Sunday, August 11, 2013

An Alarming Community

When I have time to get bored, I always end up somewhere my head shouldn't be. I ended up mentally listless recently, and surfing my way into the darker waters of the internet. I found a disturbing sect of the population made up primarily of 12 to 24 year old girls, so obsessed with getting skinny that they saw anorexia as an artistic, beautiful goal they wanted to reach with stars in their eyes. Of course I knew about anorexia, but I had no idea it was practically a subculture now and something that these young girls strive for every day until they end up dead.

It's easy to find. Just type in "thinspiration". And it has levels. "Extreme thinspo".. the heavy metal version of getting thin. Apparently this has gone on for a long time, but is easier to find now that girls know how to upload photos and edit them with "inspirational words". Then you've got your "pro ana" and "pro mia" websites, which are short for pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia. These terms refer to the conditions as a lifestyle, and not as something unhealthy. There are also gobs of tips for making it easier to become bulimic or anorexic, such as what foods are easier to toss up later and how to hide your anorexia from your parents.

The "inspirational" words these girls plaster on pictures of emaciated, dying carcases spin the state of being anorexic into illusions that come across as bizarrely attractive. "Light as a feather", "be fragile", "starvation is fulfilling; sight becomes more colorful", "eating isn't very Chanel".. and the list goes on and gets worse as it does. There are blogs, tumblr accounts, twitters, and thousands of videos on youtube dedicated to it. Girls are building each other up constantly with reminders not to eat and extra ways to burn calories, like standing on your tip toes while you brush your teeth. I managed to come across message boards glamorizing hip and collar bones and how some teenager had one month to "make her bones appear".

There is no easy way to open their eyes to how dangerous and sick this is either, because they believe in "staying strong" and rebelling against what people are trying to tell them to do. The more you push, the further they run.

It's a delicate situation, and their minds are made up. They have an entire community dedicated to bonding together and supporting this abnormal cause. I have no answers, and doctors are failing in their efforts to heal these young girls. And I'm devastated at the notion that it has become an art form. It is now the deadliest trend in body modification.

This has gotten so bad that modeling agencies and fashion designers have come under scrutiny for hiring models with a body mass index of anywhere under 18.5. Numerous models have died from it, including a woman who suffered a heart attack on the runway in Uruguay several years ago. Her sister died shortly after from "malnutrition". Isabelle Caro, a french model, had the onset of it at an early age when her mother wouldn't let her outside for the fear of "the air making children grow up". Isabelle eventually tried to start a campaign against anorexia in the last years of her life, and had begun to train herself to eat. She died on the road, as her body was already wasted beyond the point of being able to heal.

There are so many more factors triggering anorexia nervosa and different types of cases, but most statistics explain that the average person suffering from this disorder is female, from 12-24 years old, usually comes from a middle to upper class family, and is emotionally immature and depressed.
"Experts" are making guesses as to why this is occurring in this particular group of women. Their best guess is an obsession with perfection and trying to live up to overblown, unrealistic society standards. The more I searched through what they call a "life choice", the more I began to realize this was way more complicated than I originally believed. After several days of obsessive curiosity and hours spent scouring over these pages, I began to slowly understand it. And that was the scariest revelation of all. Media is incredibly powerful. And unfortunately, a lot of people don't realize what kind of power they hold when they start a visual, public campaign.

Just another daily revelation on the internet. Although I've known this has gone on forever, my reaction to people with eating disorders has always been a black and white sort of "they're weak and dumb". I was very wrong. It takes some effort to starve yourself to the point of death while fighting every person around you who is trying to get you to stop. Humans instinctively want to eat. There's pain. There's the deterioration of mental faculties as you stop getting nutrients to a young, growing brain. There's the fact that after a while, starvation starts to become easier.

I have only highlighted the trendy, more popularized reason hitting a general target audience. I have brought up pro ana websites that are everywhere, reminding, supporting, and understanding these girls when everyone else may not. Websites full of children reminding their peers that they don't really have to eat, and that the physical pain is "strength building". Kids telling kids not to worry when the brittle hair starts breaking and the skin starts turning yellow and bruising all over.. that they're all experiencing it and pretty soon they're going to be "so thin boys can pick you up without struggling". Girls spending days coming up with "the thin commandments" and numerous tricks to live off 100 calories per day. This is an addiction. It's just as serious, if not more so, than drug addiction. It's a psychological obsession, and it's based around fighting the pain of deterioration and struggling to "stay strong". These girls aren't taking something to make them feel good. They're teaching themselves to accept pain. It's just something to think about.

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