It was about four months ago that Joanna officially declared herself anorexic.
“I do consider myself thin because, well, I can see a lot of my bones … my ribs, hip bones, spine, etc.,” said the 13-year-old, who is among the estimated 1 percent of American teens who have an eating disorder. “But I’m not perfection, yet. But I’m getting there.”
Joanna – not her real name – lives on Staten Island. New to the world of eating disorders, the weight-obsessed teen openly admits to subsisting on a diet of water, apples and yogurt. At just 88 pounds, she still considers herself “chubby,” and said she often denies herself food in hopes of losing another 10 pounds.
The most alarming part of Joanna’s story is that she is not alone.
“’Ana and Mia’ are referred to as people’s friends because they become a part of your life – like a friend,” Joanna said, describing what she and a number of other teens afflicted with eating disorders refer to as their support: A blogring for girls with anorexia and bulimia.
“It’s now a part of my life,” Joanna said.
Dubbed Ana/Mia, a blatant code combining the first and last letters of anorexia and bulimia, the site has been identified as an alarming trend, one that allows half-starved teens to openly air their formerly dirty secrets, post pictures of their favorite thin celebrities and even brag about their severe eating habits.
One of the many blogrings on www.xanga.com, the Ana/Mia site boasts mantras like this: “It is my religion and Ana is my god.”
Created on April 6, 2005, the blog already has 186 members. It’s chilling mission statement: “This blogring is for those who truly believe that Ana is doing good in their life … Ana is the answer to loneliness. Ana’s embrace is the warmest and most comforting … Ana will never die.”
Teens like Joanna are turning to the site in record numbers because they don’t find the “support” they desire from their own circles of friends. In essence, the dot com is for girls who have no intention of overcoming their disease. According to entries on the site, it’s for those who want to make it a part of their lives.
“I made my Xanga to find help and support,” Joanna said, explaining how she created her own blog. “The people with Ana/Mia Xangas mostly try to help each other out. We share secrets and new diets along with tips.”
Barry Silverman, MSW, a psychotherapist who has a private practice in West Brighton, said he’s heard of these blogs and is concerned about their effect on teens.
“I think that they have a potential to be dangerous. They take a dangerous condition like anorexia and they normalize it and almost glorify it. And to do so at great peril because there is a significant risk of death in anorexia,” said Silverman.
Each person in an Ana/Mia blogring – the majority of which are teenage girls – have similar blogs.
First, they list their daily food intake. Most reveal that they skip breakfast and lunch, have a piece of fruit for a snack and then “are forced” to eat something for dinner. Most of the Ana/Mia bloggers complain that their parents force them to eat.
The blog goes on to list tips for purging (vomiting their food) or fasting (going without food for a whole day, or more).
Bloggers next list how much they exercised that day. For some, it’s three hours spent on a treadmill trying to take off more weight. For others, exercise is a punishment for eating “too much.”
Ana almost all of the Ana/Mia bloggers display images of their “thinspirations” – weight role models, most of whom are celebrities. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan are some of the most popular. (Joanna’s idol is Paris Hilton.)
“These are people in the public eye,” said Silverman. “They are people that are looked up to and emulated. If you emulate someone, you are usually going to emulate all of their qualities, not just their ability to act or dance or sing,” he said of all the ultra-thin celebrities who have recently been thrust into the public’s eye.
“The anorexic, in her mind, does not see herself as the way her body truly is,” Silverman explained. These girls have “body image distortion” and see themselves as heavier or fatter than they really are.
The blog also has its own jargon, listing initial codes like “cw” and “gw,” which stand for current and goal weight – many of which are in the double digits.
“Everyone thinks you’re selfish if you are thin and ‘Ana,’” said Joanna, adding that people often tell her that she’s too skinny and revealing that only a handful of friends know that she’s “Ana.”
“No one understands that there is being thin and there is being… perfect,” she said.
That’s why she started making Ana/Mia friends online; friends, she said, who truly understand her.
“They’re some of the greatest people you can meet because we support each other no matter what we go through.”
But Joanna didn’t just wake up one morning with an eating disorder. It just doesn’t happen like that explained Silverman. It happens over time, often triggered by a combination of things, like “…comments made by other people; sometimes it’s a habit that spins out of control,” he explained.
Both Ana and Mia
“I am both [Ana and Mia] depending on what I eat,” Joanna explained. “If I stay to my strict diet of 500 or less calories a day, then I would consider myself Ana. If I eat more than that, then I consider myself bulimic because I won’t let myself take in so much calories.”
“People don’t start out to be anorexic or bulimic,” Silverman continued. “It takes on a life of its own – sort of like you are at war with yourself. That’s why it requires professional intervention.”
Joanna said she’s “almost completely happy” with her body.
“I don’t see myself as fat. I see myself as chubby and I want to lose a few inches,” she said.
The somewhat surprising part of the Ana/Mia blogrings is that many of the bloggers reveal their names, ages, and where they live. In fact, they’re proud of who they are.
“To you, it may seem as [I’m] starving myself. But to me, it’s just a part of my life that brings me one step closer to perfection,” said Joanna, who does not use her true identity on her blog, but does reveal that she lives in Staten Island.
“I’m just an average person with a dream of perfection. I’m no one special, so the world doesn’t know me,” she said. “But if everything goes well, the world will know me as a top model that started out with a dream of perfection – and got it.”