The other day, I had an interview with a national magazine about my past experience with exercise addiction.
As a blogger/writer who focuses on eating-disorder recovery, I’m used to the media and their questions. I’m brutally honest and willing to share, so when a reporter comes to me for “insight,” I don’t shy away.
However, what is really starting to chap my ass (I’m Southern, OK, so I’m allowed to write that) is the number of times a reporter follows up with me post-interview and asks for before and after pictures of when I was in my eating disorder and now, as a woman in recovery.
I audibly groan at my laptop — and smack my forehead against the screen while my dog looks on in bewilderment.
Why is it always the before and after they want?
But I remember.
Drastic, shock-infused before and after pictures of anorexics or morbid obesity get clicks. Clicks boost SEO.
These types of “I weighed X and now I weigh Y — look at me now!” pics tend to attract the eye given that we are a generation of mostly visual readers.
On a Tuesday morning, I am constantly inundated with these #TransformationTuesday posts from the recovery community and “fitsporation.”
It’s always the same concept: Woman/man has an eating disorder (typically anorexia if she/he represents the recovery community or obesity if she/he represents the fitspo community) and it’s a side-by-side picture of them before and after. One picture is in the depths of their eating disorder, and it is typically shocking and causes someone like me to pause as I scroll mindlessly through my feed.
The other picture is where they are now — and this nearly always involves a big smile of success to represent how much “better” their life is now that they are in the “after” phase.
Look, I sound like a curmudgeon. Congrats to all of these people who have overcome odds. I am in support of anyone who is open and vulnerable enough to share trials and tribulations of their lives with the scary demonic world of internet commentators.
But what rubs me the wrong way is the glorification of eating disorders — and the perpetuation of eating-disorder stigma and stereotype through pictures like this.
Eating disorders are a mentality — a maniacal obsession. They are a loss of faith in yourself. They become a lifestyle at some point. They should not be represented only through physical weight, but more through the weight of the feeling you must abide by this “rule” or that “cultural appearance” — and the awareness you are not able to combat it alone.
The stereotypes of eating disorders play out in these #TransformationTuesday pictures because they insinuate that in order to have really struggled with an eating disorder, you have to have looked one way or the other (again, usually emaciated.)
This in turn perpetuates the ideology behind “not feeling sick enough” to deserve help. Those of us with eating disorders often live in shrouded shame that we are not “sick enough” because of how we see eating disorders depicted in society, so we don’t seek the proper medical help we need.
I didn’t have the classic waif figure of anorexia. My weight fluctuated during my eating disorder, as nearly all who struggle can attest. At times, it was a bit more physically apparent. But that’s not the definition of eating disorders — and it certainly is not the definition that invokes shock and awe.
I lived for eight years with my eating disorder before my family intervened. Eight years of missed life because I was under this bullshit impression that we have to be a certain weight to qualify as an eating-disorder sufferer.
We need to refocus the conversation of weight as the sole correlation of an eating disorder. We have to become more informed of the symptoms and the signs and the mentality outside the physical appearance. Eating disorders are the No. 1 most fatal mental illness — surpassing depression. Every 62 minutes someone dies in this country from one.
More: The Secret Life of Dating With an Eating Disorder
Before and after pictures of my physical appearance are not indicative of my eating disorder. You know what is? Remembering the little girl I was when I struggled and acknowledging the obscenely long road I’ve taken in order to get to the place where I am now (i.e., sounding off about subjects like this without it being a trigger.)
At the end of the day, eating-disorder recovery is not about weight gained or lost — it’s about living flexibly OK — secure, confident and OK with what your world is now.