This post was originally published on January 27, 2015.
I was at a literary event for a friend that was promoting her just released memoir. It was a large turn out and there were a ton of writers and people that worked in the publishing industry. Off in the corner was a woman that I immediately pegged as anorexic. She was stick thin, hollow looking, and her designer dress hung loosely off her exposed emaciated shoulders. A strong breeze could have blown her away. At some point a mutual friend introduced me to her and we started talking. She asked what I did for a living and I told her I was a writer. She said that she too was a writer.
“Oh,” I said. “What do you write? Fiction, nonfiction?”
“I write about women’s health,” she said.
“You mean like exercise and yoga?” I asked, and then immediately felt like a sexist idiot.
“Actually I’m an ana advocate,” she responded.
I had no idea what she was talking about. “You’re an ana what?”
It turns out that this woman’s idea of writing about women’s health was her blog where she promoted anorexia, or as she said “pro-ana,” and then she also referred to herself as a “rexie” which also confused the hell out of me. But what I did gather was that she encouraged others to join her in a “pro-ana lifestyle” by posting entries with tips and methods for anyone that wanted to know how to be anorexic, as well as photos of herself and other women that were just as shockingly thin.
“You’re fucking kidding,” I said.
There was a snack table at the reading, plus they were serving wine and beer. We were both as far away from that table as possible. Yet she clutched a glass of water in her hands like it was all that was keeping her upright.
“No,” she said, “I am definitely not fucking kidding.”
Okay, am I just late to the party here or what? Pro-anorexic? Really? I’d never heard of such a thing. But in an effort to find some common ground, plus a need to know more as this was kind of blowing my mind, I ended up telling her that I had been writing about my own issues with bulimia, adding, “Only I don’t think it’s a healthy behavior, and I certainly don’t advocate anyone else to join me. “
“You’re so negative,” she said. “Why don’t you just embrace your mia instead?”
I wasn’t even sure how to respond. Bulimia has taken a major toll on my physical and mental health. And only until just recently it was my closely guarded secret that I kept from everyone. Writing about it was my attempt at lessening the guilt and shame that I carried around because of it.
“My ‘mia’? Is that what you call bulimia?”
She looked at me like I had just asked if Obama was still president. And then she dropped a bunch of names of “pro-mia” Tumblr pages. “You might want to check them out,” she said, then murmured goodbye and teetered across the room on a pair of impossibly vertical stiletto high heels that were just as skinny as she was.
I watched her walk away and thought how unattractive she was. Her bones were sticking out all angular and I just wanted to grab her and stuff her full of Krispy Kremes and a box of See’s chocolates. Which is a pretty radical reaction from me, as usually I’m a little jealous of anyone I deem thin. It’s just that this woman had gone way past thin. She was Skeletor. She was Auschwitz thin. And it was scary.
Later that night when I got home, I Googled “pro-ana” still thinking this must just be a sick joke. Admittedly I was not prepared for the sheer magnitude of websites, blogs and chat forums that were out there promoting anorexia like it was a good thing. But there were thousand of sites to choose from and they all had names like “Pro-Ana Forever,” “Thin and Beautiful” and “Ana By Choice”—each of them with the prerequisite photos of skinny girls adjacent the various methods each site declared the best way to starve oneself: “Drink water, it will fill you up,” “Chew gum when you want to eat,” “Think food = bad.”
Then I hit search for “pro-mia” and got 365,000 results. I clicked on link after link and stared at the computer screen for hours. I can’t really explain what I felt, except to say that I got really sad looking at all these disillusioned people’s blogs. Even though it shouldn’t have surprised me since the Internet is full of crazies and there is no shortage of zealots expounding whatever it is they are obsessed about. Only this all seemed so misguided and irresponsible. And for a second I wondered if I Googled “pro-heroin,” would I find the same outpouring of support for being a junkie?
All these website were freaking me out. I just couldn’t fathom wanting to embrace my bulimia as a good thing. Every day I suffer the repercussion of my eating disorder—the acid reflux and mounting dental bills—and as I read claim after claim that it was the ultimate diet, a positive lifestyle and a personal choice of empowerment, I kept thinking what if I had been indoctrinated with this type of thinking, would I still be so stoked to be in my 50’s and puking my food up every day? Because really, for me, that was the turning point. I had struggled with my eating disorder all my life, but when it reappeared full force a few years ago after having been somewhat under control, I was devastated. And with numerous years in recovery from drugs I had thought I was “cured” enough to not still be engaging in unhealthy behaviors. But then I was just putting unreal expectations on myself instead of seeking help–which is what I finally did.
The last link I clicked on was to a pro-ana/mia chat room. I didn’t want to engage, I just wanted to see what was being posted. There was an ongoing conversation between what I assume were four different women. They all had profile names like “2BThin,” “INmySkin,” and “skinnygirl” and they were chatting about how they hadn’t asked to be born with an eating disorder, but because they had one, they were going to use it to their advantage.
And then one of them wrote: I look at everyone who is normal as weak.
The response was: They are just scared you are going to kill yourself. They don’t know any better.
I know, wrote the first one, but I just can’t go out looking like this.
That’s because you are fat was the response.
It was more than I could take and I had to close the laptop.