News coverage of "pro-anorexia" Web sites

Does it inform the public -- or put girls at risk?

Lynn Harris
April 26, 2006 9:47PM (UTC)

It seems CNN has gotten wind of a story that others have been aware of for some time: the existence of pro-anorexia, or "pro-ana" (and "pro-mia," for pro-bulimia), Web sites that "support" girls in starving or purging themselves. (To see the video report, search under "videos" at or watch it at YouTube.) These sites offer explict instructions -- even elaborate rituals -- for denying oneself food; photos of superskinny models and celebs for "thinspiration"; and twisted maxims such as "Anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease."

The Broadsheet reader who tipped us off to this latest report was shocked to learn about such sites -- and concerned that coverage of them could, perhaps, increase their readership. "Knowledge is power and all that, sure," she wrote in an e-mail, "but how many girls on the cusp of an eating disorder discovered this because of stories on a national news outlet? Does the potential benefit of head-on dialogue outweigh the potential negativity of legitimizing them with publicity?"


My personal sense is that the press has a responsibility to cover such issues -- responsibly. (And that "national news outlets" are not the only sources of such info; put an eating-disorder-prone teen within 10 feet of Google and she'll find these sites in a heartbeat.) I mean, was last week's Broadsheet story about tweens online in bikinis just free press for those shady "child model" sites? I think not. But does "responsibly" mean that the CNN story should also mention, say, a Web site that can offer real help to teens who might be watching? Or offer more about what parents can do? What do you think?

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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