A small collection of websites have gotten plenty of media attention in France, and courts have even banned their existence. These websites are “pro-anorexia” or “pro-bulimia” – created by women and men suffering from eating disorders. Instead of trying to get healthy, they embrace their underweight frames and openly celebrate them in cyberspace. They’ve even given nicknames to the disorders: Ana and Mia, respectively.
A French court ruling made these websites illegal last year. Not surprisingly, the decision was met with controversy and free speech arguments. But in my opinion, this is not so much a free speech issue as a social problem. Why are they looking at outlawing the websites when they should be looking at why the websites exist in the first place?
Anorexia and bulimia are very dangerous eating disorders. Many young women and men have died from starving themselves. These are not new diseases; however; their prevalence has grown more and more common in the last century. And they are far more common in the Western world.
The media did not draw very much attention to eating disorders until Karen Carpenter’s death in 1983. The 32-year-old singer, who formed the duo The Carpenters alongside her brother Richard, died of complications (heart failure) related to her anorexia, although she had been in recovery for years. Until then, eating disorders were seen as simple, private problems, and the only solution was to tell anorexic and bulimic individuals to just eat something. Obviously the problem is more complicated than that, but this court ruling is not treating it as so.
Designers and models have attempted to “speak out” against the whole ideal body type phenomenon. Jean-Paul Gautlier, a French designer, says that anorexia is a problem solved not by laws, but by understanding. That may be true, but how much understanding is he doing by placing those same size zero models on the runway? The majority of runway and magazine models are underweight. I’ve even seen mannequins in stores that had the extra-small shirts clipped in the back because they were too big. And when was the last time you saw a size eight girl walking down a high fashion runway?
It’s not surprising that these things happen when we get such conflicting messages and ideas from the media. While everyone is saying “love your body the way it is,” they’re choosing the same unrealistic bodies to represent women. If they do not love our bodies, it makes it hard for us to listen to that advice.
Therefore, the problem is not with the people behind these pro-ana and pro-mia websites: punishing them will not instantly cure them. The problem is with the fact that we live in a society where the media is encouraging us to get to this point.
The same problem exists with alcohol consumption. You can die from alcohol poisoning just as easily as you can from starving yourself. And yet there are alcohol advertisements all over the place, telling us to do harm to our own bodies as well. There are songs about getting out of bed and brushing your teeth with a bottle of whiskey. There are about 126 Facebook fan pages dedicated to alcohol, and another 500 plus dedicated to beer alone. And then when underage drinking becomes an epidemic, no one knows why.
There is a much bigger problem here than sick people making websites for other sick people. The problem is that there are sick people. The websites are just a symptom of our culture.
What can we do? First, instead of fining the site’s creators, we could offer them help. Putting them in jail or making them pay heavy fines will not make them stop starving themselves.
Secondly, society needs to change. All body types need to be portrayed in magazines and ads, without calling to attention that these women are “plus-size.” Dove has tried doing this already with their Campaign for Real Beauty, but not many others have followed suit. Tyra Banks gained weight and tried to make every woman feel comfortable at her weight on her talk show, but on her reality show America’s Next Top Model, there is usually only one plus size or average, model out of twelve contestants. That may be what the industry wants, but maybe the industry shouldn’t have so much power over a young woman’s, or a young man’s, self-image.
If banning pro-anorexia websites isn’t stopping the presence of anorexia, there needs to be a better solution and it needs to be dealt with by everyone. Society created this problem; therefore, society needs to solve it.
Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.