Proud2Bme | Not Your 'After' Photo: The Co-Option of Anorexic Bodies

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Not Your 'After' Photo: The Co-Option of Anorexic Bodies

By Claire Trainor--I can hardly scroll through Facebook without seeing a DRAMATIC BEFORE AND AFTER WEIGHT LOSS article pop up by one of the website’s annoying sponsors. Usually, the photos advertise some sort of weight loss product, whether it be a new pill made from Oompa Loompa fruit or a ground up unicorn horn. 

The problem with most of the photos is that the girl in the beginning was never visibly unhealthy to begin with.  On the “before” side, she is usually curvy, sometimes "overweight," but those traits tell us nothing about her health. On the “after” side, she is tiny, and looks to be severely underweight. In those photos, one can assume that the “after” girl just worked really hard to get the crazy six-pack abs. But in a before and after article recently published by Chive, the after photo was of a girl who had clearly stated she was in recovery from anorexia.

Anne Marie Sengillo struggled for seven years with an eating disorder. Recently, she posted photos on reddit.com/r/progresspics, a subreddit devoted to before and after photos that usually show weight loss. Sengillo, on the other hand, posted the photos to show her recovery from anorexia, an incredibly difficult feat for anyone. Unfortunately, The Chive’s Mac Faulkner stole one of her photos and used it as the “after” picture on a different website devoted to weight loss pictures.

Other than the obvious problem of Faulkner taking Sengillo’s photo without her permission and using it for a completely different purpose (seriously, who does that?!), his actions show society’s overwhelming idea that skinny is still something to be envied. In the beginning photo, Sengillo was healthy. In the photo, at least, she looks happy. In the after photo, she is trapped in the midst of her illness, struggling with the mental demons and physical pain that come along with severe malnutrition. It shows our society’s idolization of excessive thinness, our ideal that the thinner you are, the more beautiful.

Perhaps even more horrifying than Faulkner’s posting the photo were the comments it attracted. One user commented, “Not gonna lie, but with her hair up in that body-skimming dress, she does look gorgeous in the picture. Yes, she's obviously on the skinny side, but she still has boobs - she looks like a fashion model, rather than an average girl.”

First of all, who says girls with eating disorders can’t have boobs? Second of all, who says that fashion models are healthy? But the biggest problem with this comment, and other comments like it, are that they perpetuate the ideal of thinness. It puts the idea in a girl’s head that if she wants to be “gorgeous,” she needs to be skeletal, too.

Of course, not everyone agrees with this message. And of course there are girls who are naturally skinny. I know plenty of them. But by stating that she looks gorgeous in her after picture, the one where her body could have easily quit at any moment, and not in the beginning photo (where one can assume she is healthy,) we create the idea that incredibly skinny = ideal.

Eating disorders are not about the weight. They’re not about crash diets or before and after photos. Using a picture of a girl at one of the sickest points in her life is not only incredibly rude, but it is damaging to everyone suffering from an eating disorder and everyone working to raise awareness. Until we are able to recognize this fact, we will not see the revolution we so desperately need.  

About this blogger: Claire Trainor is a freshman at DePaul University majoring in Creative Writing and Psychology. In steady recovery from an eating disorder, she wants to educate, support, and inspire those struggling in anyway. She likes her dogs, hot chocolate, and books.Claire currently runs a personal recovery blog.

Photo courtesy of Jezebel

Also by Claire: 

Fashion Forward? France's Ban on Underweight Models

Sticks and Stones

Breaking the Skinny Mirror

A Recovery Post That Talks About Real Recovery

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