Pro-Anorexia Websites Could Be Criminalized in Italy, But Experts Aren't Sure It's The Best Idea

There is no shortage of online help for those battling anorexia. There is a wealth of information, resources, and support for anorexics and their loved ones. Social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest have disallowed "thinspiration" hashtags and any glorification of eating disorders. As with any situation in life, there is also the other side of the story and the counter: pro-anorexia websites, which Italy is attempting to make illegal. According to The Daily Beast, those so-called pro-ana sites label the eating disorders a lifestyle choice and some even offer tips on concealment of the condition and how to further lose weight. It's a heartbreaking notion.

The Italian government is attempting to criminalize those who run such sites, penalizing them with steep fines, ranging from $13,000 to $67,000, and possible jail time (a year). But experts fear this move could be a grave mistake.

Wait, what?

The goal of the bill proposed in the Italian Parliament in June is to address the seriousness of body dysmorphic image and body image issues. However, the researchers that study the "pro" sites, the site's users themselves, and those who treat the disorder are against the criminalization of the sites and not for freedom of speech reasons or censorship reasons, either.

Criminalizing those who run the sites could lead to the elimination of what has become a very real and supportive resource for some and thereby indirectly punish those users. It also assumes that all pro-anorexia sites are all bad, all of the time, which is shockingly not the case. Some sites provide tangible, necessary support for anorexics and while that's not an endorsement of all of the sites, it's just what The Daily Beast's report found.

Those who are against the bill fear that the fight against the sites could spread and that the authors of these sites and these atypical support groups will go underground. They will continue to exist in some form, but making them harder to find and stigmatizing them may also increase the risk to the users, many of which rely on these sites for psychological and emotional support when traditional or widely accepted recovery strategies aren't yet an option or have been unsuccessful.

Not all of the sites glorify the condition or promote being as thin as you can, nor are they all predatory, according to Ana Gandley of Project Shapeshift, a site that is "pro-anorexia." She considers the site to be proactive about health, as opposed to in favor of anorexia. This site, whose motto is "because everyone needs support, no matter where one is along the journey," allows its users to freely discuss what it's like to have an eating disorder without trying to force them into recovery, which is just as ghastly a notion for the sufferer as the effects of the disease are for their loved ones.

These sites can also serve as support groups with the added benefit of anonymity. It's a place for people who are sad about hurting their families due to their condition, for those who can't easily or normally battle their condition, and for those who may not have access to approved support groups, insurance, and other aids. Some users are longtime suffers who have no had success in traditional treatment.

All of these factors make it understandable why criminalizing these sites could be detrimental to the sufferers, who are the very people that those who recommend traditional means of recovery are desperate to help.

That's not to suggest that these sites are all well and good, either, since they aren't. Some of the sites encourage or offer tips on dangerous eating behaviors. Like with any website, there is always the possibility of cyberbullies on forums, as well.

The Daily Beast reports that social media's ban of "thinspiration" is also potentially harmful, since topics like healthy living advice, extreme diets, and "fitspiration," which haven't been banned, are often considered the same thing, just dressed up a bit differently.

Therein lies the problem. How can you truly determine if a site is pro-anorexia or if it is pro-healthy living, and who is being helped and to what degree? That's going to be tough to figure out, as both sides of the argument are valid.

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