On February 16th 2017, I posted a photo to Instagram providing an alternative solution to an issue that has presented itself in the eating disorder recovery community for quite some time now. Little did I know that this one photo would go on to spark a much-needed conversation that resonated with thousands.
#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.
While I posted my #BoycottTheBefore photo with the intention of making it a campaign, I assumed only a few close friends would get involved. After just several days, the hashtag had accumulated a couple hundred posts of other eating disorder survivors boycotting their ‘before’, and the #BoycottTheBefore account had gained over a thousand followers.
The support #BoycottTheBefore received in its first year was incredible. I had several media outlets contact me to cover the story and when I wasn’t providing quotes for them, my followers were sending me articles I was covered in! It was a very exciting time.
However, as with anything that goes viral, there was some backlash. I received some messages from eating disorder survivors who were concerned about how harsh the word “boycott” was. I also received angry messages telling me I was wrong to dictate what a survivor can and cannot post to social media.
As a novice to shaping an empowering, yet also inclusive campaign regarding such a controversial topic, I was very discouraged at times I received backlash. There were moments I felt tempted to even deactivate my social media accounts because I was worried sick I was causing more harm than good. I also had moments I wanted to apologize and “take back” everything I had said about my stance on eating disorder transformation photos. I felt very guilty at times to have been the one to create a divide. I was worried that maybe I shouldn’t have spoken up about it.
The fact that I created this campaign all by myself induced some anxiety as well because once a message is out there on the internet, it is very difficult to edit or elaborate on once the public has digested it.
Though I have some regrets from last year’s #BoycottTheBefore campaign, I now look back on the campaign with pride. I realize today that I wasn’t the one to create a divide in the recovery community; the divide was always there. I was merely the person who brought the issue to light and provided an alternative to an ongoing problem.
What truly kept me going with continuing #BoycottTheBefore last year was the support I did receive in the recovery community. Of course there were people who never supported or liked the campaign, but I noticed it’s much easier as human beings to zone in on negativity, even if the positive outweighs the negative.
What I learned from last year’s launch is that I need to focus on my opinions and ideas, and then the community’s opinions and ideas, because I need to trust myself.
Last year, I was back-and-fourth on my opinions only a couple days into campaigning #BoycottTheBefore, in the sense that I was swaying away from the original message and putting too much emphasis on what others thought. I strayed from my message a bit due to a combination of others’ criticism and my own self-doubt.
As I was publicly promoting the campaign last year, I was still finding a balance and my stance. At the time, I made a bold statement that I was never going to post an eating disorder transformation photo again. I apologize to the community for that statement, as I have grown and learned from my own decisions and the community.
I now see that sometimes, eating disorder transformation photos are ok, as they can be educational. I live by the mindset that by boycotting something completely, we don’t leave any room to learn from it. So, over the past year, I have posted several personal “before-and-after” recovery photos to social media. I was careful though to check-in with myself and know my intentions and the repercussions of sharing these photos publicly.
Especially with designated times during the year for eating disorder awareness campaigns, those in recovery often feel obligated to share their transformation photos. Sharing such photos has become a trend. Also, with social media today, I’ve noticed people generally read more about stories that are accompanied with some sort of visual, so it’s not surprising before-and-after eating disorder recovery photos are popular; they get more attention.
Another issue that inspired the creation of #BoycottTheBefore is how the media exploits eating disorder survivors by asking them to provide low-weight photos, specific weights/sizes, caloric intakes, and/or any other graphic details of their disordered behaviors when covering a news story. This is a huge problem because sensationalizing is much different than spreading awareness.
News outlets are notorious for purposely exploiting eating disorder survivors; they do so because those shocking details are what bring in more viewers and drives positive ratings. The worst thing about situations like that, besides the fact that such stories can trigger survivors who see the shocking details, as well as misinform the public about the mental illness, is that the individual may not even realize their story is being exploited.
I never want to see an eating disorder survivor apologize for a story covered that was beyond their control; however, it is our responsibility to address when a news outlet has missed the mark when writing about eating disorders. We may not be able to have a story removed or edited once it is published, but we do have the ability to prevent more harm being done in the future.
I believe it is crucial as eating disorder survivors to value the eating disorder recovery community as a whole over a news outlet approaching us to cover our stories for individual publicity or monetary gain.
Our individual stories matter, but helping the community as a whole needs to be the primary goal when raising awareness of eating disorders. If our focus is on sharing solely our personal stories, rather than all of the stories, we cause more harm than good. A common example of harm being done is when an individual who “appears physically healthy” is struggling with an eating disorder, but isn’t taken seriously by loved ones, the public, and even insurance companies and treatment centers. We need to start recognizing that one’s weight or appearance has nothing to do with the severity or validity of their eating disorder.
While you may notice there are some parts of the message I elaborated on and edited this year with the help of my team, the point I always will drive home with #BoycottTheBefore is that we are so much more than a “before” photo.
This year, #BoycottTheBefore, a campaign challenging the "before" of eating disorder recovery comparison photos, will have an entire week dedicated to being transformation photo free. From March 5th to the 12th, we encourage you to #BoycottTheBefore. This time of year especially, eating disorders get remarkable attention in the media, which means that we have an opportunity to educate the public about what eating disorders really are. Eating disorders are first and foremost mental illnesses. They have the potential to cause weight gain, weight loss, or can have no effect on one’s weight at all. All eating disorder diagnoses are valid; one does not have to “look sick” to be struggling. Transformation photos tend to (sometimes inadvertently) perpetuate the myth that eating disorders have a particular look or size, which is untrue. We encourage our fellow recovery warriors to join the #BoycottTheBefore campaign this year not because it’s a rule, but because this is a movement for us to stand in solidarity for eating disorder awareness. This is our time to come together and truly create meaningful change. We understand the first year of #BoycottTheBefore was viewed as a rule that had to be followed. It’s easy to see this topic as all-or-nothing or end up on a “side”; we hope this year’s adjustments to the campaign will validate those who would like to continue to post transformation photos in the future, but also honor the invaluable work organizations and communities do by discouraging such photos for #BoycottTheBefore week. There are 51 other weeks throughout the year where you can share transformation photos. Let’s make this week the time to refrain from posting transformation photos, and shift the focus from physical transformation to mental transformation and true education of what eating disorders truly are — deadly, devastating mental illnesses that will affect over 30 million people during their lifetime. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ To learn more, follow @boycottthebefore and visit BoycottTheBefore.com. | Hosted by @lexiemanion @declaring.dani @leenahlovesherself @honestlyfree_ed
We are worthy, compassionate, brave, lovable and imperfect individuals. We don’t have to prove anything in order to receive support or validation in our struggles. There is power in our words, so just know that your voice is enough.
Learn more about how you can get involved with #BoycottTheBefore at boycottthebefore.com.