HEALTH & WELLBEING

In the footsteps of Ana and Mía: websites that promote anorexia are legal in Spain

pro-ana

They are called ‘Pro-Ana’ and ‘Pro-Mía’ websites and offer tips, diets or exercises – some very extreme – with which to lose weight quickly. In France these pages are illegal and in Italy they have just presented a bill to ban them. In Spain, several associations ask the Government to penalize them.

Nadia is 14 years old. Those who know her assure that she was an open and sociable girl until last January she began to be continuously angry and irascible. In just two months he had lost 14 kilos . “Her character changed remarkably, she wanted less and less food … I started asking her friends and they confirmed that she gave her breakfast at school to another girl, or else she threw it away, until one day came when I found vomiting in the bathroom “, says Lidia Amella, her mother. “On one occasion when she was trying on clothes for a high school function, she was crying sitting on the floor and in front of the mirror, exclaiming that she did not like what she saw.”

It was at that moment that this mother decided to take action on the matter . He took his daughter to a medical center where he began treatment. Soon she was admitted. After 50 days in an eating disorders unit, Nadia has been discharged from the hospital, although she continues to go to the psychological every week and is waiting for places in a day hospital. “Before entering I was talking to her and I wanted to understand why she had gotten there, and after several questions she told me that she had searched the internet for ‘how to vomit easily’ . When I entered and read the first four lines I was scared as never before, I was scandalized, I cried. All of me was shaking with horror just thinking about how far my daughter had read. “

The pages in which Nadia found ‘tricks’ to lose kilos are called ‘Pro-Ana‘ (proanorexia) and ‘Pro-Mía’ (probulimia). In fact, the Web is plagued with these types of publications . Outraged, Amella decided to open a petition on Change.org (which already has about 4,000 signatures) asking the Ministry of Justice and Health to regulate them. The demand for this mother is not new, several organizations have been asking the Government to take action for some time.

“We have been working on the issue for years and asking for regulation,” says Guillermo Cánovas, president of the Protégeles association . ” With the law in hand we cannot close these pages , but we have managed, thanks to the collaboration of the servers where they are hosted, that about 500 have been eliminated.”

Diets, advice, self-harm …

“Because food is like art, it exists only to look at it.” “If something strikes you and you can’t resist, chew it and then spit it out.” “Eat ice if you feel very hungry.” “If you want to eat, take photos of people you admire for being thin and look in the mirror, compare yourself, look for seven mistakes in your body.”

Affirmations of this caliber can be found on these websites, where bloggers offer advice to lose weight and become ‘princesses’ (as they are called among themselves when they achieve their goal of losing kilos). The pages also have endless symbols, slogans and iconographies that have arisen around this world. Thus, it is common to find virtual white ribbons or messages that encourage wearing red bracelets (Pro-Ana) and purple or black (Pro-Mía) to recognize each other anywhere . All of them are also illustrated with photos ‘thinspiration’ (from English, inspiration for thinness), which promote an ideal of beauty with a fragile appearance, with squalid women, flowing dresses, butterflies, flower crowns …

“There is a very strong hierarchy in these pages. At the top are the restrictive ‘Anas’ [anorexics] and at the bottom the ‘Mine’, the bulimic ones. Those at the top refer to those at the bottom with derogatory terms such as ‘sows’, and they accept that treatment because their objective is to get a restrictive ‘Ana’ to help them stop eating because the one who does not eat is the queen, “says Cánovas. “They consider that what they do is a lifestyle that manages to lead them to perfection. The relationships they establish are also extremely false, saying that they love each other very much, but rarely help each other.”Laura Kohlgrüber (the name is a pseudonym) is responsible for one of these blogs. She is 26 years old and has been compiling diets on her website since 2008 that promise, for example, to lose four kilos in three days. She herself acts as a ‘guinea pig’, testing the ‘advice’ she offers, and claims to have gone from 80 to 50 kilos in the time she has been with the page .

In an email to LeafRouter.com , she acknowledges that she often receives critical comments, but assures that she is not affected because “they are made without foundation.” “They are people who have not read the blog and attack thinking that my intention is to induce anorexia and bulimia, which is 100% false,” he emphasizes.

For Kohlgrüber, his page is only showing his “lifestyle” . “We do not intend for any reason to change the mentality of others. From home, parents are obliged to explain to their children the good and the bad, which will serve as the basis for the bad or good decisions they make in their lives. They cannot blame blogs and other content on the Web for problems that are actually found in closer settings like home or school. “

In this sense, Lidia Amella admits that, before reaching those websites, her daughter “had to be beginning to have a problem.” However, he believes that these helped “give the final push.” “My daughter has reached anorexia much more quickly and deeply by consulting these pages,” she laments.In fact, doctors began to become aware of this type of publication when they realized that patients who were in the initial phases of the eating disorder knew “tricks” typical of chronically ill patients . “In this way they manage to accelerate weight loss, both through food restriction and with physical exercise and purgative behaviors”, comments Eva Lago, head of a study on these websites prepared by the Hospital’s Eating Disorders Unit University Son Espases . “These pages promote the so-called ” kilos races “, which are championships to lose weight, and in this way they motivate each other for weight loss. Likewise, the fact that patients with anorexia or bulimia nervosa consult these pages gives us an idea of ​​their degree of obsession and their low self-awareness of the disorder “.

Apart from the symbols, the advice and the diets, among the hardest contents of these ‘sites’ are the self-aggressive techniques which they call “Pro-Si” (pro- selfinjury) with which they “teach” users to infringe varying degrees of pain with the goal of “burning calories” and “reinforcing self-control.” They also have a section where names of medications, diuretics, weight loss drugs are exchanged … The use of cocaine is also encouraged to reduce and control appetite , as well as amphetamines, tobacco, alcohol or ecstasy.However, despite the harshness of some topics, there is research that ensures that these pages can have a positive side : they help to study the behavior of users and make them feel that they are part of a community. These conclusions have been quite controversial and several doctors and experts are totally against. “It is a problem and cannot be seen as an advantage or a positive aspect,” says Cánovas bluntly. “Thanks to these communities the disease is reinforced. Until now they met in a hospital, wearing a white coat and surrounded by doctors. Now, on the internet, they establish contact with each other on the sidelines of health, the idea is reinforced that It is a life option. This contact through the internet is brutal, in fact.the first thing that is done in a therapy is to prevent access to those pages “.

Dr. Lago is of the same opinion, who affirms that finding support on the internet “can help to maintain and make the disorder more chronic, keeping it hidden on many occasions and postponing its treatment.”

The audienceAccording to data from the Internet Quality Agency (IQUA) , 75% of the users of these pages are minors and 80% are girls . Furthermore, according to a survey carried out by Protégeles, published in December 2007 and carried out among minors between the ages of 8 and 17, 17% of minors who used the internet visited ‘Pro-Ana’ and ‘Pro-Mía’ pages and 26.2% of girls and 15% of boys accessed them to lose weight.

“The bulk of those who visit these pages are girls between 14 and 16 years old who are in a moment of development that are especially vulnerable to what other people do and say, especially their age,” reflects Cánovas.

Since 2005, the Ombudsman for Minors together with those responsible for Protégeles denounce its existence. In Spain, these pages are legal . Its content does not violate the current Penal Code, which makes its closure more difficult, which depends directly on the “good will” of the accommodation portals. Following the petition on Change.org, this medium has contacted the Ministries of Justice and Health to find out if there is any plan in place to make them illegal, but has not received any response.

On the contrary, in France there is a regulation around ‘Pro-Ana’ and ‘Pro-Mía’. Since 2008, those responsible for these pages can face three years in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 euros. Likewise, in Italy the debate has just opened with the presentation of a bill that provides up to two years in prison and fines of between 10,000 and 100,000 euros for those who instigate anorexia or bulimia.

The experts assure that, in our country, for each page that is closed, five new ones are opened . “We are facing an unstoppable phenomenon if greater pressure is not made for our Government to reform the current Penal Code and we can have legal protection that allows us to act judicially against those responsible for these websites,” says Lago.

For his part, Cánovas laments: “You cannot end these pages because they are looking for different servers. It is a daily war, but we have to be very clear that it is content that is harmful to minors, that it has to be outlawed. the apology of racism or xenophobia, the incitement of these diseases must also be typified so that we can act “.

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