Hundreds of websites urging girls to 'starve for perfection'

Study reveals alarming rise in promotion of anorexia and competitive dieting

Teenage girls are becoming involved in dangerous games of competitive dieting thanks to the proliferation of pro-anorexia websites.

Between 400 and 500 websites promoting anorexia and related eating disorders, which are visited by thousands of young girls each day, have been identified in the first review to quantify the phenomenon.

They tell people how to stay thin, promoting diets of 400-500 calories a day (compared with a recommended 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men), backed by coffee, cigarettes and diet pills.

They encourage “starving for perfection” featuring pictures of celebrities such as Keira Knightley and Victoria Beckham and advocate “thinspiration” backed by images of thin bodies.

In one year, more than 500,000 people visited the sites, according to one study, and a 2011 EU survey found that more than one in five 6 to 11-year-olds had been exposed to one or more sites with “harmful content”.

Dr Emma Bond, senior lecturer in childhood and youth studies at the University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich, who carried out the review, said the sites were set up by individuals with eating disorders who in some cases generated a following of almost religious intensity. There was no evidence of commercial involvement.

“It starts with an individual who wants to share their experience and as they get a following they set themselves up as almost Goddess-like,” she said. “When I started this research last January I came across a website set up by a girl who was disgusted with herself because she had put on a few pounds at Christmas. She planned to fast for three days and regain control.

“In under two hours, she had 36 followers saying things like ‘You’re wonderful, you’re an inspiration to me, I’m only fasting because of you’.”

In addition to the websites there are “thousands” of blogs by individuals on sites such as YouTube and Tumblr, many featuring sexualised images of scantily clad girls, Dr Bond said.

“Girls are posting images of themselves and are then approached by people who want to sell them on porn sites because there is a market for ‘skinny porn’. But the girls are  unaware they are being looked at for sexual gratification.

“Some of the websites are works of art in themselves, very beautiful with illustrations, clips of film and letters and poems to ‘Ana’. To a vulnerable teenager they appear lovely, pretty and attractive and give a sense of belonging. But they have a gruesome side too.”

Many focus on purging, starving and the use of laxatives and diet pills which cannot be obtained in the UK but are available on the internet. Some include advice on self-harming and have links to pro-suicide sites.

A disturbing feature of anorexia is the rivalry that can occur between “ana-buddies” who meet on the websites and vie with each other to starve themselves to the point where their lives may be in danger.

Anorexia usually begins in adolescence, affecting 1 to 2 per cent of teenagers and university students, though it can occur at any age. Dr Bond said the threat posed by the sites should be tackled through a combination of education and better policing. “Eating disorders are not going away, if anything they are becoming more common,” she said.

The review, Virtually Anorexic – Where’s the harm?, was funded by the Nominet Trust and supported by the charity b-eat (beating eating disorders).

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea