Is someone Stalking my Anorexic Child?

As reported in The Guardian, April 6, 2011, pornography agencies specializing in anorexic images are beginning to target young women who post on Anorexia websites.  One email sent to a girl who posted pictures of herself starts as follows:


“As you know, beauty has one name: being thin. Our models
are underweight, skinny, thin, bony – just like you. We want
you. Regardless of the costs, we want you to join our agency…
…You are a superstar of starvation and if you were selling
and marketing your frame you would be more wealthy than
most of us because men would pay any price for watching
those pictures.”

The girl in the article, Sasha, was 15 when she was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. “I was very lonely and felt worthless,” she says.  “I retreated into an online pro-anorexic [pro-ana] community and shared everything.  I didn’t realise the danger I was putting myself under.”  Despite receiving professional support, she found herself becoming more entrenched in the online anorexic world.  She wrote a blog of her battle with anorexia, recording the small amounts she ate and publishing photographs of herself in her underwear as evidence of her emaciated body.

If you weren’t already aware…there are websites that actually promote anorexia as a lifestyle to teenage girls.  These “pro-ana” websites support girls in their pursuit of perfection and encourage them to share their unique beauty with the world by posting pictures of themselves, preferably showing as much skin (and bones) as possible.

Optenet, an international IT security company, reported that between 2006 and 2008 the number of pro-ana websites globally increased 470% to more than 1,500 and social networking and blogging has seen a surge in online pro-anorexia content.

As you might imagine, these girls are “befriended” by online predators posing as fellow teenagers looking for those who share their beliefs.  “My anorexic friend was actually a 46-year-old male with a fetish for skinny women,” says Sasha.  “He had pretended to be a young girl and persuaded me to share sexually explicit pictures and tried to convince me to join his modelling agency for the super-skinny.”

We here at recognize that, at this point in the article, you’re probably feeling truly disgusted.  We share your feelings.  However, it is important to use examples like these as a learning tool so you are informed and can use this knowledge to implement change.

Pay close attention to what Sasha was doing; she was “recording the small amounts she ate and publishing photographs of herself in her underwear as evidence of her emaciated body.” Young women with eating disorders often join in with others who have these disorders as well.  It is not rare for an eating disordered teenager to leave one group of friends and to join in with another where they have these behaviors in common.  One thing to notice about your child, if you fear they have an eating disorder, is to notice who their friends are, the new friends’ weight / body type, and to compare that to the body type of your child’s “old friends.”  Ask yourself the question, “Could my child have switched friends in order to re-inforce her bad diet habits?”

By noticing changes in eating habits, friendship “cliques,” and (most important) talking to your child, we hope you can uncover dangerous belief systems and behaviors before they turn in to a fully developed eating disorder.  If you have additional questions about this topic, PLEASE do not be afraid to ask us.  Your contact information will be kept in strictest confidence.

 Michael Katz, MD, MS