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Image: Kate Middleton; Pippa Middleton
Alex J. Berliner/AP file; John Stillwell/WPA Pool via Getty Images file
Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, left, and her sister, Pippa, have become the target of pro-anorexia sites seeking "thinspiration" from celebs.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/14/2011 3:19:20 PM ET 2011-07-14T19:19:20

The Middleton sisters were catapulted to style-icon status the minute Kate (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) walked down the aisle to marry Prince William with her stunning sister Pippa following behind.

Women the world over instantly connected with the commoner who became a princess and her rowdier, sexy younger sister. Fashion blogs carefully document the Duchess’s every sartorial choice, which often happen to be affordable brands like Zara and Reiss.

But in a dangerous turn, some women are coveting more than the Middleton sisters' blazers and sheaths. Images of both siblings are now serving as “thinspiration” on “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites — forums for promoting anorexia and bulimia that often give sufferers tips and tricks for losing weight.

Story: Half million U.S. teens have eating disorders

“These sites are very, very dangerous,” said Lynn S. Grefe, MA, president and chief executive officer of the National Eating Disorders Association. “Eating disorders are biologically based psychiatric illnesses, and these sites promote being sick and staying sick ... bottom line, they delay treatment.”

“Thinspiration,” or “thinspo” as it’s called in pro-ana vernacular, is imagery — often of models and uber-thin celebs — that “inspires” those suffering from eating disorders to lose weight and ultimately prolongs suffering and prevents treatment. In the past, those celebs have included Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate Olsen. But with increasing frequency, Kate and Pippa are popping up as “thinspo” on online forums, social networking sites, and blogs.

Video: More adult women battling eating disorders (on this page)

“Awesome post, she’s so thin, she looks amazing,” wrote one commenter after a string of Kate Middleton photos were posted on a site devoted to thinspiration. On another popular pro-ana forum, one user lists Kate Middleton as No. 2 on her top 10 thinspiration list, in between Beckham and Olsen.

Slideshow: The life of Duchess Kate

That Kate and Pippa are becoming thin-girl icons poses a potentially bigger threat as the pair are more than just style icons: They're role models.

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“Every little girl at one time wants to be a princess, and these images will not only reach teenagers but middle and elementary schoolers,” said Jill M. Pollack, director of the Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia. She has been treating patients suffering from eating disorders for over 20 years. “To have the Middleton sisters [on pro-ana sites] is like, oh my God, a disaster waiting to happen.”

Recent tabloid reports have estimated Kate’s current weight at 95 pounds — and while there’s no evidence to support these claims, Pollack concedes that the Duchess's visible collar bones alone may be cause for alarm.

“It’s not easy to starve yourself,” Pollack says, “and [people suffering from eating disorders] look for thinspiration to lose weight.”

Slideshow: Duchess Kate’s royal style

To be sure, Kate has lost weight over the last year. Whether or not her weight loss is cause for concern remains to be seen. (Her husband’s late mother, Princess Diana, admitted to struggling with bulimia throughout her life.)

And while it’s nearly impossible to shut down pro-ana and -mia sites — new ones spring up as others are shut down — Pollack hopes the royal bride and her sister will release a statement condemning the sites.

Grefe urges parents to track their children’s internet usage, and says the National Eating Disorders Association has plans to launch their own website as a counter to the proliferation of pro-ana sites.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: More adult women battling eating disorders

  1. Closed captioning of: More adult women battling eating disorders

    >>> we talk about anorexia and bulimia, we talk about teenage girls . but there's a surprising group struggling as well. middle aged women . here's chief medical editor dr. nancy schneider.

    >> good morning, sit down.

    >> carrie didn't expect to be here, in treatment for a eating disorder at the age of 41.

    >> you don't fit in a pair o pants anymore, so you're a big fat cow. yet, here she is, after a desperate intervention.

    >> my sister said, carrie , you are spiraling out of control.

    >> what made you hear them?

    >> i wanted to. i was ready. i'm 41 years old. and was just time. i was tired.

    >> a cascade of traumatic events in mid life is a trigger for women with eating disorders in women over 30.

    >> i didn't realize i still had a eating disorder .

    >> a recently divorced mom of two and struggling small business owner, eating or not eating was the one thing she could control.

    >> i was losing hair, my gums were bleeding, broken bones , lost the period for three years. i didn't care. what mattered was the scale.

    >> the body you have now, do you like it?

    >> i'm learned to.

    >> learning in treatment three days a week in the treatment center.

    >> i'm excited i'm getting my hunger cues back.

    >> she designed a program specifically for women over 35 plus. after seeing an increase of 42% in patients that age.

    >> they're more sensitive to these sorts of issues and more likely to ask a woman who's older what's going on with your eating or you look like you've lost weight or i'm worried about you. 51-year-old colleen tried to meet her mid life anorexia but she's her to decide if she needs to be hospitalized again.

    >> i have a daughter who's older. she's 19. so there's a definite -- she's more aware. so that makes it hard.

    >> the stakes are high.

    >> the medical complications of eating disorders get more severe over time . and as they interface with the aging body, we have more to worry about as clinicians who are concerned about these folks.

    >> experts say, it can be a lifelong journey back to health. and for carrie , it's one day at a time.

    >> what do you want other women to know.

    >> that recovery is possible and that it's so much better than living with the disease.

    >> dr. nancy a carrie are joining us this morning. good morning.

    >> hi.

    >> carrie , your daughter called you on it?

    >> my daughter called me on it. we were talking about it during the segment one time she looked at me and she said, mom, you have a eating disorder . i looked at her, i said you're 10 years old, how do you know what that is? and it hit me, i'm emulating it for her.

    >> your love of her helped to change.

    >> yes.

    >> you also had a eating disorder when you were younger in school.

    >> absolutely.

    >> nancy , how often when we have the eating disorders whene're younger, do we have them when we're older.

    >> you talk to someone -- in her 20s she battled this, she would say, i deal with it every day, i think about it every day. it's not something where one day, boom, you've taken the antibiotics and you're cured. it's in your brain and you have to push it back. i think the mid life issues, the divorce, losing a child, some trigger is about control. the heart of most eating disorders is this need to control and the rest of your world is chaotic.

    >> what explains, then, knowing that why we've seen this steep increase?

    >> look, i think we loathe our bodies. the three of us sit here prim and proper, all tucked in and what's considered proper attire that we might not like to wear in a typical day, but we do it because it's how we present ourselves and society expects it. when you're in the public eye, you raise the bar. when you're a beautiful young blond and you have a very suburban life style , you tell yourself you have to maintain a certain body.

    >> when i got divorced, i started my own company, a singles company. here i'm coaching the singles clients, the women in the data base saying you're going to be dating now, you better look your best. i was thinking, oh, my gosh, i've got to hold up to that standard.

    >> the irony of carrie starting that business as a woman with a eating disorder and put herself in a place where she had to look a certain way.

    >> yeah.

    >> it was a trap that she had.

    >> i did.

    >> what do you say to women listening nowho suspect they have eating disorders , maybe in denial.

    >> i would say if you think you have a problem, get help. reach out to a friend, see a therapist, start somewhere. get help, recovery is possible. reach out and get help.

    >> it is slow. i want middle aged women to understand that even if you've lived with the issues for the rest of your life, you don't want to die from this. dying from a eating disorder is a great possibility if you don't get help.

    >> thank you.

    >> the uso much.

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