Meet ED, Mia, and Ana, the New Faces of Eating Disorders
By ALEXIS CORBIN and ALANNA LEVINE
Names of some sources have been withheld to protect their privacy.
From online Ana’s Cookbooks to “fun” tips on “thinspiration” blogs, the Internet has become a dangerous world for those with low self-esteem and eating disorders. Many websites have personified common eating disorders to connect with teenagers: ED stands for eating disorders, Mia for bulimia, and Ana for Anorexia. ED, Ana, and Mia are the unfortunate triad that encourages people to “skip one more meal” or “experience guilt after eating.” With the Internet’s ability to reach thousands of people, blogs and websites have increased the risks for teenagers to develop unhealthy lifestyles.
Studies have found that the average teenager spends about 31 hours online every week. Teens are constantly exposed to pop-ups of skinny models and links to pro ED blogs that can ultimately prove threatening to their mental and physical stability. Popular social media platforms such as Tumblr and Twitter have proven to have a large impact on the self-esteem of individuals. A Jericho High School junior discussed her self-image insecurities, which are in large part instigated by the aforementioned sites. “My entire life I’ve struggled with weight issues. I recently became a member of Tumblr, which is a popular website for teens where you can re-blog pictures of anything you can imagine. I find that lot of people on Tumblr post ‘thinspiration.’ It’s pictures of very skinny people and even pictures of anorexic people. Not eating is obviously a thought that has crossed my mind because of all of the influence from social media. It’s something that I think about everyday, and social media makes that a lot harder for me because it’s constantly in my face.”
Pro ED websites allow users to exchange ideas and personal anecdotes about their lives as anorexics or bulimics, and provide recipes for foods totaling under 200 calories and tips on how to ignore food cravings.
President of Nutrition in Motion, P.C., Christina Rivera has become an influential face in the world of dietetics. Through her work with the New York University Hospital of Joint Diseases, Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, and Bellevue Hospital, Rivera has great experience in medical nutrition therapy. Rivera said that the dangers of being exposed to social media have increased, given the immense amount of time teenagers spend online. Rivera explained the growing concern about social media’s influence on the average teenagers’ self-esteem. “Essentially in today’s media, everything is airbrushed. Everything revolves around weight and, ‘Oh, she lost ten pounds, so she gets to be on the cover of this magazine.’ We are presenting this image to young women and young men that, in order to be happy, popular, and healthy, you have to be a certain size and look a certain way. Media also overvalues appearance and undervalues anything else,”Rivera said.
In order to fight this surge of pro ED websites, a former sufferer from eating disorders who goes by the online name Ms. Orange created We Bite Back, a site that encourages individuals struggling with eating disorders to change their ways and reach out for help. We Bite Back was created after followers of a pro Ana website began to support recovery and wanted a community to share their new ideas. According to the site, “Ms. Orange – the former pro Ana site moderator – knew there had to be a place that her friends – former pro Anas – could go to keep friends and stay positive and not be alone in their recovery struggles. Otherwise, they would all end up going back to pro Ana communities and becoming progressively worse.”
The site also states that, “Ms. Orange watched people recover and start doing amazing things with their lives that they previously said could not be done. They were starting to believe in themselves. She watched herself do amazing things as well, because she finally made it a personal priority to recover. She made it her ‘job’ to recover!”
Membership in the We Bite Back community comes with numerous perks, such as the aforementioned support from others who are recovering, access to tips on how to maintain healthy lifestyles, and inspiring news articles and personal memoirs.
Jericho High School is not immune from its share of students suffering from eating disorders who are also constantly influenced by the content they are exposed to through social media.
Jericho High School social worker Mr. Todd Benjamin, explained the effect that the media has on eating disorders. “The society that we live in really does emphasize, ‘You can’t be too thin, too perfect, or too rich,’ so I think there is a lot of pressure for kids to look a certain way, and therefore many of them resort to destructive decisions about their eating,” he said.
Benjamin shared his concerns about this influence. “Let’s say there is a very thin model on the cover of a magazine, and she is portraying that she feels overweight, but really she is very thin. To the rest of the world, that may give off the impression that [you] have to be even thinner than that. So the role models that society puts forward do affect kids.”
A Jericho High School senior said, “I went through this period of intense self-loathing due to my weight issues. I binged and purged a couple of times, and I used to only eat 200 calories a day. A lot of that came from social media and pop culture. I would use pictures of skinny celebrities to motivate myself to exercise more and eat less.” Another senior, who felt pressured to lose weight by the pictures she saw on Instagram and Tumblr said, “Everyone is so skinny, you know, and even the girls in our school. I was trying not to eat and basically starve, and at one point I would just throw up a lot.”
Fortunately, Jericho High School staff already have means for helping adolescents struggling with eating disorders, and any student who would like to take advantage of these services is welcome in the Guidance Office.