Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Truly Harmful Religion

This story in Sunday's Star Tribune is one of the kind that persuades me the newspaper is worth getting. Admittedly, I rip on their editorial and opinion columnists a lot for unfairness and bias, but they do from time to time print a story that truly does educate and inform. Here's the intro:
She is tiny and fairy-like, with silky blond curls and sparkly skin. Her name is Ana, and while no one else can see or hear her, she is a very real presence in the life of Kasey Brixius, an 18-year-old Minnesota college freshman struggling with the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia, as well as compulsive overeating.

Best friend and bully, Ana tells Brixius when to eat and when to exercise. She applauds or mocks Brixius' grades and weight. And she demands obedience and devotion. Brixius regularly reads or recites the Ana Creed or Ana Psalm she found on the Internet.

"Ana is definitely a higher power, not higher than God, but higher than myself," said Brixius, who is from Hot Springs, S.D., and attends Minnesota State University, Mankato. "That's how it is for a lot of people."

In the secretive, Internet-driven subculture of those who embrace anorexia, there's a disturbing new twist: anorexia as religion, or something close to it.

The double-sided nature of the Internet is illustrated here:
Brixius, who developed anorexia in high school, said she spends about 90 minutes a day surfing some of the most popular sites.

"It's comforting," she said. "You can ask any questions you want, and there are dozens of people going through the same thing. It's not just about to make yourself throw up. It's about how to make yourself healthier."

Brixius also found the Ana prayer, commandments and creed on the sites.

One version of the creed reads: "I will devote myself to Ana. She will be with me wherever I go, keeping me in line. No one else matters; she is the only one who cares about me and who understands me. I will honor Her and make Her proud."

For those who want a more extreme devotion, directions are just a click away. One of the best-known pro-anorexia sites provides six pages of directions for a ritual involving an altar, offerings and signing your name in blood as a contract with the anorexia deity.

Read the whole thing.

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