May 6, 2007

From the Sunday World Sunday, May 6, 2007


Headline: How sick sites are cashing in on anorexics

In one of the more disturbing aspects of web abuse, companies are exploiting the ill by selling goods which 'celebrate' their disease, writes NIAMH BYRNE Anorexics are celebrating their life-threatening disease by wearing bracelets which identify them as proud anorexics and encourage them to lose weight. Pro-ana bracelets are made from red beads and are designed to help anorexics resist their hunger by being worn on the hand used to eat with.


Skinny stars 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 refer to them- selves as "Dragonflies". The Dragonflies are one of the more disturbing online communities because they see anorexia as a lifestyle choice and badge of honour rather than the critical illness it is.


Blue bracelets or Pro-mia bracelets are also available for people suffering from bulimia. The phenomenon of 'weborexics' first became apparent about three years ago with the emergence of so called Pro ana websites. But they've taken a sinister turn, with several sites cashing in by selling pro-ana merchandise, including teddy bears, 'ana' bracelets and tank tops with slogans such as "nothing eaten, nothing gained".


The owners of the web-1 sites are making huge I profits by promoting * irresponsible behaviour and selling the cheap bracelets for up to €30 each. Shockingly, you don't have to go to a Pro-ana site to pick ' up one of these bracelets as they are now being sold openly on e-Bay. j Bracelets are delivlered in unmarked envelopes so' the victims' parents are none the wiser. As one Pro-ana website owner explains: "1 never put anything in the envelope except the bracelet. No e-mail addy, no web addy, no letter, anything. I just put the wrapped bracelet in the envelope, the street addresses and stamps on the envelope – it just looks like you ordered a bracelet – or maybe someone i just sent you one. I kinda feel bad because I feel like I should % say something to you guys to I thank you, but I know that I anonymity/not getting found out is more important than 'thank yous'. ^ Despite the efforts of cam- J? paigners to close these Pro-ana f websites, they are still legal and more than 500 flourish on the web. I Frightening messages such as Nothing Tastes As Good As Thin Feels,' 'Nothing is so bad that losing (Hveight won't cure,' and twisted artilicles about the 'Joys of Anorexia', 'The beauty of Bulimia', and how to 'teach one another how to play the dangerous game', are splashed across the sites along with dangerous weight-loss tips and advice on , how to figure out the minimum number of calories you need each day to stay alive.


They also have their own ana food pyramid, which consists mostly of water, diet pills, diet soda, coffee, and image. Worryingly, there are a growing number of 'wannarexics' visiting these sites. These are healthy women who pore over pictures of dangerously thin models on the sites but instead of feeling sorry for the emaciated girls paraded online, they want to pick their brains for diet tips. : They are looking for a quick way to lose pounds – ignoring the risks of using the extreme tactics of people in the grip of a potentially fatal ill- ness. Kate Moss, Twiggy, Calista Flock- hart and Nicole Richie are the role models for Pro-anas, with pho- tographs of them looking dangerousy thin appearing on most sites.


Psychologist Dr Funke Baffour believes this attitude is on the rise. "With the current debate over size zero, more and more women are telling me they've visited these sites for help losing weight," she says. "But these are drastic tips for dramatic weight loss and they are forgetting the health consequences. "Women not inclined to have an eating disorder could be getting one in the future – I can see this trend creating big problems." Catherine Joyce, spokesperson for Bodywhys told the Sunday World: "Pro-ana and pro-mia websites are often set up by people who are currently experiencing an eating disorder. "They might initially help people to feel less isolated./but the community" that they create is an unhealthy community that encourages obsessiveness', and minimisation of the seriousness of these potentially deadly disorders.


"They are dangerous because they do not encourage discussion about how people are feeling underneath the behaviours they are engaging in and therefore do not support or encourage recovery from an eating disorder. "Eating disorders are a coping mechanism that people use to deal with an underlying emotional or psy- chological distress. "To move towards recovery, these underlying issues need to be dealt with. "As far as the bracelets go, they appear to be much like a promotional tool for the sites and as such, we would see them as just another part of the dangers of the sites them- selves."