before and after photo effect

Anyone who has been following me for any length of time knows that I often speak out against “before and after” photosets in the recovery community; however, my dislike goes beyond just finding these photos distasteful. I strongly believe that equating weight gain with recovery from an eating disorder, in any context, does the entire eating disorder community a great disservice.

Someone’s progress in recovery cannot and should not be represented by a full-body photo that highlights that person’s weight, because in doing so, that person’s ability to “look healthy” is being equated to that person “being healthy.” As anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder knows, someone can often look normal and healthy but still be struggling and hurting immensely.

If the phrase “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder!” both hurts and angers you, then you’ve already become aware of the negative effects that before and after photos have caused to the eating disorder community. Because these photos are so prevalent in social media when recovery is the topic of discussion, the general public perceives that being sick with an eating disorder means being underweight and that being recovered from an eating disorder means, well, looking recovered!

As a result, most individuals who remain at “normal” weights despite engaging in dangerous, restrictive behaviors, specifically sufferers of OSFED and bulimia, are often dismissed friends, family, and even medical professionals as not “being sick enough.” What a horrible phrase to for an eating disorder sufferer to hear, especially from an external source!

You would never tell someone that an eating disorder’s severity can be gauged by weight, so why would you post a photo with that same underlying message?

Al Severson worked as a photographer for the Burgert firm during the 1920s, and his photos exhude a sense of fun and frolic.  These two photos serve as effect before and after pictures.  Above, Severson arrives with three “distinguished” friends.  After imbibing too much hooch on the beach, the men try to sing a song below, with the man second from left accompanying on guitar.

From the Al Severson Photographic Collection, University of South Florida.