Sunday, March 7, 2021

You Are More Than A Before

Hello my loves, it is currently 9:31pm and I am speed typing to get this article out before the end of Beat's Eating Disorder Awareness Week! Currently on the road to recovery myself, I wanted to share my opinion on one of the things that consistently has held me back and triggered relapse - before photos.

Before photos as an idea seem great! They seem like a great way to track your progress, show how far you've come and how much you are physically healing. In the past I've even proudly posted a before photo after coming out of a particularly bad weight-loss last summer, but now I've learned that the cons caused by before pictures definitely outweigh these pros.

In my, and many other's opinion, before photos harm more than they help for several reasons: 

  • They can be used, and actively sought by those still in the grasps of an eating disorder as inspiration, or "thinspo" as it is often called.
  • They push an incorrect narrative that the majority of eating disorders result in severe weight loss (they don't).
  • They reinforce the societal expectation with regards to eating disorders that we must "prove" how sick we are/were, in order to validate our disorders as being genuine/deserving of help.


Personally, the biggest issue for me caused by before photos are how those struggling with an ED often use it as a source of inspiration. Honestly I would even extend this opinion to most documentation of early recovery on social media, such as TikTok's infamous tidal waves of "complete what I eat in a day" videos, but I'll save that for another post. Even if we assume people aren't actively looking at these photos for inspiration, they can still be incredibly triggering to those in recovery or trying to recover who come across them, and can bring back painful memories of their own struggle, or make people feel they aren't yet sick enough to feel validated about their struggle. 

Maybe comparing before photos to one of my trigger shows, Supersize vs Superskinny, will help explain. We are told from the get-go that both of the people entering the clinic are at extremely unhealthy weights, yet when I saw the body of the "superskinny", often frail and skin-and-bones, I only used it to further inspire myself to lose weight, going as far as to write down their terrible diets in order to copy them, hell I still do copy them sometimes. I simply didn't care for the end of the show when the two people revisited the clinic and showed how much healthier they were getting, and similarly many people will ignore the "after" photos too. No matter how inspiring these photos may seem, and how brilliantly we feel they display us winning the battle against our illnesses, they are harming so many more people than they are helping.

An incorrect narrative

The world is largely uneducated on what eating disorders are actually like, with the most prevalent idea being the generic anorexic stereotype that only those who are drastically underweight have an eating disorder. The use of before photos certainly contributes to this narrative. In reality, weight-loss is only one side effect of an eating disorder, and not even the most common one! But as essentially the only people that can post these before pictures are the ones who drastically lose weight, it just reinforces the idea that an eating disorder = being skinny. 

Arguably, before and after photos also create the idea of recovery from an eating disorder as one linear path, when that couldn't be further from the truth. Recovery is full of ups and downs, successes and relapses - and that's okay! But for people who don't know much about eating disorders, or don't spend the time reading full accounts of someone's recovery journey, these photos may be the only thing contributing to their idea of what an eating disorder is. These photos do not take into account the sheer complexities of an eating disorder, and more importantly the mental struggle that comes with one. Weight loss is a physical struggle that may come with it, but we need refocus on what an eating disorder actually is about.

Proving you are sick enough

Eating disorders manifest in various ways, so your weight and appearance does not speak your reality of living with an eating disorder. It cannot and never will display the mental anguish you go through, the anxieties and feeling of hopelessness it gives you. Those of us with eating disorders often spend so much time feeling ashamed that we are not "sick enough", and even put off getting the help we need in fear of somebody saying this to us. I've struggled with eating and my body image for years, how much of that time did I spend underweight? Probably less than a year. Would I be any less deserving of help even if I spent no time underweight? Absolutely fucking not.

Eating disorders are not a visible illness and are no longer treated by medical professionals as such. Just like depression and anxiety, we may see physical side-affects of these illnesses, but most people do not expect somebody to "look depressed" or "look bipolar" or "look schizophrenic", and the minority that do are assholes.

So this idea that one has to prove how sick they are by physical appearance is a complete fallacy, you don't have to be underweight to receive help. You don't deserve help any less than those you view as more sick than you. You are always deserving of support and your eating disorder is valid no matter how much you feel it's not, I promise you it is.

So if you want to share your experiences online, don't show me how sick you were, show me how happy you are now, show me a smiling face or a tasty meal, or a confident pose in your favourite dress. You are more than a before photo, and by posting the positives of your recovery over how sick you may have been, you will help someone realise they are more than a before too.


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