Monday, 25 April 2016

Stop Showing Me Your Before/After Weight Loss Pictures, Seriously.

I get tagged in before/after weight loss pictures A LOT. I'm sure some of you will read that and immediately think 'wtf why would they tag her in that'? (thank you), but others might not see the problem with it. I know there are plenty of accounts out there that promote the idea of body positive weight loss, and that dieting and self acceptance can go hand in hand. I am not one of those accounts. I am zero tolerance on diet culture. The idea that self love comes from changing your body to better fit the cultural ideal of beauty? Nope. Not buying it. Never will be. Keep ya celery sticks and squats. Gurl byeeee. 

Earlier this week as I was checking my tagged pictures, there it was again, the classic sad looking fat person on the left, then the shiny, new and improved, happy at last, super buff version on the right. Most of the time I swiftly untag, get a bit sad about how this kind of poison is literally unavoidable in our day to day lives, and move on. But this time I caught a glimpse of the caption this person wrote, talking about how they tried body positivity before but they were just lying to themselves. How true body positivity includes 'taking care of your body' i.e. restricting your diet, working out daily, and not accepting yourself until you're thinner, leaner, more toned, less soft, less you than ever before. As you can imagine, this did not sit well with me - well actually that's the clean, restrained version, this is the more accurate one: As you can imagine, this really pissed me off, having the audacity to tag a recovered anorexic in your bullshit weight loss propaganda, and then tell me what 'TRUE' body positivity is?! FUCKOFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF! Okay, raging inner feminist satisfied, back to composure. *breathes deeply*

Whenever I talk about being anti-diet, there are two things that it's important to make clear:

  1. Bodily autonomy. That is, everyone has the right to do whatever the hell they want to their body. If you want to cover yourself in tattoos then you can. If you want to take part in extreme sports then you can. And if you want to buy into the oppressive and damaging culture of dieting then you can, but I ask that you be respectful of people who've nearly lost their lives to that culture. If you want to go on a semi-starvation 1200 calorie a day diet then you can, but I don't want to hear about it. It hurts me. If you want to post before/after weight loss pictures then you can, but I don't want to see them. And since our world is absolutely saturated with these things, the body positive community is often the only refuge for so many of us. I'm not trying to take away anyone's bodily autonomy, just asking them to be aware of when their actions hurt other people.
  2. There is an enormous difference between living a healthy lifestyle, and following diet culture. Healthy lifestyles are about improving how we feel physically, not about changing how we look to better fit the 'ideal'. They're about incorporating nutritious food choices and more activity into your life, without the restriction, pressure, and guilt of dieting. There are no goal weights, there are no progress pictures pointing out how hideous you used to be. Healthy lifestyles can be hugely beneficial to people of all sizes, but are equally NOT a requirement for self love or self worth.

Diet culture is different. Diet culture is extreme detoxes, liquid fasts, dangerous pills, 'magic' potions, fitness as an obsession and self hatred as a motivator. All of these things lower our self esteem, wreck our relationship with food and exercise, contribute to countless eating disorders, and have killed people. No really, some of the most popular diet pills used by millions of people have later been discovered to cause strokes, cardiac arrhythmia, and heart attacks, among other horrifying side effects. And the before/after weight loss picture is a little part of that multi billion dollar pure poison industry. It's main purpose is reinforcing the lie that nobody could ever be happy if they look like the 'before', and that we all have the potential to become the 'after' if we just starve, sweat, and spend enough.

Before/after weight loss pictures have convinced us that we are all 'befores', doomed to eternal misery until we reach the other side where we'll be happy, full of life, and above all else, thin. Well guess what? I am not a before. And I'm sure as hell not waiting for weight loss to grant my happiness, I've been down that road before and I see through the lies. I'm taking my happiness right now thank you.

So as you can see, before/after weight loss pictures can be seriously damaging to all people because of their toxic, diet culture roots. But before/after weight loss pictures to someone who has struggled or is struggling with an eating disorder?! That's a whole different story.

During my eating disorder social media hadn't truly kicked off yet, I was lucky not to have to deal with all the thinspo and fitspo that plagues the internet now. But there were plenty of women's magazines to act as my ammunition. And of course we all know what women's magazines do to our collective self esteem (you can read more about that here), and we all know those aspirational body transformation stories they're full of, with pictures to match. To a 15 year old anorexic girl, those before/after pictures were like rocket fuel. They validated every single disordered thought in my mind about how weight loss could only be a good thing. All the praise and the congratulations, all the strength and determination, all the happiness on the other side... I could do it better. I could go further. And I did. Far enough that I'm extremely lucky that I ever came back. Far enough that I will never be okay with those pictures, or the culture that they're a part of.

And this is where the real problem lies - people are always horrified about the number of young people purging everything they eat or starving themselves to death, but they'll still go on that juice detox to fit into their bikini. People are always shocked when they see a stereotypically emaciated image of someone with anorexia, but they'll still idolise an impossibly thin body type and dream of what life would be like as a size 6. People all around me could see how I was barely alive in a body with all the bones showing, but they still talked about their diets around me. They still complained about how fat they were. They still read out the calories on their sandwiches at lunch. Looking back at it now I wish I could have risen up and screamed IT'S ALL CONNECTED. HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE? THE CULTURE THAT YOU WORSHIP IS THE ONE THAT'S HELPING TO KILL ME?! But even I didn't see it back then, the way that it's all connected.

I see it now. I see it everywhere around me. I see the damage it does. I see the lives it takes. And I wish I didn't have to see it, any of it, ever again.

So I'm asking people, please, think twice before you bring your weight loss talk or your before/after pictures into the body positive community. Not only for those of us who've come through EDs and can be seriously triggered by diet culture, but for everyone who's finally found a safe place away from all that crap. There are millions of communities, pages, and places online where your weight loss will be celebrated beyond measure, where you'll be hailed as a fitspo queen and dubbed a loyal disciple to the deity of dieting. Let those of us who've been damaged from our belief in that deity have this safe space. Stop watering it down to fit your weight loss agenda. Body positivity was started as an underground punk movement, with fat acceptance and radical self love as its main aim (people actually stormed into diet meetings and demanded the group leaders defend their cult-like techniques in the face of all the research that says dieting doesn't work and is harmful, pretty badass huh?). So please, do whatever you want with your body, but understand the culture that you're buying into, and the people who never want to be a part of it again.

Oh, and there was never anything wrong with you in the 'before'.