(NEW YORK) -- There is growing online pro-anorexia, or “pro ana” movement dominated by anorexics who view their quest for extreme thinness as a lifestyle choice rather than an illness, and it has many experts worried.
Thinspiration blogs and content, known as thinspo for short, are used as motivational tools by people who are trying to get dangerously thin. The number of pro ana and pro bulimia sites increased 470 percent in the past two years. One of the top thinspo sites, prettythin.com, receives an average of 280,000 page views per day, according to the web analytics site Alexa.com.
Thinspo is dominated by photos, many of them of them depicting skeletal young women and girls with prominent ribs, twig-like limbs and sallow visages. To an outsider, these pictures can be disturbing. To a girl deeply focused on her eating disorder, they can affirm her life choices and further distort her view of what a normal, healthy female body should look like.
Claire Mysko, who manages Pround2bme.org, the National Eating Disorder Association's online community that offers support for those with eating disorders, said the women who fixate on thinspo content see it as ticket to happiness and acceptance.
While there is a counter-movement to shut thinspo sites down and ban thinspo content, it’s proven hard to enforce. In 2008, France banned websites that promoted an eating disorder lifestyle or that used common thinspiration hashtags, and several popular social networks are following suit.
Still, a quick trip through any social site with a purported thinspo ban -- particularly Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest -- show that content is visible and thriving. When a site is shut down, it simply sets up shop elsewhere, or finds other ways to circumvent the bans.
"It is very difficult to truly eradicate thinspo because of the nature of the Internet," Mysko said.
Mysko said she thought it may be more effective to counteract the thinspo message with positive alternatives.
"We know people struggling with eating disorders and poor body image are looking to connect with others who know what they are going through," she said. "We need to offer a safe, supportive environment that promotes recovery and helps them disengage from an unhealthy mindset."
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