Lexie Louise created the #BoycottTheBefore movement to make a statement about the possible harms of posting before-and-after eating disorder recovery photos
Credit: 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.

“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.

“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.

“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.’ ”

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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.”

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.”

“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.”