monitor their children’s access.

  2. Scarlett

    The latest research indicates that eating disorders have a neurological/genetic component as strong as that of schizophrenia. As instinctive as it is to want to protect children from the “dangers” of pro-ana, blocking “thinspo” tags is not going to prevent an eating disorder. Those predisposed to develop anorexia or bulimia will be triggered by something at some point even if they live in a beauty-standard-free world (after all, EDs are actually NOT about appearance or even weight), and if one is not predisposed to this sort of “maladaptive coping mechanism”, as you put it, all the Kate Moss quotes in the world won’t incite a case of anorexia.

    These sites are not a good thing, but they are not the horrible contagion the media enjoys making them out to be. The unexciting but simple truth is that the vast majority of eating disorders are not actually preventable.

    1. Alison

      Thanks, Scarlett, for visiting and taking time to comment. I do not intend to suggest that Pro-ana sites “cause” eating disorders or that blocking them will “prevent” an ED. Early intervention gives the suffer the best chance of recovery, and in some cases a predilection for Pro-ana sites might be the first clue that the girl is struggling, buying parents precious months in recovery time.

      Sadly, many parents do not have a clue what their children view on the internet, nor do they know how to check.My intention is to raise parents’ awareness of the existence of these sites, equip them to monitor their children’s usage, and empower them to take steps, if necessary, to intervene. eQuipped is a website for parents about media safety.

      Pro-ana sites reinforce disordered eating and therefore may be unhealthy or even dangerous for certain vulnerable people (you mentioned the neurological/genetic component.) However, beyond the health ramifications, there are antisocial aspects that are concerning. Many Pro-ana sites promote nastiness towards people (particularly women) of average or large size. Most parents do not view hatred as socially acceptable behaviour or a healthy mindset, so apart from the damage that these sites do to a girl’s physical health, they also encourage meanness towards others and may induce self-hatred in the vulnerable.

      Parents are right to see Thinspo sites as a danger and to take steps to monitor their children’s access.

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