“Pro-Ana” refers to the promotion of behaviors related to the eating disorder, anorexia.
This movement has seemed to be existing for a few years now and many young girls around the world preach how beautiful a skeletal body looks and how much they want to look the same. However, nowadays, pro-ana websites and social media accounts are starting to draw alarming numbers of Korean teens.
Anorexia is a well-known eating disorder which triggers generally young girls around the age of 14-17 years old. It appears during puberty because it is at that moment that young girls discover their body and start worrying about their appearance. It first begins with a restricted diet and leads to undernutrition.
South Koreans are well-known for giving a lot of importance to their physical appearance. Often called the world’s plastic surgery capital and with its girl groups’ K-pop Idols who appear with very slim body figures and with body weights of less than 40 kg, it, indirectly, preaches an ideal body that can cause a lot of harm to young girls who want to look like them.
Kim Yul-li, a psychiatrist at Inje University Seoul Paik Hospital says, "Teenagers often come across these pages when they look for information on dieting, and they often unquestioningly accept the extreme anorexic look as beautiful".
An internet café frequented by pro-ana members, which provides information ranging from becoming a member to gauging food calories. (Source: Korean Biomedical Review). Many pro-ana members say that they have become obsessed with having a skinny body due to trauma associated with their body and shape.
A high school student wrote online how she was bullied for “wearing a skirt with her fat legs” and since then she lost 20 kg and eats one meal every three days to stay in shape.
Indeed, the teenage girls promoting the bizarre “pro-ana” trend do not eat properly and starve themselves until they reach their ideal weight, which tends to be between 30-40 kg.
They calculate their ideal body weight following this formula: height – 120. According to the website Statista, in 2018 the average height of South Korean women aged 19 years or younger was 160.8 cm. If a girl is 160 cm and enters the pro-ana movement, her ideal weight would be 40kg.
On those pro-ana platforms, the members share detailed information about how to throw away lunch at school without raising alarms and how to not get caught by parents.
According to a report released in 2017 by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, 23 percent of teenagers who attempted to lose weight had chosen to take pills or vomit after eating.
Psychotropic appetite suppressants are the type of pills they would take to help lose weight quickly. This medicine increased from 93.2 billion won in 2014 to 122.5 billion won in 2018.
According to Rep. Nam In-soon of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, long-term use of psychotropic appetite suppressants increases the risk of side effects such as pulmonary hypertension and severe heart disease.
The pro-ana members don’t seem to be aware of the risks of anorexia: malnutrition, osteoporosis, heart disease, hair loss, and depression. It is a fatal mental illness with a reported mortality rate of 15 percent.
They know that anorexia is a disease, however, they still think their actions are justified in a culture that criticizes outofshape people.
"Eating disorders like anorexia have high fatality rates. One out of 10 people with eating disorders eventually die from them", said Shin Yun-mi at Ajou University Hospital.