Alternative portrayals of anorexia nervosa and its symptoms on pro-anorexic websites : a thematic analysis of website contents.

Da Rocha, Lisa Nicole Cardoso
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The internet has become an invaluable source of medical information in the twenty first century. How some individuals have come to use this medium has created a stir among parents and the mental health community. One such use has been the promotion of anorexia nervosa as a healthy lifestyle choice on Pro-Anorexia (Ana) websites. These have become controversial spaces due to their presumed influence on both the initiation and maintenance of anorexia nervosa. Despite growing concern regarding the contents of Pro-Ana websites, limited research has been conducted in this area resulting in a lack of awareness of the role, contents and unique perspective contained on these sites. Therefore the purpose of this qualitative study was to explore how anorexia nervosa is alternatively portrayed on Pro-Ana websites and how this portrayal either maintains or challenges eating disordered symptomology. Thematic content analysis of the text contained on two of the most popular Pro-Ana websites yielded five major themes: perfection and control, pain and suffering, secrecy, exclusion and medical and psychological knowledge. The results suggested that there is a large discrepancy between the portrayal of anorexia nervosa on Pro-Ana websites as a healthy lifestyle choice and the current clinical perspective which views anorexia as a dangerous and fatal illness. The results also indicated that Pro-Ana websites embrace an anti-recovery stance, encourage the maintenance of eating disordered symptoms, promote a unique Pro-Ana identity by excluding others and are wellinformed medically and psychologically. Implications for treatment and research are also discussed.