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Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Survivor Boycotts Before-and-After Recovery Photos to Show Disorders Aren’t Always Visible

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Lexie Louise
Lexie Louise/Instagram

Lexie Louise decided to delete her before-and-after photos showing different stages of her recovery from an eating disorder from her social media accounts and recovery message boards, and instead replaced her “before” photo with a black box stating, “I am so much more than a before photo.”

Lexie decided to #BoycottTheBefore because before-and-after photos can be alienating for many people who are in recovery.

“Many of us in the recovery community have felt excluded because people either cannot relate to experiencing a shocking weight loss or weight gain in their recovery, and/or feel triggered by others’ ‘before’ photos, with ‘triggered’ ranging anywhere between acting on eating disordered behaviors directly because of seeing someone else’s ‘sick’ appearance, to even considering treatment options,” the New Jersey-based student, 22, tells PEOPLE.

#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.

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“One element in many eating disorder sufferers recovery is battling looking at ‘thinspiration,’ ” she continues. “When the illness is rooted in comparison between our bodies and other people’s bodies online, and if that person has ever looked up thinspiration to motivate themselves to further lose weight, it is the perfect storm when pro-recovery accounts are unknowingly sharing their “before” photos that can easily translate as thinspiration to those people.”

Lexie encouraged other eating disorder survivors to join her #BoycottTheBefore campaign on social media as a way for other people to spread the message and share their own stories of recovery.

So insanely grateful that @run2golden posted this @boycottthebefore movement. This speaks to me in so many ways. •8 years ago I weighed over 260 pounds. I had been heavier my whole life, not active, ate in a way that made me hate myself but couldn't seem to get out of. I had great family and friends. I had my (now) husband. I worked + had fun but I didn't understand how to love myself. I viewed dieting + exercise as punishment and didn't feel good enough to be a healthier version of myself. I felt robbed of happiness b/c I thought being skinny was the only route to it. •Fast forward a year + a half later, I lost over 100 pounds. I got obsessed, disordered, restricted and binged for a couple of years and never would allow myself to ask for help because I never 'looked' sick. Well, when you lose hair + your period your body is telling you something. I was cold in 80 degree weather. Not healthy. And I was NOT happy. Long story shortened- I may not 'look' like the industry standard of a fitness instructor. I have extra skin on my stomach and arms from the weight loss (that never totally tightened even when I was 25 pounds smaller) + I LOVE to eat. I stopped counting calories obsessively, I listen to my body for hunger and craving cues, + I exercise because I love it. I have been through a lot with disordered eating + hating my body, +I refuse to entertain another second of my life with that nonsense. I am a happy person b/c of that decision. My before pic at 260 pounds or at 130 pounds does not define me. I am a loving, accepting, strong person. Always have been. I can run 10 miles, I can teach 4 spin classes in a day. My pant size doesn't dictate my spot in the fitness industry. I am strong + I enjoy life. What I eat in a meal doesn't make me more or less of a good person. What the extra skin on my tummy looks like doesn't tell you that I stand up for equality + would run to be by my friends sides anytime they need me. Love the body you are in right now. You can work on your health + SHOULD but if you don't love who you are right now, I promise you will not love yourself 100 pounds smaller. ❤ #nycfitnessinstructor #boycottthebefore #neda

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@BoycottTheBefore Best hashtag I've seen in awhile, really hit home for me. For years, I would be scrolling through magazines or Instagram and would think, 'one day I want to have a before and after photo'. The funny thing is that not everyBody is meant to change in such a dramatic way. Congratulations to the people who were unhealthy and are now healthy but that does not mean you have to go from a size ? To a size 2, to be healthy. Think about it, what if you are supposed to be exactly who and what you are? What if we stopped wasting time on thinking about what could be and enjoyed and lived for the now. I can basically guarantee that when you look in the mirror you will see the after! A happier you, A healthier you! #healthylifestyle #happylife #boycottthebefore #livelife #smile #fbf #miami

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“The idea behind #BoycottTheBefore is for those in the eating disorder recovery community to consider taking responsibility for public posts shared in pro-recovery communities online,” she says.  “My decision to speak up about the issue and create an open dialogue seemed simple to me at first. I honestly wasn’t expecting such an incredible response.”

The hashtag now has over a thousand posts on Instagram, including one from body positive model Iskra Lawrence.

In honor of #NedaAwarnessWeek, @neda Ambassador and body-positive girl boss, @iskra, joins the #Boycottthebefore movement to help shed light on eating disorders and recovery. . "I myself have felt the pressure to post before and after pics to validate that I too suffered… but that's not right. We do not need to prove that we struggled, we do not need to feel like anyone may have struggled more or less because maybe there before and after photos aren't as "dramatic". It's not even about that, it's always about how far you've come so @boycottthebefore is here to celebrate YOU right now! To celebrate how far you've come and maybe how far you still have to go – there is no perfect recovery & everyones is completely unique." – iskra . Tap the link in bio to learn more about the movement and the powerful women behind it.

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“I myself have felt the pressure to post before and after pics to validate that I too suffered… but that’s not right,” Lawrence posted. “We do not need to prove that we struggled, we do not need to feel like anyone may have struggled more or less because maybe there before and after photos aren’t as ‘dramatic.’ ”

RELATED VIDEO: Lauren Alaina Reveals Her Dad Did Not Know About Her Eating Disorder

Lexie believes the hashtag has resonated with so many people not just because of the message, but because it has created a forum for people to share their personal struggles.

“I am giving people a platform to speak freely and support one another,” she says. “What I’ve loved most about the response to this campaign myself is connecting with others who resonate with my message and seeing others connecting and making new friends who share similar ideas. I believe #BoycottTheBefore is bringing not only important voices to the conversation to spark change, but also is truly bringing so many people together who wouldn’t normally have crossed paths.”

Before #NEDAweek wraps up I want to say why I'm boycotting the before. People with eating disorders, no matter how close they are to the other person, no matter how supportive, have the tendency to compare themselves to one another. Everyone's recovery looks different, everyone's trough looks different. Making the "before" a competition to see who was the "sickest" or "smallest" or the "worst off" is so easy to do and is such a toxic string of comparisons. I was orthostatic, osteopenic, and anemic with a heart 15 counts too slow. My hair was falling out, I bruised very easily, my Russell's sign left scarring, and I had trouble getting up without having extreme dizzy spells and collapsing. I was not 80 pounds. I did not have the idealized body or one that is conjured up when you think of an eating disorder. I was not "thinspo" material. Size has no correlation to the severity of an eating disorder and I #boycottthebefore because pictures from the lowest point in my life do not do any justice and do not need to be exploited in the name of recovery. Awareness does not need to be coupled with competition and my intention will never be to invalidate people of any body type fighting the same fight.

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She hopes the photos can be educational for both those inside and outside of the eating disorder community.

“I hope that those who have struggled with eating disorders take away from this campaign that there are many valid cons to sharing before-and-after photos,” she says. “I hope that my message continues to be empowering to those who agree and I hope my message can open up people’s minds to other perspectives if they disagree.”

This week had been National Eating Disorder Week and I've found it hard this year. I read a lot on eating disorder campaigns and though I don't actively discuss my past the #BoycottTheBefore campaign has made me think. Eating disorders aren't about how much you weigh. If you're showing signs and symptoms of an eating disorder why does care differ and why is it so hard to access. I still have major issues with my body and my weight despite the way I appear, all due to things that happened at school. I had all the physical and behavioural signs and symptoms of anorexia but no formal diagnosis. Just get help, keep trying until they listen. https://www.b-eat.co.uk #eatingdisorderrecovery #nationaleatingdisorderawarenessweek #nedaweek #nedaw #neda #mentalhealth thank you @soworthsaving

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“I hope people who have not struggled with  an eating disorder can learn more about the seriousness of eating disorders and begin to see that these are mental illnesses,” she continues. “I hope they can also begin to see that even when people who choose share before-and-after photos may have good intentions, they are further perpetuating stereotypes because eating disorders can’t be documented through a before-and-after; we simply cannot see who is struggling. A person at any weight or any size can be genuinely struggling.”