Call to Ban Pro-Ana Websites

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Call to Ban Pro-Ana Websites

In the capital of high fashion and thin models, conservative French legislators are adopting a law that is aimed at stifling a proliferation of websites that promote eating disorders with “thinspiration” and starvation tips.

If passed, the bill would take aim at any means of mass communication—including magazines and websites—that promote eating disorders with punishments of up to three years in prison and more than $70,000 in fines.

The legislation is one of the strongest measures proposed in France since the 2006 death of Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Resten, from anorexia nervosa. With the proposed law, the French legislators are seeking to tame a murky world of some 400 sites extolling “ana” and “mia” nicknames for anorexia and bulimia. Since 2000, such websites have multiplied in many languages, offering blunt tips on dieting, bingeing, vomiting, and hiding weight loss from concerned parents.

The bill would make it illegal to “provoke a person to seek excessive weight loss by encouraging prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the health effect of exposing them to risk of death or endangering health.”

Australia in agreement

Australians have also called on the government to follow France’s lead and ban pro-anorexia websites. The government is currently developing a cyber-safety policy that includes Internet service provider filtering for all Australian homes, schools, and public computers, but there is no indication that pro-anorexia sites would be included in the “black list.”

Sarah McMahon, a psychologist from the Eating Disorders Foundation in Australia, said there were more than one million pro-ana and pro-mia websites. “These normalize and strengthen the thoughts of people with eating disorders,” she said. “People who use and put up these sites see it as a lifestyle choice and they reinforce that to each other. It’s the only mental illness that is glamorized.”

Other proponents pointed out that the people who make these sites are not mentally sound, so shutting them down would not be a matter of taking away their freedom of speech. However, the censorship issue is a problem. Nina Funnell, a researcher at the University of Sydney talked about the difficulty of regulating the sites, saying “It’s also a token effort because every time one of these websites is shut down, two tend to pop up in its place.”

Critics weigh in

Many critics have emerged, noting that the French bill is vaguely worded and was rushed into legislation. Eating disorder experts also expressed doubts about whether such a law would help victims or create even more demand for the sites by publicizing them. As written, the proposed law does not make it clear who would be ultimately responsible for the content of such sites and whether it would be the creator or the Internet service hosting the site.

Critics also worry that if governments start regulating what is thin, they will soon move on from there to regulating other content on the Internet—such as telling us what is fat and how much we should weigh. Another issue is that the girls who would be punished under the proposed law really need psychiatric help. Punishments such as prison time or paying a huge fine would be a disservice to these people and wouldn’t fix the overall problem.

Sources: New York Times and www.theage.com.au.

Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2008 Volume 6, Number 2
©2008 Gürze Books

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