Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ana's Girls by Eda R. Uca

Ana's Girls: The Essential Guide to the Underground Eating Disorder Community Online, Eda R. Uca.  Bloomington Ind.: Author House, 2004.  e-book, 78 pps.

Ana's Girls was a difficult book for me to read.  In high school, I had a classmate who dropped a lot of weight during the summer between ninth and tenth grades.  I remember we were sitting on the radiator in homeroom on the last day of school.  Dawn was talking about going on a diet that summer in order to lose a few pounds.  She was chunky, but definitely not fat.  She came back emaciated in the fall.  

The summer between tenth and eleventh grades Dawn spent almost entirely in the hospital.  She endured numerous lectures by the biology teacher.  The lecturing did not seem to do any good.  [The same biology teacher was concerned about me smoking pot but not about me drinking to the point of puking all over one of the school's bathrooms.  Go figure].

Dawn would find me after one of the lectures and tell me stuff about her eating disorder.  I listened.  I let her talk.  Dawn weighed forty pounds [she was very very short] but she had told the teacher that she weighed seventy.  She told me her ovaries were all screwed up and that she could not even keep down weak tea.  

Dawn managed to graduate high school.  After high school, she managed to get a bit healthier.  She was not underweight anymore.  She was on her way to becoming a radiology tech when she died.  Even though she had a good "recovery" period for two years after high school, her body was beyond repair.  

Ana's Girls talks about the underground communities that exist on the web for [mostly] girls and young women.  There are pro-ed groups and pro-ana groups.  There are also "warn and recover" groups which folks in the first two may mention in passing but usually do not belong to.  Although the underpinnings of the philosophies of the pro-ed groups and the pro-ana groups are almost polar opposites, the two groups have some things in common.

The pro-ed groups and the pro-ana groups exist because folks caught up in anorexia and/or bulimia [mia] feel a need for them.  You will not find glowing testimonies of psychological breakthroughs or victory dances there.  What is recorded are the very real struggles of young people starving themselves.  Some members are obsessed with being "thin"; others acknowledge a slow suicide.  The posters encourage each other and provide emotional support that is not available in the everyday world.  

And yes, there is poetry and other creative endeavors.  Some of it is rather well-written and touched a nerve in me.  Shocking to anyone who is not part of the ana/mia communities are the pictures, usually called "thinspiration," of very emaciated teens.  In the ana/mia world, bones sticking out are good, compulsive exercise is good, and hollow haunted eyes, soft body hair, shrunken breasts-- all good.

Ana's Girls argues against shutting down the pro-ed and the pro-ana sites.  The author says that the sites are a glimpse into another world and offer valuable insights.  I was not convinced by her arguments.  I think there is a better reason for allowing the sites to remain than to serve as some social worker's peep show.  My reason for keeping those sites up, and any sites, has to do with freedom of speech and self-expression.  

When treatment for eating disorders becomes compassionate rather than what it is today, the need for pro-ed and pro-ana sites will diminish.  Every active site is a reminder that as a society, our little pet theorems of treatment are fail.  We need more research into eating disorders-- their etiologies and effective treatments.  We need people who have struggled with eating disorders and lived to tell about it to be central to what happens in treatment.  What we don't need is yet another social worker hopeful bringing bunches of textbook notions to the table.  

Unfortunately, any disenfranchised group runs the risk of token involvement in the issues that directly effect that group.  Thus we extend an invitation to the token customer of our services to sit on a board.  To be a token is to be in a position without power.  The token customer is good, compliant, respectful.  Treatment produces conformity.  Because we are willing to settle for this, people like my classmate Dawn continue to die.  Haven't we had enough?

sapphoq reviews says: Ana's Girls did not go far enough in the discussion.  While somewhat interesting, not recommended.  

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