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School girls seek online buddies to help each other starve

Young ‘pro-anorexia’ followers share images of dangerously thin bodies, tips for fasting

Lily Collins star in “To the Bone” (Netflix)
Lily Collins star in “To the Bone” (Netflix)
Some young South Koreans, mostly girls, are looking for “pro-anorexia” friends on social media to encourage each other’s dangerous weight loss. 

A search with the hashtags #pro-ana on Twitter return a host of tweets, most made apparently by young girls. They announce one’s resolve to fast or seek “pro-ana” buddies. 

Pro-ana is a combination of the prefix “pro-,” meaning supporting or approving of, and “ana,” short for anorexia, a life-threatening eating disorder marked by self-starvation with an intense fear of gaining weight. 

One tweet uploaded early Jan. 20 with a selfie of a young woman, reads, “So short at just 158 (centimeters.) but weigh 44.4 (kg). Am going to cut it to 41.4 (kg) within a week, or kill myself.” 

A screenshot of tweets posted by school girls looking for online friends to encourage each others’ weight loss with attached pictures of their thin body. (Twitter)
A screenshot of tweets posted by school girls looking for online friends to encourage each others’ weight loss with attached pictures of their thin body. (Twitter)
Another tweet posted on Jan. 17 says, “Looking for proana buddies for school vacation. Have been browsing (an online proana community) for some time and now I have a (Twitter) account open.”
Some feeds contain screenshots of a mobile fasting application as proof of one’s weight loss regime. 

On YouTube, some young Koreans share videos of themselves trying to vomit to get rid of what they just ate. 

A screenshot of videos on YouTube showing a schoolgirl’s attempt to vomit after eating. (Courtesy of a YouTuber nicknamed Kangbakbakbakbak)
A screenshot of videos on YouTube showing a schoolgirl’s attempt to vomit after eating. (Courtesy of a YouTuber nicknamed Kangbakbakbakbak)
Pro-ana online groups are also found in KakaoTalk open chat rooms. The group members go on fasts together or share images of super skinny models in an effort to motivate themselves. 

The pro-ana movement has been an emerging trend in online spaces in recent years, with teenage girls posting about their stick thin bodies and looking for “ana buddies” who also hail eating disorders as a lifestyle choice.

It is neither a new phenomenon nor one that is confined to Korea. In the US, there have been several media reports in the past few years about the perils of the movement. 

But in Korea, the trend appears to have caught on among younger people with the rise of social media. 

“Young girls’ exposure to appearance-oriented media contents has gradually increased with the rapid rise of social media,” said Ko Jung-kyung, senior researcher at Inje University’s institute of Eating Disorders and Mental Health. 

“Those who have internalized thin-ideal body images set by the media end up thinking that the promotion of eating disorders is one the common methods for self-development.” 

By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)
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