Does your teenage girl know Ana? How about Mia?
If she’s not yet comfortable in her own skin, maybe trying to lose a little weight, she might know one of them, or at least where they hang out. Just like your teen, Ana and Mia are constantly online. Sharing thoughts. Posting pictures. And they have awesome diet advice, like “Eat ice or gum when you’re hungry,” and “Drink one glass of water every hour.”
Or how about these tips straight from cyberworld?
“Say you are going to eat at a friend’s house and instead go for a walk.”
“Make yourself a snack, but instead of eating it, throw it away. Leave the dirty dishes where your parents can find them.”
“Have 6 small meals a day. Take 2 apples, and split them so you can make 6 meals out of them.”
Or this clever piece of advice?
“Punch yourself in the stomach. You won’t feel hungry anymore.” Ouch!
Girls all over the U.S. are getting to know Ana and Mia – nicknames for anorexia and bulimia. More specifically, teen and tween girls are frequenting the newly minted “thinspirational” (sometimes called “thinspo”) communities that have sprouted like mushrooms all over the Internet, offering killer nutritional advice. The focus is on looking, and being, fragile – you know, that “skinny jean” look.
The tips you just read were posted online by real girls who’ve sworn an oath, of sorts, to being thin at any cost. Other girls go to these sites and connect with the teen dream of having not an ounce of fat, seeking guidance through thinspiration. According to a report in the American Journal of Public Health, 83 percent of these websites specifically promote and encourage eating disorder behaviors. That’s right, they pull in and then motivate teens to take up daily routines that mimic someone with anorexia, presenting it not as unhealthy behavior, but as a lifestyle choice. Check it out for yourself – just Google “thinspiration,” and see what your teen and her friends might be looking at, learning from, or following.
The advice offered up by many of these sites, blogs, Facebook and Tumblr pages may sound crazy to you. But to your daughter – who is bombarded from all sides by images telling her that thin, thin, thin is in – losing her baby fat is deadly serious business. The girls reading and posting thinspiration don’t think about the fact that the model who looks so glamorous in the pages of Vogue might stay skeletal by chain-smoking. They don’t consider that the hollow-cheeked actress photographed sunbathing in an exotic locale might have spent part of her fab vacation in the bathroom, quickly dispensing of her meals. They may not realize that many of the media images they see are of women who don’t really exist, as their bodies have been digitally lengthened and slimmed.
That’s because teens are not really connected to consequences just yet – in their brains, that is.
The human brain isn’t fully “wired” until around age 25. So when your teenage daughter sees a picture of a super-thin teen on one of these thinspo sites, the emotional section of her brain – still disconnected from the logical section – takes over. This is what may drive your beautiful-just-the-way-she-is daughter to try some of those killer tips. Hey, it works, she thinks. I’ll keep doing it, even though it doesn’t make me feel that great. Everybody’s noticing.
Sure, the diet “advice” posted in these forums is shocking and dangerous. But anyone who’s been a teen or is now the parent of a teen should not be shocked at the concept of girls turning to their peers for advice, and taking that advice to heart. And so our daughters read- and truly believe – online tips from teens, like this one:
If you take an ice-cold bath for 20 minutes, “your body burns around 200 cals for every degree it has to raise itself to reach a normal body temperature.” (That’s assuming, of course, that you don’t die.)
Print out these pictures of fragile teens and “make an ANA scrapbook…Look at it daily for thinspiration.”
Our girls are desperate to be attractive, and they take their peers’ advice over ours. Often, this means becoming thin. So as parents, how do we fight the thinspirational one-two punch?
Begin by helping your teen with one of the critical elements of healthy living: self-image. She needs to hear from you that being herself is far more important, and safe, than living up to someone else’s arbitrary standards.
Then ask your daughter who she sees when she looks in the mirror, and simply listen to her response – don’t judge her or launch into a long speech. Does she see someone attractive in all her being, or someone who needs a lot of work? Does she see someone who can attract friends and enter into all-important loving relationships, or someone who will never be truly desirable?
Teenagers are so very critical of all aspects of their body as it develops. You’re the one who can make a difference in how your daughter sees herself and her body. She’ll follow your lead. If you are overly concerned with your looks, or with hers, she may go looking for thinspiration. That might change her life in a not-so-good way.
What do you think of Thinspiration? What stories can you share about teens’ struggles with their appearances?