With #BoycottTheBefore going viral earlier this year, I’ve gotten many different responses. It’s been said that I was too harsh for putting together the campaign. And it’s been said I am a hypocrite for posting transformation photos more recently.
There are clearly people on both sides who seem to look at other people’s decisions very all-or-nothing.
So let’s get one thing straight, eating disorder recovery transformation photos are not inherently bad, nor are the people posting them.
While I have been passionate about #BoycottTheBefore, I made the mistake of putting some blame on those posting transformation photos.
I sincerely apologize to those who felt singled out for not joining #BoycottTheBefore. I do not apologize for my work or the movement. I think it is an important message. However, since this was my first campaign to go viral, and because I am one person, I made some mistakes along the way.
What’s done is done but I want to validate people in the recovery community who felt uncomfortable with the message. The campaign was never meant to dictate or set precedent in the recovery community.
I got swept up in some other people’s passion for the campaign, that I began abandoning ship on my own message, when I should have been listening to myself and the community as a whole.
I don’t think badly of those who post transformation photos. I think those who post them are well-intentioned.
I wish I didn’t listen to and take other people’s extreme opinions as truth.
I wish I listened to myself. Because I got too wrapped up in it.
I unintentionally shamed much of the community. That shame turned into anger for some. And that shame also turned into avoidance for others. Some would take their anger out on me through hateful messages, and others would post transformation photos but now begin their captions with things like, “I’m sorry if anyone is triggered by this…”, or “This is not a before-and-after photo…”.
Those seemingly minor changes in captions saddened me. Because people genuinely felt bad for potentially triggering others, or they felt obligated to acknowledge it.
While it may seem like that was a good response to some, I wasn’t happy with those results.
I wasn’t happy with the results because it was causing a divide in the community while also worrying those who continued to post their transformation photos.
And yes, I care about their feelings and their responses because I am a part of this community too. No one responding to this situation with shame or avoidance or sadness was being over-dramatic.
And that brings me to my next point: eating disorders are first and foremost mental illnesses. While my intentions with #BoycottTheBefore were to offer a different option rather than to feel obligated to dig out an old photo of yourself, which may deeply trigger you, and post alongside a current photo for #NEDAweek, wanting to post transformations became shameful. My initial intention was not to discourage those who felt ok with that, but to encourage those who didn’t feel ok with that. Especially for #NEDAweek, it had become a trend to post transformation photos on social media. It’s also kind of expected.
Looking back now, I wish I made it clear that #BoycottTheBefore was an option – not a rule.
I know many people in recovery from eating disorders who have come to me and thanked me for this campaign. It was much needed and I’m proud of that work.
At the same time, I am a human being and made some mistakes. I also am an individual with her own opinions. And I think it’s brave to be upfront about opinions changing.
Learning, growing and forming our opinions is exactly that – my decision to currently post transformation photos was not a flip-flop; it was not inauthentic. In fact, it’s probably one of the most authentic choices I have publicly made. Because part of this has to do with saying “no” to posting the old, sick photos of our bodies. It is not denying the struggle – not at all. It is however, saying “no” to the eating disorder. It is taking back our power. That was my thought process.
Now, I also see there can be power in posting before photos because it’s using the photos to our advantage, if we feel safe and comfortable enough with sharing them of course. I see the power in it from being able to explain in the captions that eating disorders do not have a look and that the “after” can be struggling just as much mentally, if not more, than the “before”. We can take the photos, pair them together, and make a point to the public that eating disorders do not have a look.
I have, and always will, see power in blacking out the “before” photo and choosing not to share it. At the same time, I simply see different options now.
I want to stress that no option is “right” or “wrong”, “better” or “worse”. An opinion is an opinion. My opinion at one point in time was that these eating disorder recovery transformation photos are triggering to many and that they should be avoided at all costs. My opinion right now is that each individual person can decide what they want to post. And my main reasoning in that current opinion is that triggers are everywhere. What I mean is that triggers are virtually everywhere and in recovery, we each learn that we need to face our triggers if we ever want to get better. It is a harsh reality.
I personally have needed to learn that I cannot go into treatment every single time I feel like I cannot face a stressful situation. I have been in treatment centers or the hospital due to my eating disorder or suicidal thoughts every single year from 2009 to 2016. This year, however, was different. I chose to really look at my behaviors and commit to the therapy I was doing, and learned that I cannot give up when my triggers arise. Because that’s what I was doing – throwing in the towel and saying “I can’t do this”, when I could have said “no” to those triggers and fears and said, “I’m stronger than that”. Very similar thinking applies to transformation photos. If I were to restrict or binge or purge, or harm myself in any way, every single time I was triggered, that is illness, and I would likely stay sick for a long time. But if I learned slowly, but surely, that I could survive triggers – maybe not give up completely on harmful behaviors, but decreased the amount of times I was self harming, I would start to see that I am capable of choosing recovery. And one day I would be free from the eating disorder because I replaced harmful behaviors with healthy behaviors, I did the hard work of sitting with urges, I reached out when I need help, and I also pushed through the triggering moments.
Many believe recovery does not happen until we let go and accept help. While accepting help may be a part of your recovery, learning to sit with and overcome triggers is a huge part as well. Because honestly, you could give me all the help in the world – all the best doctors and therapists and treatment – but I will not get better if I don’t open up and do the hard work – in and out of the hospital. We need to learn we can survive triggers first, and then one day, those triggers will mean nothing because we learned they cannot harm us.
Furthermore, I think transformation photos can be educational and helpful in some instances.
We can choose not to post a before photo in an attempt to not trigger ourselves and others. At the same time, there are triggers everywhere. A “before” photo could trigger someone, yes. But what happens when that person sees a photo of an underweight person online – not even in the recovery community but generally? What happens when that person sees transformation photos that are not recovery related, but weight loss related? What happens when that person sees an underweight person in their daily lives, in person. And similarly, what happens when a person who is triggered by calories sees calories listed for each item of a menu at a restaurant they’re eating at? What happens when classmates or co-workers are discussing losing weight? I ask these questions to make the point that while I wish it were possible, we cannot escape triggers. So therefore, why are we sheltering ourselves?
Sheltering ourselves is dangerous, which is why I see new perspectives when looking at #BoycottTheBefore.
So once again, I still see #BoycottTheBefore being a wonderful and effective option. However, I don’t think it’s the answer.
#BoycottTheBefore is a great campaign to create awareness for the public, so I am going to choose to stick with that motivator and reasoning for upcoming eating disorder awareness weeks. Along with this campaign, I definitely want to bring back #FearlesslyFaceless, as it is less controversial. I also was grateful for the second campaign as I didn’t have to do it alone – my wonderful friend Dani, a fellow recovery warrior, helped me shape and build #FearlesslyFaceless. Nonetheless, I am very proud of both campaigns and I am proud of each and every one of you who participated in them this year.
While some of you reading this may be rooting me on, there are bound to be some of you filled with anger.
And to those who are angry at my growth and opinions surrounding this topic, I encourage you to explore that anger, maybe even channel it into passion and do something effective with it. Because getting angry at myself or those who post transformation photos is not the answer here.
I am not the ruler of the mental health community – no one is! I think that’s the beauty here – we can listen to and be inspired and learn from one another, but there isn’t a leader; we get to decide at the end of the day if we want to post a transformation photo or not.
Though it’s more controversial to post a transformation photo, you have the freedom to post what you want at the end of the day. And as the woman who created #BoycottTheBefore, I support you in whatever decision you come to.