Scarlet Hemkes started Proud2Bme in the Netherlands after creating a successful social media campaign to combat dangerous pro-ana websites.
In its two years, her site has reached nearly three million young people around the world! The launch of the English language version of Proud2Bme means more growth and exciting possibilities. We talked to Scarlet about the past, present, and future of this global movement to end body hatred and disordered eating.
What was your inspiration for starting Proud2Bme?
Scarlet: I was writing a thesis on online help for teens and during my research I came across pro-ana websites. Since I suffered from both anorexia and bulimia for about ten years, the websites horrified me: Young girls starving themselves and supporting other girls to eat less and exercise more, tips how to purge or lie to the doctor or to parents, lots of pictures of extremely skinny girls.
I felt compelled to do something about this movement. My opinion on these websites was and is that they should not be legal. I then started a campaign against pro-ana. I made a page on a Dutch social network called Hyves, similar to Facebook, and I started to inform people about the dangers of these websites. I got loads of followers and got in contact with members of the Dutch parliament who didn’t want to ban the websites legally.
But besides followers I got many emails from girls who wanted my advice or help. I tried to answer as many email as possible, but I got completely overwhelmed. That was the moment I realized that there was no good place on the internet for young women with eating problems. There was a need for a modern website with all kinds of attractive and reliable information and help for these young women. Something professional, but also modern, not like many of the current boring help website .
I wanted to create a website which would help, give hope, provide information and some kind of entertainment. If I can’t ban pro-ana, I at least wanted to provide a good alternative!
A few weeks later I met Dr. Eric van Furth when we were both on a TV show. We started talking and I told him about my idea. He got really excited and we made an appointment to talk about it more. I already knew then that I wanted to call the website Proud2Bme. A few weeks later Eric offered me a job as project manager for Proud2Bme. I was excited to be working for the largest specialized centre for eating disorders in The Netherlands. Within 6 months and with the help of my brother Roel who built the site, Proud2Bme was up and running. On May 26, 2009 we launched Proud2Bme.nl and we received lots of media attention on national television and in newspapers. I informed my 40,000 followers on Hyves/Facebook about the website and within one day the forum was a very busy place. Young women started helping each other. They also started asking questions to our online psychologist and nutritionist.
Within one year Proud2Bme had become the most visited site for online help in the country, which made me really proud . The number of visitors still grows every month. We write and publish an average of five new blogs or articles every day on all kinds of subjects (health, beauty, news, treatment, etc.).
Proud2Bme has become my full time job. It’s a really busy job, because the site requires 24/7 attention. But besides a busy job, it is also a fulfilling job. I know how lonely one can get having an eating disorder. I struggled far too long with it before I dared to ask for help. I was always afraid to be an imposter. I wasn’t as skinny as the girls with anorexia I saw on TV, so it wasn’t that serious. Besides eating too little, I had binges and was really, really ashamed of that. There were nights I needed food so much that I got on my bike in the middle of the night to get candy at the train station. I never really realized I had a genuine eating disorder, I only binged and dieted. That I lost my periods, got depressed and really lonely didn’t make me realize that I needed help. The moment I stopped school en lost my job, had almost no friends left and sometimes binged all weekend, was the moment I seriously started seeking help.
I think that when there would have been Proud2Bme when I suffered from anorexia and bulimia, I would have asked for help earlier. I would have realized sooner that I really had an eating disorder and wasn’t a fraud.
Did you experience any backlash or anger from teens who were active on pro-ana/pro-mia sites? How did you deal with those reactions?
Scarlet: Unfortunately, I got hundreds of really nasty emails when I campaigned against Pro-ana and when we launched Proud2Bme. There were people who wished me dead and wrote on pro-ana sites they would throw me in front of a bus if they would see me. Young girls told me I was stupid, didn’t know what I was doing, said that I probably never had an eating disorder, and told me I was fat and ugly. In the beginning these messages really hurt me. I may look strong, but I can be really insecure about myself. I tried to explain to people why I was trying to ban pro-ana websites and tried to convince them I had good intentions. Most of the time they didn’t want to hear this and kept sending me unkind words.
I also got lots of emails from girls who came from pro-ana and were now active on Proud2Bme. Proud2Bme convinced them to ask for help and they were grateful they did and thanked me.
What are some of the advantages of using technology and online communities to help teens deal with food, weight, and body image issues?
Scarlet: Well, first of all, you can tell or ask anything anonymously. That takes away most of the shame and guilt and makes it easier for individuals to talk about themselves. Also, you don’t have to go somewhere to get advice or support. If you are, like I was, afraid to be a pretender or you are afraid to tell someone you know about your problems, it is nice to know you can ask advice online without
What is your dream for Proud2Bme? How would you like to see the community grow?
Scarlet: I would love Proud2Bme to grow to a worldwide, well known online and offline community! We have received a lot of interest from many countries around the globe.
What makes you proud to be YOU?
Scarlet: Of course Proud2Bme makes me Proud, but also my little family at home. And I am proud to be me because of all the bad times I got through.
Picture: Leon van den Broek