Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia: When Your Teen Supports Eating Disorders

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September 12, 2011 by middleearthnj

Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia might sound like some kind of support for a sports team player or maybe a political association, but in actuality, it is a movement that encourages teens and young women to embrace eating disorders as a lifestyle choice. Ana is short for anorexia and Mia is short for bulimia. These groups promote self-starvation, avoiding treatment for eating disorders, and being proud of behaviors such as achieving a 100-calorie day.

The Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia movement, which as an almost cult-like appeal, has a strong presence on websites and social networking sites but there are additional low tech activities, such as wearing specific bracelets, that urge young women and teens to rebel and be ‘proud’ of their eating disorder behaviors. No one knows just how many of the estimated 8 million to 11 million Americans afflicted with eating disorders have been influenced by the pro-Ana movement. A preliminary survey of teens who have been diagnosed with eating disorders at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, for instance, found that 40 percent had visited websites that promote eating disorders.

Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia Bracelets

Advocates of eating disorders have created an easily recognizable symbol to help identify each other when not online. Their symbol is a bracelet, of a certain color and worn in a specific way. The bracelets are simply made, inexpensive, readily available on the Internet, or can be homemade. The only requirement appears to be that the bracelet be the appropriate color and be made from, or include, beads.

A red beaded bracelet worn on the left wrist stands for anorexia. Blue or purple beaded bracelets worn on the right wrist represents bulimia. In addition to the eating disorders, another group promoting self-injury or cutting, another severe psychological problem, encourages “members” to wear a black beaded bracelet.

According to girls in the Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia community, the bracelets serve several purposes: a visible sign to remind them not to eat, a way to identify themselves to others in the group, a symbol of encouragement and support to others in their group, and a sign of solidarity and choice uniting their community. Unfortunately, the help this community offers is very destructive.

Celebrities, including Nicole Richie, have been pictured wearing the thin red bracelets, which are distinguished from Kabbalah bracelets by their silver dragonfly clasps. The community of Pro-Anas often refer to themselves as “Dragonflies”. The “Dragonflies” are one of the more disturbing online communities because they see anorexia as a lifestyle choice and badge of honor rather than the critical illness it is.

Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia Websites

There are numerous websites that are considered Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia. The websites “recruit” unsuspecting girls and offer a sense of community to Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia girls. The girls listen to and validate one another’s feelings. The websites glorify photographs of emaciated girls and usually post the “Ana creed,” a litany of beliefs about control and starvation. The people who run these sites are generally young women or girls who have an eating disorder and who want others to join them.

Pro-Ana visitors exchange tips on how to lose weight, control eating, purge “safely,” and hide an eating disorder from family and friends. Girls post messages on how to achieve a 100-calorie day and faithfully report their “cw” (current weight) and “gw” (goal weight), which often falls into the double digits. Diaries chronicle everything from feelings of loneliness to hopelessness and despair, but many visitors find solace in sharing.

What to Do if Your Troubled Teen is Wearing a Bracelet

If you see your teen wearing a bracelet similar to the ones described, this may be an indicator she is struggling with an eating disorder or supporting someone who does. But, it also could be a simple mistake – she may just like red beaded bracelets.  It’s important that you let your teen know you are aware of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia bracelets. Then, without judgment, ask her reasons for wearing the bracelet.

You can also check to see which websites your child has visited by viewing the ‘History’ on the computer or on electronic devices.  If you notice that your child has visited a Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia website, again speak with to her about it.

Be aware your teen will likely deny having an eating disorder, even if she has one. The key is to look for other warning signs, such as strange eating patterns or obsessive focus on food, weight loss, depression, or low self-esteem. Be sure to help your teen understand that anorexia and bulimia are not lifestyle choices, but serious disorders that can be fatal.

If you believe your child may have an eating disorder, it’s important to take action to get help right away. Eating disorders do not just “go away” or improve on their own. To learn more about eating disorders, read our previous blog “Teens and Eating Disorders.” In the meantime, stay calm, do not be judgmental, and seek advice from a medical professional.  Unfortunately, until someone with an eating disorder wants to help themselves, treatment often fails, and the Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia movements encourage people to embrace their eating disorder.

5 thoughts on “Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia: When Your Teen Supports Eating Disorders

  1. Rebecca says:

    I’m a recovered anorexic and did participate in the bracelet project. To make the bold statement that most pro ana/mia sites encourage behavior is a bit much. While there are definitely websites that should be taken down, those are run by wannarexics. I would say at least 4/5 pro ana/mia websites encourage recovery – most have a recovery, thinking about recovery, and recovered section. If you don’t have an eating disorder and aren’t part or have never been part of the community, I don’t see you as having any credit.

  2. Tammi says:

    The red bracelets are not saying “anorexia is good”, it’s just pro ana. I’m anorexic and always wear a red bracelet. Why? So I don’t have to feel alone. I think it’s kind of helped me get a bit better because I mostly started because I felt alone and fat. Also, pro ana websites do NOT encourage purging. Without the pro ana webs I would’ve started purging. They offer support and they share experiences, it helps so much. And they do encourage u to eat more. The websites also encourage others to report girls under age 13 so they can delete their account. just saying

  3. Sam says:

    False. Almost all Pro-ana/mia wwbsites I’ve seen have specificly said that their goal is to offer a support system for people with eating disorders, not create more. Think, if you had say, bipolar disorder, wouldn’t it make you feel better to talk to someone with the same problems? Bashing pro-ana/mia websites just takes away the little support that these people get.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to write your opinion on this article. While we agree that support groups are an excellent way to help people get through life struggles, the majority of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia websites do not encourage recovery. They actually support eating disorders as a lifestyle choice instead of a disorder that needs to be overcome. Finding a reputable support group for eating disorders through a licensed therapist would be a much healthier solution for someone to share their struggles with people who have similar issues.

      • Zozo says:

        I am in the pro ana/mia community and I can definitely say that I would never want someone without a disorder to develop one, I would rather die. These communities are for people to converse their experiences and to give people that are already into their disorders support and understanding. Most of us are really, really happy and supportive once someone is on the road to recovery or recovers but some of us don’t feel ready and continue with our habits. It is not discouraged to recover among most pro ana/mias and even though there are tips and tricks, it is for the people that don’t want to recover just yet.

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