The Red Bracelet Encourages Starvation

anorexia, bulimia, fashion, death, starvation, eating disorders, mental health

Isabella Caro was a fashion model who died from anorexia at 28. Before she died she posed for a campaign on anorexia awareness.

The other day I ended up on some anorexic’s blog. I was researching a story about zombie fungus and then wanted another name for fuzz, which lead to lanugo (the light fur babies are born with and that anorexics get because there isn’t enough fat in their bodies to keep them warm). I was derailed from my story research for three hours as I surfed through blogs on anorexia.  I became more disturbed as I learned a whole host of new terms. There is a whole lingo that I didn’t even know about. It includes ana, mia. pro-ana and thinspo. What is this? It’s a short form for anorexia, bulimia and those that support these eating disorders. Thinspo is pictures of scrawny and skeletal people from celebrities to everyday people as a form of inspiration to keep going with the “diet.”

Support?

I knew of eating disorders and grew up with my own. I know of people struggling and fighting to be healthy before they kill themselves with starvation, or become grotesquely obese. I know it’s tough and many women die. Others have their health affected for the rest of their lives. I know that the movie and fashion industry, as well as even professional gymnastics are partially to blame for perpetuating an unhealthy ideal, which is unattractive and deadly. I know all this.

What I didn’t know was that there was a sub-culture of people who are supporting each other in their choices to starve themselves into skeletons and prepare for an early grave. From the blogs I surfed, these seem to be women mostly in their teens, and mostly women. They’re not just on a quest to lose weight and be a healthy weight. They want to achieve a BMI of less than 17.5 and weigh 100 lbs no matter their height or build. A BMI under 18.5 for most people is considered underweight.

Eating disorders can cause a host of health problems and conditions. They include but aren’t limited to: lanugo, stress fractures, osteoporosis, dehydration, kidney failure, hair loss, dry skin, gastric rupture, erratic heartbeat, peptic ulcer, pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, cholesterol issues, impaired organ function, impaired mental capabilities, high or low blood pressure, reproductive problems, blood sugar issues, diabetes, death. If one does recover, some of these symptoms never go away.

As I read the blog I thought it was a joke at first, and that the few comments of  “congratulations,you’re getting thinner” and “don’t give up hope; you’ll get there.” were tongue in cheek. But as I went from one person’s blog to another’s, with pictures of skeleton legs, I grew alarmed. A girl with legs so boney there is no shape was trying to diminish her calf muscle. Another or the same was happy when there was a gap between her legs at the very top of the pelvic girdle. Another wants to know how you keep your boobs when you’re starving yourself. Another  comments that she’s pissed off her blood sugar is high when she’s eating between 700-1000 calories a day.

Nicole Richie, eating disorder, ana, mia, aanorexia, thinspo, starvation

Nicole Richie, normal and anorexic. The picture on the right would be considered Thinspo. Creative Commons: tollieschmidt, flickr

I won’t list most of these blogsites because I think these people need serious help before they die over an obsession. There is something seriously wrong with a culture that perpetuates the existence of such a debilitating and often deadly condition. Several of the blogsites mentioned Ana Boot Camp or the ABC diet.  They also talked about wearing a red bracelet. So I went to the site. It seems the red bracelet is supposed to show support for someone dealing with a disorder, let them know they’re not alone. All right, that’s fairly noble. Don’t make these people feel worse when they’re so mentally unhealthy. But the more insidious aspect of this is that it’s not for supporting a person as they go through therapy to gain back a healthy way of eating. The undercurrent is that these young women can share and encourage each other to keep dieting and losing weight to point of death.

The Ana website sounds good at first when you read part of the disclaimer that says: This website is for support for those with an eating disorder who feel alone and by themself with this issue. I support the recovery of the indivdual when they are ready and will never support those who ‘want an eating disorder’. (sic) When you read farther down you get this: As well, if you are looking to get anorexia / bulimia by being here then please leave now. You will not find information contained within this web site, forum, or any site linked to / from this website on how to become anorexic or bulimic. Well that’s good, right? Don’t help people further their eating disorders. Support them in getting over it.

Unfortunately it’s not true as the Ana commandments are listed:

1. If you aren’t thin you aren’t attractive.
2. Being thin is more important than being healthy.
3. You must buy clothes, style your hair, take laxatives, starve yourself, do anything to make yourself look thinner.
4. Thou shall not eat without feeling guilty.
5. Thou shall not eat fattening food without punishing oneself afterwards.
6. Thou shall count calories and restrict intake accordingly.
7. What the scale says is the most important thing.
8. Losing weight is good/gaining weight is bad.
9. You can never be too thin.
10. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.

It would be better to say, here is what many anorexics believe but you should not follow these. The site also goes on to give recipes and ways to feel full without eating, and a diet regime (Ana ) where you never eat more than 500 calories and as low as 50 calories (or fasting) per day. There are Auschwitz victims who ate more than that, and they still starved. So the claims that the site does not encourage bulimia or anorexia are false. But then it’s being maintained by a 17-year-old anorexic in England, whose mental faculties could very well be impaired by her disorder. I’ve talked about the mental impairment that happens with depression, and the feeling of isolation and shame that comes with an eating disorder. I would however, never support continuing with a disorder, or encouraging people to lose more weight than is healthy, and what these young women think is ideal will affect them for the rest of their lives. I would encourage getting help, refusing to look at pictures of anorexic celebrities, and finding someone to talk with about the problem.

In fact, if I had a child, with the way today’s culture seems to favor the ultra thin,  I would watch her (or him) closely to make sure they were eating properly. And I still say that I’d rather be overweight than underweight. At least with a few extra pounds your body has more resources for recovery. I feel shocked and sad that there is such a culture out there where skeleton women encourage each other to look more like death, not even warmed over.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “The Red Bracelet Encourages Starvation

  1. Megan Hughes

    Yes, it’s shocking. My neice was just discharged from Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Clinic a month ago, so I’ve learned lots too. I commented to one of the Ana/Mia websites how mentally disturbed it is to be supporting girls to damage themselves. But, as you pointed out, once they start restricting, their judgment becomes impaired, let alone their bodies. It is sad and vicious what eating disorders do. Good for you for writing about it. We should make our own bracelets: red with white stripes?
    – Megan

    • colleenanderson

      It might not be a bad idea to make something that symbolizes that I’m aware of the problem but I don’t support you hurting yourself.

  2. Maren

    Thanks for writing/blogging about this Ms. C, my friend. One of the last things that someone w/ this wants to do is admit it… it’s ugly. I’ve slid back and forth between anorexia & bulimia (admist other things) for 30’ish years — shame & taboo shackle us as much as the lack of treatment options. Eating disorders are the deadliest of the mental illnesses, the costliest to treat and among the least funded per patient for treatment research. Any mental illness has it’s own hell, but for your mind to tell the body that a fundimental need for survival is poison, weakness, ugliness and evil… is an intractable torture. — M

  3. I understand that many that are suffering from these disorders are highly secretive, but the commandments are very disturbing. I don’t know what I’d do if I found out that someone I loved believed in those commandments.

    Some people should be seeking professional help, not nurturing dangerous behaviour in themselves and in others. If these people were not anonymous, would these websites be around? If these groups were in the open, would their pamphlets and meetings and commandments be accepted anywhere in the real world?

    There’s no way of shutting operations like this down without driving them further underground.

  4. Morgan

    I didn’t even know sites like this existed until traveling through a “WTF” section of a website. I came across one blog that was just horrific, it does not even once mention that they ‘help people recover’ rather it provides tips to hide it from loved ones. Luckily enough (I think) most of the pro-ana sites that it linked off to were down (they all seemed old and out of date since 2008). But it’s still out there under different names I’m sure.
    These sites just break my heart, I can’t believe that they’ve turned an eating disorder into a religion, into a cult with their own manifested gods like Mia and Ana. It’s a mental disorder, not something to celebrate.
    If I ever see a young girl wearing a red or blue beaded bracelet on their left hand, I’ll probably approach them or the people they are with.

  5. Nope

    There is so much I want to say but I can’t. All I can say is this is the most terrible thing I have ever read.How dare someone blog secrets and allow comments saying that people with eating “disorder” are mentally disturbed. That is just…..wow. Oh, and just some, little small advise…. DONT try to “Help” because that will lead to worse things.

    • colleenanderson

      Well I can tell the age and mindset of this last comment (and by the email address). I wonder what secrets I was blogging when they’re all there in the whole worldwide web. I also never said that people with eating disorders are mentally disturbed but they are indeed mentally unhealthy and in fact the lack of proper nutrition affects the brain faculties. Scientific fact. There are faster ways to die than starving oneself and it is indeed a sign of someone in a tragic spiral who very much does need help, as I suspect this last commenter does.

  6. Thanks a ton for using some time to create “The Red Bracelet Encourages Starvation | Colleen Anderson”.
    Many thanks once more ,Amanda

  7. crystal

    this is the third piece of literature that i am reading from you. i stumbled upon this quite by accident. i strayed from Isabelle Caro through to you… (and i did not even start at isabelle) i also remember reading about your India trip… quite by accident too (with the dysentery and all). this article is humbling i was looking at a video of and about Isabelle and when i saw the headline about the red bracelet i was curious. i am the opposite. i binge eat. and i rarely look at pictures of myself anymore. i have a hormonal issue that contributes to my weight so it is not only my mind. i feel it for Isabelle (RIP) and i wish that society can ease off people a little and allow people to be themselves. no i am not saying for me to continue being my weight i am now trying to appreciate my size but i am making moves to try to be healthy… not the”perfect” weight but healthy where i can walk up a flight of stairs and not feel to pass out. NO ONE IS PERFECT… you’re either too tall, too short, too hairy too plain, too fat , too skinny, too black, too white, too pale, too pink, too tanned, too butch, too girly, too ugly, too pretty, too something. people (by that i mean society) should learn to deal with and appreciate difference. or else we will ALWAYS have this problem…

    • colleenanderson

      You’ve hit it on the head. No one IS perfect. We’re human. We’re flawed, we’re wonderful, we’re unique, and we have different life experiences that form us. People who judge on looks alone have no idea what some people have gone through. They’re also in for a rude awakening because we all age and change. Beauty is ephemeral and transitory.

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  9. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder I was aware of these sites. I never followed them and found them once I began recovering so I avoided them but yes they do exist. They give you hints on how to control eating and lose weight. Eating disorders are horrific. I wouldn’t wish that kind of struggle on my worst enemy. It isn’t just about thinking you are fat. It is a very serious mental illness, one that you are willing to die for in order to achieve your goals of weight loss. It’s an illness that needs more awareness. The hardest part is trying to convince someone to get help because you like your disorder. I didn’t want to die so I needed to change my life and get healthy. Thank you for bringing awareness to this.

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