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The Problematic Nature of Eating Disorder Recovery Transformation Photos


When scrolling through the #edrecovery tag on Instagram, it’s common to see transformation photos juxtaposing an emaciated and healthy body. I understand the purpose of these photos: they document the impressive achievement of weight restoration, and even I admit to posting one of these before and after pictures. But I now fear these images are largely unhealthy to both those who have eating disorders and the general public.

When I posted my transformation photo, I was not in a good place. I examined that before photo constantly, looking for differences and idolizing my most extreme features. The eating disorder loved these photos; they acted as a reminder that I had this body before, and I could get it again. These sick photos were images that I deleted once I began true recovery, for I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to trigger myself in a moment of weakness. Holding onto these photos, even for a transformation picture, seems risky to me.

For others struggling with eating disorders, these images are also problematic. Eating disorders love to compare, and the proliferation of sick photos acts as a direct means of comparisons. I remember looking at before photos of other individuals at my worst, critiquing myself and using them as a motivation to restrict and exercise more. These photos provide similar ammunition to eating disordered individuals that got the #proana and #promia tags reported.

Even though these photos will likely not act as a trigger to the general public, they do perpetuate the oversimplification of eating disorders in society. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and are rooted in issues beyond weight, but these transformation pictures only acknowledge the physical aspects of eating disorders that are already overemphasized in society. In addition, they suggest that weight restoration is the only requirement for eating disorder recovery, which we know is not true. Some may be struggling the most at a healthy weight, and others may not even have to undergo weight restoration in order to recover, but this does not make their struggle less valid.

Instead of physical transformation photos, I want to see the joys of recovery captured on camera. Eating disorder recovery is more about gaining freedom and happiness rather than weight, and I want to see that on Instagram.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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