Social media has increasingly become a place where people who live with eating disorders feel they can come together in a safe space to share their experiences and support. But, a new viral campaign is striking back at one of the most popular ways survivors share their stories of recovery.
The new hashtag campaign #BoycottTheBefore is challenging the popular “before and after” photos which depict images of people’s bodies when they were dealing with an eating disorder and again after they recovered. Instead, users are blacking out their “before” pictures and proclaiming “I am so much more than a ‘before’ photo.”
The campaign was started by 21-year-old body positivity activist and blogger Lexie Louise, after discovering her own before-and-after photos could potentially be triggering or send the wrong message to others who may also be dealing with an eating disorder.
#BoycottTheBefore I have an article that will be published on the sister website of @neda soon that discusses this in more detail. I'll share it when it's posted but wanted to share some now. ((I don't intend to shame anyone who has shared their recovery photos. I'd like to offer different perspectives because it's important to open the conversation rather than assume everyone is on board. I hope those who disagree can speak kindly and non-judgmentally in return.)) For those in early recovery especially, our eating disorders can tempt us to compare numbers or sizes, or even make us question, "Am I sick enough to receive help? Because that person seems to need it more than me". That can be very harmful when it comes to this. These photos also solely show physical growth. It is a huge misconception still that those who have eating disorders must be physically underweight to be considered struggling. It reinforces a misconception that you can see who is struggling. The truth is: we aren't telling the whole story through these photos, even with our captions. There are people in recovery who don't feel comfortable sharing their photos at all. And there are also people in recovery who simply cannot relate to having any shocking physical changes. Overall, though those of us who can share these photos are praised for sharing them and may be creating short term change, we are feeding into the misconceptions of eating disorders and sadly not making room to create real, long term change. So let’s fight back. I encourage you to responsibly share your recovery story this NEDA awareness week if you feel comfortable doing so. I also encourage you to factor in other people – those in recovery and those whom we are trying to educate. And I encourage you to use the photo pictured on the left as your “before” photo if you want to support this project. We are so much more than comparison photos. We are strong, resilient warriors and we will go against the grain and continue to fight to be seen and heard – even if that means not receiving instant validation. Like recovery, change takes time; it is a journey but it is possible.
“Posting these comparison photos is enabling the idea that you can see those who have eating disorders,” she wrote in an Instagram caption after blacking out the before photo. “It is also enabling the competition among those struggling with thoughts like, ‘well, I’m not sick enough to get help because I don’t look like that.’”
Since Louise’s initial post, over 1,000 others have joined in on blacking out their before photos and challenging the stereotypes about eating disorders, including body positive model Iskra Lawrence.
(This post is regarding Eating Disorders & recovery NOT the fitness industry / or weight loss) . Please read before passing judgement as this is NOT me telling you NOT to post before and afters or diminishing the achievements and accomplishments of those who are proud of their journeys. I love seeing people celebrating how far they've come and totally get why (myself included) choose to post before and afters. . But let's open the discussion….. #BoycottTheBefore was started by @soworthsaving and I'm so proud to be part of this movement. . I myself have felt the pressure to post before and after pics to validate that I too suffered… but that's not right. We do not need to prove that we struggled, we do not need to feel like anyone may have struggled more or less because maybe there before and after photos aren't as "dramatic". It's not even about that, it's always about how far you've come so @boycottthebefore is here to celebrate YOU right now! To celebrate how far you've come and maybe how far you still have to go – there is no perfect recovery & everyones is completely unique. . I do however want to say I'm not against posting before and afters, I have done so too and will be keeping them up. However this is also a really great message and I hope to see lots of of you tagging me in your pics (I've shared pics of those who tagged me just swipe to see)… I'm forever inspired by the recovery & bopo communities and I'm grateful for every single person who empowers each other and shares their beautiful unique spark with us all. . To read @soworthsaving blog post about this movement go to @neda or http://proud2bme.org/content/eating-disorder-comparison-photos-boycott #NEDA #everyBODYisbeautiful (bikini is @aerie) No makeup no retouching #aeriereal
“The idea behind #BoycottTheBefore is for those in the eating disorder recovery community to consider taking responsibility for public posts shared in pro-recovery communities online,” Louise told PEOPLE. “My decision to speak up about the issue and create an open dialogue seemed simple to me at first. I honestly wasn’t expecting such an incredible response.”
So insanely grateful that @run2golden posted this @boycottthebefore movement. This speaks to me in so many ways. •8 years ago I weighed over 260 pounds. I had been heavier my whole life, not active, ate in a way that made me hate myself but couldn't seem to get out of. I had great family and friends. I had my (now) husband. I worked + had fun but I didn't understand how to love myself. I viewed dieting + exercise as punishment and didn't feel good enough to be a healthier version of myself. I felt robbed of happiness b/c I thought being skinny was the only route to it. •Fast forward a year + a half later, I lost over 100 pounds. I got obsessed, disordered, restricted and binged for a couple of years and never would allow myself to ask for help because I never 'looked' sick. Well, when you lose hair + your period your body is telling you something. I was cold in 80 degree weather. Not healthy. And I was NOT happy. Long story shortened- I may not 'look' like the industry standard of a fitness instructor. I have extra skin on my stomach and arms from the weight loss (that never totally tightened even when I was 25 pounds smaller) + I LOVE to eat. I stopped counting calories obsessively, I listen to my body for hunger and craving cues, + I exercise because I love it. I have been through a lot with disordered eating + hating my body, +I refuse to entertain another second of my life with that nonsense. I am a happy person b/c of that decision. My before pic at 260 pounds or at 130 pounds does not define me. I am a loving, accepting, strong person. Always have been. I can run 10 miles, I can teach 4 spin classes in a day. My pant size doesn't dictate my spot in the fitness industry. I am strong + I enjoy life. What I eat in a meal doesn't make me more or less of a good person. What the extra skin on my tummy looks like doesn't tell you that I stand up for equality + would run to be by my friends sides anytime they need me. Love the body you are in right now. You can work on your health + SHOULD but if you don't love who you are right now, I promise you will not love yourself 100 pounds smaller. ❤ #nycfitnessinstructor #boycottthebefore #neda
An estimated 30 million people in the United States will experience eating disorders throughout their lives, but only a fraction will receive treatment. Social stigma and stereotypes about those with eating disorders prevent many from ever seeking help, but campaigns like this are aiming to one day change this.
“I hope people who have not struggled with an eating disorder can learn more about the seriousness of eating disorders and begin to see that these are mental illnesses,” Lexie Louise continues. “I hope they can also begin to see that even when people who choose share before-and-after photos may have good intentions, they are further perpetuating stereotypes because eating disorders can’t be documented through a before-and-after; we simply cannot see who is struggling. A person at any weight or any size can be genuinely struggling.”
If you think you or someone you know may be living with an eating disorder, call us at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and see if treatment is right for you.