Are Before And After Weight-Loss Pictures “Dehumanizing”?
When I started sharing pictures of my weight loss last year, I did so because I was overjoyed about the progress I had made in my journey. Progress I at one point didn’t believe I could ever make. I had worked hard and wanted to make it known, kind of in the same way people post pictures of themselves graduating, with their first child, at their new job, or in their new home. All attempts to not only keep people updated on what’s going on in your life, but to also showcase the things you’re proud of.
Okay, if I’m being honest, I was also looking forward to the encouragement and positive comments. Sue me.
But the last thing I intended for such images to be was something that would push other people to feel crappy about themselves. And yet, according to writer Chi-Chi Okonkwo over at XoJane, who wrote the piece “I’m Glad You Hit Your Weight Loss Goals, But Your Persistent Health Posts on Social Media Are Triggering,” those kinds of pictures can be “dehumanizing.”
My eating disorder history is possibly the most traumatic event in my life, seconded only by abuse I’ve suffered. Until very, very recently, I was still tempted to purge, to starve, and to deprive myself of daily sustenance as a means of molding my body to a standard. Weight loss images bring me back to the point in my life when I felt most psychologically damaged by unattainable standards of beauty. In those moments, I hate myself the most. I become aggressively angry and depressed, which then culminates into a prolonged period of dieting.
Personally, I don’t care about the effort someone placed in their weight loss: That information is insignificant compared to the fact that before-and-after photos are extremely destructive. Pseudo-health — or genuinely healthy — journeys should be private because the imagery coming out of the industry re-emphasizes the damaging health narrative that attributes worth and success with body image. These pictures serve no purpose whatsoever other than as tools for voyeuristic consumption.
Women are already bombarded with enough dehumanizing body image symbolism without adding weight loss pictures to the mix. This symbolism is even more destructive to either racialized bodies, those struggling financially, or both. For example, think of the mythology of the fat Black woman. Think about just how much more dehumanizing these images are for POC.
My initial thought was all sorts of confusion and irritation. How could someone making progress in reaching a goal for themselves, a goal that could better their health (in contrast to trying to reach certain beauty standard goals that don’t mean sh-t and aren’t truly beneficial), make someone else feel terrible or even comprise their health?
But after some thought, I could somewhat understand where she was coming from. For those who’ve struggled with their weight and eating disorders for years, consistent yo-yoing in size can be incredibly disappointing. Looking on social media and seeing other people and their weight-loss success can turn that disappointment into depression for some. And for everyday people who aren’t fully confident or comfortable with their bodies, seeing images of stacked, slim and uber-confident celebrities who have access to trainers and chefs who can cook them healthy food and help them maintain can make folks feel like crap.
However, I also think these images can be inspirational. Honestly, I was initially pushed by the women I see killing it in the gym on social media: friends, fitness enthusiasts, and stars. I wasn’t and I’m still not comparing myself to them and hating on my own body, but rather, they motivate me to move forward with my own goals to tone up. That goal is one I created for myself because I love the way a firm, muscular frame looks. Not because I want to say I worked hard enough to fit into a certain standard or because my happiness is attached to my weight. I was happy before, but I’m more comfortable now. Blame it on taking certain foods out of my diet and relieving stress through fitness.
And if you really think about it, anything can be a trigger. And such are the consequences of exposing yourself to social media. A person posting photos of their children could be a trigger for the person who feels that their life is missing that. A person’s home and car could be a trigger to the person who lives with a roommate in a cramped apartment and walks everywhere (probably a New Yorker). A person’s success at their new job could be a trigger to the person who feels stuck not only in their own job, but in their career, in general. When that happens, it’s personal — not something to lash out at the poster about or always a sign of a major societal issue (unless they’re taunting those without — in that case, f–k them). In moments like that, which I’m sure many of us have had if we’re honest, that’s when you need to step back from social media. That’s when you reevaluate why you feel the way you do, and do the work to improve the way you feel — whether that includes unfollowing certain individuals or taking a break from social media altogether.
So while I’m compassionate to this woman and what she’s gone through, many of the people posting before and after photos have been through a lot, too. And no, I’m not talking about the folks who wanted to “get summertime fine” just for the sake of sharing before and after bikini pics. In many cases, there hope is to help and inspire other people who believe they can’t achieve their own health and wellness goals. It’s very true that you’re more than your body, but the health of it is critical. Call me naïve, but I don’t see anything about these images as dehumanizing or destructive. If anything, they can be empowering.