Glorification of eating disorders

"Pro-ana" (= anorexia nervosa, anorexia) and "Pro-mia" (= bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder) are deliberately chosen, trivializing abbreviations for Internet content that advocates eating disorders and their consequences. Pro-eating disorder sites are mostly run by eating disordered individuals who do not want a cure or therapy. Instead, they use web offerings such as blogs and social media profiles to express their advocating attitudes toward anorexia and bulimia and to promote eating disorders as a desirable lifestyle. Many offerings specifically target adolescents. Photos and videos show desirable "role models," other sufferers or extremely slim models.

This issue explains how young people can come across content on the Internet that specifically glorifies eating disorders and provides tips for action for parents, educators and relatives of those affected.

Teens and pro eating disorder content on the web

The reasons for the development and formation of an eating disorder are very diverse and individually different. In most cases, adolescents struggle with their self-image and body image during the difficult phase of puberty. However, direct confrontation or viewing of pro-ana and mia content online alone cannot trigger an eating disorder in healthy recipients. Again, those already affected can feel understood by the respective content and be encouraged to continue to hold on to their eating disorder, especially when they are in an unstable state. A vicious circle for which they receive support from other users online. This creates a life-threatening "we-feeling" that encourages secrecy, discourages therapy, and drives them further and further into the vortex of the disease.

Various scientific studies also confirm that the use of pro-ana and pro-mia offers is not without risk. Viewing the content can trigger lowered self-esteem and increased thinking about one's own weight. If pro-ana and pro-mia supportersexchangeinformation uncontrollably and without appropriate counseling, this can reinforce their negative self-image and already distorted body perception.

In social media offerings, one also repeatedly encounters profiles, videos and images in which depictions of eating disorders arecombined with content from the areas of suicide and/or self-injury . The use of multiple hashtags brings up a whole range of extreme content in the search function of the services. The large overlap in suicide and self-injury content is particularlystriking. Confrontation with such content can trigger or reinforce dangerous behaviors in children and young people, if not encourage them to try out other types of danger.

Typical forms: From weight loss tips to hunger groups

The lack of insight into the disease, the failure to recognize the risks, and the glorification of the eating disorder as a lifestyle mirror the symptoms of the disease and are indicative of typical pro-ana and pro-mia content.

The following identifies some content that provides specific guidance and instruction on eating disordered behavior:

  • Ana's and Mia's letters: fictional letters with instructions for action that personify the eating disorder as the only true friend
  • Commandments, laws, creeds, psalm: further behavioral instructions in the form of rules of faith, i.e., firm rules about eating behavior and social behavior
  • "Thinspirations" and "Bonespirations": photos or videos of extremely thin girls and women or bodies that serve as weight loss motivation and ideal images
  • Motivation carriers as well as "Thin- and Triggerlines": Motivational texts, sayings and quotes for losing weight
  • Tips & Tricks for further weight loss, vomiting and keeping the eating disorder secret from family members and friends, especially strategies and excuses for refusing food in social situations

In addition, content that calls forparticipation with certain rules and obligationsis particularly characteristic. These include:

  • Hunger contests and challenges: Which user loses weight the fastest? Or: The number of likes of a contribution determines the number of hours of starvation.
  • Twin exchanges: search for Abnehmpartner*innen to the mutual Anspornen and common hunger and/or decrease
  • Closed pro-ana/pro-mia forums and pro-ana/pro-mia WhatsApp groups: Exchange with otherpro-anaand pro-mia behind closed doors with strict rules and requirements. Often, ads for this are posted on blogs or on social media profiles in the form of guestbook entries or comments.

In particular, participation in contests, challenges, and closed hunger groups cancreateheightened psychological pull. Young people are specifically exposed to significantly increased risks of damage to their health through the creation of pressure situations. The alleged being understood in the group chat with push messages and mutual motivation or even mutual competition keeps the affected persons from actively participating in life and consciously opposing their illness. Sufferers feel understood and encouraged to continue to adhere to the eating disorder and the common goal of achieving the anorectic ideal. If one of the instructions or rules is violated, the Pro-Ana and -Mia followers punish themselves with excessive sport, induced vomiting, further abstention from food or exclusion from the respective group.

Content that one-sidedly trivializes or glorifies eating disorders is therefore fundamentally relevant to the protection of minors. Children and adolescents who are not yet firmly established in their personalities and body image are primarily at risk. Adolescents should therefore not have access to content that compulsively encourages them to lose weight and presents the disease as an ideal of life.

Tips for dealing with those affected

Parents should always talk openly with their children about their Internet behavior and, if necessary, also about the topic of eating disorders. The following applies in principle: If you notice websites, profiles or groups on social media platforms with depictions that one-sidedly trivialize or even glorify eating disorders, please always report them first to the support of the platform (e.g. via the reporting function or via contact details in the imprint). The platform operators bear a great responsibility as providers of storage space for third-party content. They can contribute most quickly and effectively to making it difficult for children and young people to access this content.

Similarly, you can also have experts check the risk potential of content that is difficult to assess. For example, you can contact or contact.

If you suspect an eating disorder in your child or a child, you should not assault them with appeals, demands or even coercion. Instead, you should strengthen your child's self-esteem by emphasizing special abilities and encouraging him or her to stand by himself or herself, avoid negative remarks about weight or the body, for example, inform yourself about causes, treatment options and offers of help, and contact a local counseling center . These are not only there for those affected, but are also available to help relatives.

More tips

  • Changes in eating behavior;
  • Constant weight control;
  • Excuses for not eating or missing meals together;
  • frequent vomiting;
  • social withdrawal;
  • excessive exercise; or
  • significant weight loss or severe weight fluctuations

  • Eating disorders are recognized as a psychological illness in the forums.
  • The forums integrate references to therapeutic offers.
  • Explicit references to the fact that destructive dealings with the eating disorder are neither desired nor tolerated; corresponding content is deleted, the authors are excluded from using the forum.
  • The forums do not require "meaningful" rounds of introductions and do not formulate specific "admission criteria".

You can report questionable content to a complaints office so that it can be deleted:

    Central Office of the Federal States for the Protection of Minors on the Internet.
    Joint hotline of eco (Association of the Internet Industry) and FSM (Voluntary Self-Monitoring of Multimedia Service Providers).

Children and young people have a right to digital participation in society. Young users should be able to use online services in a self-determined, critical and creative way, but above all without worry. This requires a contemporary protection of minors with regulatory, technical and educational components. While younger children need more protection, greater freedoms and competencies for self-protection become more important as they grow older. In addition, parents and educational professionals need tips and practical assistance for media education.

It is important that parents actively accompany their children on the Internet, know where their child is communicating with whom, which topics, services and apps are currently in vogue, and have an open ear in case of problems. In this way, parents can counteract at an early stage if their child ends up in an unsuitable online environment. If parents strengthen the child's self-confidence and media skills, it can more easily distance itself from dangerous content and people. In general, it is advisable for parents to advise their teenage child to carefully check web offers, forums, but also profiles of groups and individual users as well as friend requests.

Sources used on this page

Bosse, F.; Siefert, L. (2018): A qualitative content analysis of a pro-ana WhatsApp chat. In. merz- medien + erziehung, Kita digital: Frühe Medienerziehung, 62:2, pp. 66 - 71.