Pro-Ana Communities: The Counterfeit for Connection

By Jena Morrow Margis, CADC, Timberline Knolls Clinical Development Institute Faculty

Earlier this week, a client sat in my office and confessed to me that she had been heavily involved in the pro-eating disorder community on social media (Twitter specifically). She described how negative and toxic the community was, with its “fatphobia,” body shaming and symptom glorification — and yet, she said, she couldn’t bring herself to delete her account.

“What purpose does it serve for you?” I asked my teen client (we’ll call her “Kiley”). “By your own admission, the pro-ana stuff is toxic — so what need are you looking to meet by remaining involved in it?”

Kiley averted her eyes and sat quietly for a moment, nervously fidgeting with the cuff of her sweatshirt. Her timid voice communicated shame as she answered, “I don’t know. This sounds bad, but… they’ve become, like, my tribe. Everyone knows me there.” And then she added, gesturing with air quotes, “I’m ‘popular.’”

As I listened to Kiley, I was reminded of this quote by Johann Hari, in his increasingly famous TED Talk: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety — it is human connection.” And people like Kiley, whether entrenched in ED behaviors or flirting with the idea, are seeking connection in destructive ways via the pro-ana community online. In a sense, they are looking for love in all the wrong places.

If you have a client who is involved in the pro-ana subculture, I encourage you to challenge them to identify the need they are attempting to meet. They may be going about it all wrong, but chances are the need itself (whether for connection or community or a feeling of being understood) is valid and worthy of attention. Our challenge then, as clinicians, is to help them explore healthy ways in which to get those needs met.

As always, thank you all for the important work you are doing. Keep showing up and holding the hope for others. You are making a difference.

About Jena Morrow Margis, CADC

*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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