Exclusive: Teenage girls and young women are lured into potentially deadly online "communities" where they are fat ashamed and bullied about their weight.
They are members of & # 39; Proana & # 39; groups – a disturbing mix of anorexia and bulimia – that are on every social media platform, many of which have their own websites.
Some of the groups are disguised as "healthy eating" networks where young women encourage each other to lose weight by using "thinspo" and pasting thin pictures.
Others use & # 39; meanspo & # 39 ;, where members ask to be bullied with "fat insults" and to make fun of weight and height.
There are even Proana "influencers" who act as trainers, using blogs and websites with "tips and tricks" and rules about how many calories you can ingest before joining as a member.
Those who end up in hospital severely malnourished are encouraged to share pictures of their feeding tubes, or "trophies".
Social media has spawned eating disorder profiles that advocate anorexia and promote shame. Image: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
You can follow eating disorder profiles or "trainers" on Instagram and Twitter, there are public and private groups on Facebook, and the newest and more virulent platform TikTok has quickly become a major culprit, with people shooting videos from their hospital beds.
One website describes itself as "being proactive with anorexia – getting the most of your life despite your disorder" and says that for some people it can be a "lifestyle, not a disease".
There is also a separate forum for members only.
Butterfly Foundation National Helpline Clinician Amelia Trinick said the algorithm can be problematic on social media platforms as it drips the same type of content.
She recommends various feeds, but also warns that social media platforms can be a bit like the "wild west".
"Image-based social media, combined with the isolation caused by the pandemic, has been the perfect storm for people to experience the need to compare and criticize themselves on such a constant basis," said Ms. Trinick.
Proana accounts are easy to find, as some “influencers” offer themselves as trainers
"Social media can thrive on the fact that people don't feel good and are more likely to buy products they think they feel better about.
"Even something seemingly harmless like the Fitspo movement still has a negative effect."
An Australian woman who is still struggling with eating disorders told News Corp Australia that it was "the only mental health disorder I know where the sick you are, the more successful you are".
"It's about being sick enough," she said
"The online platforms are fueling an eating disorder. Instagram and TikTok are so dangerous because if you like something that has to do with eating disorders, all of a sudden girls in the hospital or in the diet or fasting appear in your feed," said the woman and describes the communities as "toxic and dangerous".
"You see these people on TikTok with NG (feeding tubes) who almost glorify it. They do it in a way that is fed by their own eating disorder to validate their illness."
Social media has spawned a "cult" of eating disorder profiles that advocate anorexia and promote shame.
Chelsea Marchetti, 20, was an eating disorder dancer who said she was always overlooked for roles or got the "boy part" because she was considered a size 10.
As part of her recovery, she strictly filtered her social media, saying that the social media Proana content makes it very difficult for anyone with an eating disorder to get better.
“I think it's so destructive for girls who are in that position and haven't come out on the other side. It really pisses me off because it just fuels what they do. And it's just so unhealthy. And there is give them no indication that what they are doing is wrong. "
Chelsea Marchetti, 20, is a former dancer who used fitness to help her on her path to recovery from an eating disorder. She says the Proana social media communities are "toxic". Image: Tricia Watkinson
Change.org has received nearly 30 petitions urging platforms to ban content related to eating disorders
The American Olivia Wadford started her TikTok petition to ban Proana content because of the insidious algorithm.
"I follow multiple eating disorder recovery accounts, which means I see a lot of content related to eating disorders. Because of this, I often come across videos that encourage viewers to get involved with eating disorders," said the 21-year-old .
Ms. Wadford discovered the Proana community when she was 13 and said it "encouraged people to engage in disorderly eating habits".
Olivia Wadford has recovered from an eating disorder and created a petition for TikTok to monitor the overwhelming amount of Proana content on her service.
“I used 'meanspo' and 'thinspo' to hold myself accountable. Whenever I wanted to eat I would look at pictures of really thin models in the hope that one day I would look like one. Pictures of skinny girls motivated me even more, I was determined to hit my goal weight, and eventually I hit my goal weight and lost forty pounds more.
"I'm currently six months in recovery and have a much healthier relationship with food. Looking back on my 13-year-old self, I had no idea how much Thinspo and Meanspo would affect me, which is why I want to be sure other young people using TikTok are not exposed to Proana content. "
TikTok said it is committed to the welfare of its users and has hired major nonprofits.
"We care deeply about the well-being of our user community and are currently working with Butterfly on an In-App Public Service Announcement (PSA) that will provide support and encourage the community to post content for those with food or body image concerns to label that may be of concern concern, "said a spokesman.
"The PSA is displayed when users search for specific related hashtags on the platform."
Personal trainers should be equipped with the skills to solve eating disorder problems as they are perfectly positioned on the fitness front.
Instead, many of their clients' body image issues may be unaware and can even make them worse.
Dr. Sarah Maguire of Inside Out, the Eating Disorders Institute, said many would be surprised to know how many clients have eating disorders.
Pro-anorexia websites are rampant on Instagram in what one expert calls the "Wild West".
"Fitness and fitness professionals play a major role," she said.
"I don't think they are very well informed about mental illness in general, and eating disorders in particular."
A & # 39; health halo & # 39; in the fitness community can hide eating disorders and body image issues, and Dr. Maguire said, "I think you would be very surprised to learn that the type of work you are doing with this person could – if not done the right way – lead to an increase in the severity of the presentation of mental illness . "
This content can be "triggering" for some people. Anyone who needs assistance with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact the organizations listed below.
Butterfly National Helpline: 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline: 1300 550 23
For urgent assistance, call Lifeline: 13 11 14
OPINION: HOW TO KEEP YOUR TEENAGER GIRLS SAFE ONLINE
Danni Rowlands is the National Manager Prevention Services for the Butterfly Foundation
The constant challenge for women, regardless of age or origin, is that the ideals of beauty and appearance are constantly changing.
Society has always set standards for what is “more beautiful” or more attractive in relation to the female body. Therefore, this is certainly not a new navigation thing for women.
The problem with ideals is that they do not allow or celebrate difference, nor do they take on diversity in body and appearance.
Because of the social media platforms, exposure to fit, thin beauty, and ideals of appearance is more saturated and intense than ever.
Thin and healthy body ideals flood newsfeeds, are constantly changing, and are amplified by celebrities or influencers. Unfortunately, exposure to these images often leads to feelings of inadequacy, ugliness, and unworthiness from comparison, especially in young, vulnerable teenage girls.
Parents can play an important role in helping their daughters navigate positively on social media, says Danni Rowlands of the Butterfly Foundation.
When a young person feels this way, they are at greater risk of engaging in risky behaviors such as excessive exercise, dieting, and cosmetic procedures to improve their appearance in hopes of changing their physical appearance.
Of course, this is never the long-term answer, and instead puts you at a higher risk of experiencing persistent body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and in some cases an eating disorder.
All of these can have a significant impact on both physical and mental health.
Parents can play an important role in helping their daughters navigate positively on social media. Understanding the different platforms is a good place to start.
This will help parents empower their daughters to choose what to see and follow and ultimately curate a more diverse, positive, and balanced "feed".
It is important for parents to know what their girls are posting, what hashtags they are following, and who they are following. This can help explain eating, exercise, fashion, and beauty behaviors – especially if those behaviors have recently changed.
Helping girls challenge the news behind posts (sponsored and unsupported) is also important, as developing a critical eye when viewing social media images can help them see beyond the picture. Build their social media skills, change the internal narrative, and increase their body awareness.
While communicating with an adolescent can be difficult at times, finding ways to connect and keep lines of communication open is important. Honest, real, and non judgmental conversations are key.
When you frequently compliment your daughter on her non-appearance strengths, talents, and traits, you are affirming that she is more than she looks – she is whole person and you value her for who they are, not what they look like . It's also important to show them through positive role modeling.
If you fear that your daughter is inordinately preoccupied with her health, weight, shape, appearance and that her mood, eating and exercise habits have changed.
We encourage you to trust your instincts and seek professional assistance from the Butterfly Foundation.
Originally published as Deadly Online Craze which includes Australian women