It Happened To Me: I Was a Member of Pro-Ana Groups on the Internet

We gave each other tips: how to throw up, how to hide our weight from the doctor, how to not pass out, how to stay warm, how to kill the appetite.

Feb 28, 2013 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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By Courtney 

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It is 5 AM. My fingers are shaking and blanched white. They are ice cubes that are eating away at the rest of my flesh. 

I consider tea, but am afraid of waking up my parents. It is a weekend, after all. No one should be up this early, and I know they won’t be up for at least another four.

I think about my friends on the Internet, my pale, sickly, broken sisters, about how almost every one of them admits to smoking (even though the majority of them are under 18). In these freezing, predawn hours, I’ve begun to understand the obsession: a warmth that would fill your lungs and mouth, a warmth that would fill up inside you, not fade away like hot water in the belly.

I am empty: Superwoman to the extreme. 

I wrap my quilt around my shoulders, shivering. 

This is hell on Earth, and I know no way out of it. 

There is, of course, the most logical answer: food. Food warms, delivers oxygen to the brain. It is fuel to the cars of our bodies.

But I can’t, and haven’t been able to make myself for months, pick up food and eat it unthinkingly. 

Because food is also weakness, and fear, and fatness. 

Fat is a curse to a girl that has only ever been called “interesting” at the kindest, in regards to her appearance.

Thin is the salvation, the focus.

And so this girl adds another layer of pajama pants, twists her hair in a bun, and leaves her room to walk her dog.

Every step of the walk is acute torture, every step she feels like this will be it, this will be when she surely falls over (though she doesn’t). Every step is accompanied by angry metal lyrics, and by the end of the walk she’s amazed that she made it, just like every end before.

You can’t keep a secret wrapped up inside you forever, and telling a community of girls online that starved themselves ended up not being able to feed me enough.

My search started innocently enough. I , like many outcast teenagers, wanted an outlet: a way to share my words with a secret identity so that I wouldn’t be mocked (which I now realized was very flawed logic, and which I learned when a few people the community I joined called “trolls” blasted my posts).

But, alas, no one was commenting on my posts. So I tried to find people I shared similar interests with.

And I did. Oh God, I did.

I did click on “books” and certain TV shows I watched, of course, but eventually I clicked on “weight loss.” I found a few groups that circled around healthy eating, things like the “Mayo Diet” and the “Atkins Diet.”

No thank you, I thought, hovering my cursor over more possibilities.

Now, I would like to preface this by saying that this is in no way blaming the Internet for the pain in the world, or as some “experts” would say, for the decline in morale of American youth. Bullies cause cyber-bullying, not the Cyberworld they use.

The point is, I chose to fall into the rabbit hole. No one pushed me. I knew that the habits I and the other girls had developed were dangerous and unhealthy.  I simply didn’t care, primarily because I didn’t care enough about myself.

There wasn’t malice in the members. We were “sisters.” We were “angels of Ana.” When people put out goodbye posts and told us that they were trying to get healthy and recover, we congratulated them. We said we wished that we could find the strength to leave ourselves. We said we were sad we could no longer talk to them, but that we understood how triggering it would be, how important it was to cut ties.

However, a lot of it wasn’t as caring as all that. To become a member, one had to put down their name, age, weight, eating disorder/s, goal weight, and sometimes a picture. 

We gave each other tips that were not nurturing: how to throw up, how to hide our weight from the doctor (this was the one I asked, and was blasted for when the trolls descended), the rubber band trick (snap every time you felt hunger pangs -- surprisingly enough, also a tip given by psychologists to former Self-Injurers),  how to fool our families and friends into thinking we were eating more than we actually were, how to not pass out, to paint your nails (the skin under the fingernails or around would sometimes turn blue), the best undereye coverup (to hide the circles that emerges after sleepless nights on an empty stomach), how to stay warm, how to kill the appetite.

“Thinspo” posts were often the most popular: other girls from other sites that posted photos of themselves (sometimes for thinspiration, but more often not), models, and actresses. Kate Moss was a very popular one.  

Sometimes they were full body shots, but pictures focused on other areas (the clavicle/chest/collarbones, “back wings,” the space in between thighs in short shorts, the waist and ribcage,  hipbones jutting out, the back curved like a bottle that had been choked).

This was a twisted sisterhood. We helped others harm. It was the opposite of the Hippocratic oath. 

We also nurtured. We told each other that we were not freaks, and that we shouldn’t hate ourselves. That we were not ugly, but beautiful.

For this story to be published in a magazine, I would probably have to end it by saying that after my recovery, I was a success, an inspiration. I would say that I have started a new organization of body image positivity for young girls, that I’m a correspondent for the White House, that I am, at the very least, an honors student at a well-known university. 

None of these things are true. For starters, recovery is an ongoing process: the “I have recovered, never again will I etc.” ray of light moment is a myth.  I am, however, at a healthy weight, happy some of the time, on medication, and employed at a grocery store.

I’ve applied to two universities that I’m waiting to hear back from, and am enrolled in an online Teaching English as a Foreign Language course. It’s a go-at-your-own-pace kind of deal. Without deadlines it’s a bit harder to stay motivated, but I’ve finished a quarter of it and trudging through.

I frequently procrastinate, have a handful of close friends, and live at home. 

I am not a wild success, but I’m proud of myself nonetheless. Recovering takes bravery, persistence, and it’s an uphill battle. Standing still isn’t as glamorous as swimming ahead, but I’m simply grateful to have gotten to a point where I’m no longer sinking.