Ana and Mia: How Eating Disorders Evolved Online

Pro Ana. My friend Mia. Thinspiration. If you know these terms, you are familiar with one of the dark corners of the internet where vulnerable people go to find support in making bad life decisions. 

These are pro-eating disorder communities that teach women how to be better at starving themselves. A language emerged to bypass bans and filters, replacing trigger words like anorexia and bulimia, with friendly phrases like: “my friends Ana and Mia.” Bone thin bodies, grim weight statistics, and frightening calorie counts are posted as goals and achievements, hashtagged #thinspiration.

"When you are starving you don't feel emotion. So I hadn’t felt a lot in a while."

These communities have existed as long as the internet, but 25 years after the start of the web, digital life has its tentacles around us in a different way. The threat has matured. Now, if you are trying to recover from an eating disorder, temptation is just a Tweet or Instagram away. And when a single picture of bony arm or a post about a celebrity who only weighs 100 pounds can mess with your recovery, it’s not just the internet that’s a dangerous place. It’s your whole world.

This week on the podcast, the story of how a lonely young girl used the internet to get better at starving herself for over a decade without even her family finding out. And then, the online moment that changed her course to recovery.

In this episode: 

  • Joanna Kay opens up about growing up with anorexia alongside an ever evolving online threat.
  • Sharon Hodgson remembers the dark days of running a Pro-Ana site for anorexics.
  • danah boyd tells us why banning these sites -- as Italy has tried to do -- is a fools errand.
  • Ideas for what could help girls like Joanna.

Resources and where to get help: 

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Music Playlist

  1. Alone

    Artist: Kenneth J Brahmstedt
    Label: BWN Music
  2. Fall For Bliss Slowly

    Artist: Kenneth J. Brahmstedt
  3. Quiet Smile

    Artist: Cullen Fitzpatrick, ASCAP
    Label: BWN Music
  4. Minimalopolis

    Artist: Cullen Fitzpatrick
    Label: BWN Music
  5. Peaceful

    Artist: Justin Asher
    Label: BWN Music
  6. Cat Tail Alt

    Artist: Jack Ventimiglia
    Label: BWN Music
  7. Glitter Waltz

    Artist: Jack Ventimiglia
    Label: BWN Music
  8. Quiet Horizon

    Artist: Daniel Jensen
    Label: BWN Music