Eating disorder awareness week has come and gone. While I was impressed by the specific focus of this year- early intervention- there is a bit of me that is relieved I can go back to my regular level of ‘awareness’ about EDs! (i.e. Well aware I have one thank you!)
Anyway, one of the issues that crops up during EDAW is the ‘before and after’ photo. It has been quite well debated this year about the value of these photos, and asking people to pause before posting to consider their reasoning for doing so (which in fairness, is often personally very valid i.e. celebrating recovery) and to think about the wider reaching consequences (i.e are others going to compare and despair). It’s good that people are talking about such things.
However, one issue which doesn’t get mentioned very much is that ‘before and after’ pictures are very much centred on anorexia-and the movement from a low BMI to a healthy BMI. What these pictures fail to do is raise awareness of a population of people with eating disorders for whom recovery might mean no significant change in their bmi, and therefore no visible difference in their bodies for before and after.
Some of my hardest leaps in recovery have been made with very little change in my weight or body. Recovery from bulimia or atypical anorexia/ EDNOS doesn’t always come with a striking picture of ‘underweight’ to ‘healthy weight’, more often than not I imagine it is represented by ‘healthy weight’ (but struggling and suffering) to ‘healthy weight’ (not struggling and suffering as much). How do we represent this in a picture? How do we validate the experiences and the challenges of those who don’t have a skinny picture to show?
My suggestion is to use our words rather than our bodies (surely that is a good lesson for life too!). This is what my before and after looks like:
- Tired from restricting
- Shame from binging
- Deviousness and secrecy around purging
- Panic over food choices and what was kept in the cupboards
- More focus on my body than my work or study or relationships
- Self-hatred. Repulsed by mirrors. Constant body pinching. Crying in gym comparing self to others or when getting dressed to go out.
- Progress with my PhD (energy and focus helps)
- A promotion (self-confidence to go for it)
- Less time panicking about whether people could tell i’d purged
- Eating foods I haven’t tried for years and realising I enjoy them. Keeping certain foods in the house without fear of binging on them.
- A wonderful experience of a relationship
- A healthy attitude to running and new friends and experiences that came with it
This isn’t an exhaustive list of before or after obviously- but I hope I’ve demonstrated that for those of us who can’t represent our suffering or our recovery in our bodies- that our experiences still count, and we too deserve awareness.
*Please note that I am not judging the before and after photos, or people that post them, that is not my message at all, it’s just to spark a conversation about their limitations to capture all ED experiences*