The most horrifying vehicle personalization I’ve ever seen had nothing to do with politics.

Hello, friends.

Question for you: What’s the most disturbing vehicle personalization you’ve ever seen? I’m talking about vanity license plates, bumper stickers, license plate frames, decals, magnets, and the like.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you about mine, because I still can’t believe it.

[TRIGGER WARNING FOR E.D.]

I’m one of those people who reads everything in front of me while in my car. I’ve seen it all, and I’m here for it, even if I don’t always like it.

I’ve gone through every emotional state looking at other peoples’ personalized vehicles. They make me smile. Roll my eyes. Nod in agreement. Throw up in my mouth a little. Some of them restore my faith in humanity, while others obliterate any hope I had for the human race. I laugh at a lot of them, too. My personal favorite: “Proud parent of a kid who’s sometimes an asshole but that’s okay.” I’ve gone home and Googled musicians and bands and other organizations, or acronyms on vanity plates, just out of curiosity, so I’ve learned a few things from these personalizations, as well. It’s all interesting to me in some way or another.

But then there was the day, not long ago, that I found myself stopped behind a certain car at a red light on my way home from work. Its vanity plate number started with the letters “ANA,” followed by a space, so those three letters stood out… and then a number followed by a capital “K” like something-thousand, and then a final single digit after that. I couldn’t decipher it as a whole, but those first three letters.

I didn’t want to assume what it meant, but of course my mind went immediately to the dark side. Because when I see ANA, the automatic association in my mind is pro-ANA, or pro-anorexia.

It couldn’t be, though, right? Pro-ANA lives online as a dark, shadowy alley of a subculture. Pro-ANA does not drive around town in real-life broad daylight in a pretty little red car.

Unless it does.

I really wanted to think that “ANA” was the name of the car’s owner, but then I noticed the butterfly decal placed with perfect precision at the top center of the tinted rear window, the white of the decal contrasting boldly with the dark window. A cold skeleton finger tapped along my spine when I also noticed that the “ANA” license plate was fitted into an elegant chrome frame, a simple piece adorned only with two butterflies, one at each of the frame’s two bottom corners.

Might it have been a coincidence? So a woman named Ana likes butterflies, I reasoned with myself. Big deal. But the innocuous possibility wasn’t convincing. I couldn’t know for sure, but from where I was sitting, it looked like a pro-ANA car.

I’m familiar with the horrifying online world of ANA/Pro-ANA. If you didn’t know, “ANA” is slang for “pro-ana,” short for “pro-anorexia.”

Eating disorders are fetishized in the ANA community. Members encourage each other in their starvation journeys, giving each other advice, tips, tricks, and hacks. They share pics of themselves, they share thinspiration (“thinspo”) pics, and they watch ANA “thinspo” (“thinspiration”) “role models” on YouTube. They make their own videos, body-checking and showing off their bones. And they’ve adopted the eating disorder recovery symbol of the butterfly as their own symbol.

Now in my view, it’s normal to share your personal and political convictions, beliefs, and ideologies on your vehicle. Festooning your car with the obvious intention of antagonizing people and riling them up is normal. Putting the letters “ANA” with butterflies on your car, however, is not normal. It’s saddening. It’s sick. It encourages like-minded people to their slow suicides. I’m surprised that a vanity plate submission could pass review and make it onto a vehicle at all.

The sight of the car shook me. Five minutes later I pulled up to my driveway feeling unnerved. It was like I’d come face-to-face with an urban legend, and not the good kind.

That was what I wanted to share: that the personalized vehicle that’s horrified me the most was the one with a few dainty little butterflies and three letters that could very well by the car owner’s name. I could be wrong. I hope that I was. But the sight of the car got me thinking.

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders hotline for help.

Thank you for reading and for just being here, my friends.

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