When I entered the ED recovery community on Instagram at the beginning of 2017, everyone was posting transformation photos. However, lately they’ve become controversial. Not only there are less people posting them, but those who do suffer harsh criticism by those who are against it. I respect those who don’t want to post them but, personally, I’m 100% in favor. Now I’ll explain why… and share some pics too!
They helped me
First of all, because of my personal experience. They’ve helped me a lot in my recovery, and therefore I think the fairest thing is that I post this kind of pictures too if I want to help other people. I understand that they aren’t helpful for some people, and they complain because they’re even triggering to them. I’m sorry for them, and in no case I have any intention to hurt them.
But I think those people should see how useful they’re to others and not impose their views. Accept that everything isn’t for everyone, and that doesn’t make it bad. It’s like if you take the wrong medicine, or eat a food you’re allergic to. They’re good things, but for other people. Appreciate the good they do to them. It’s not fair that there are people who feel pressured to stop posting transformation photos just because those who’ve taken offense speak louder, depriving those who see them as a source of motivation of that resource.
Weight restored doesn't mean fat
I think the most helpful thing about transformation pictures is how they shake off the myth of weight restored = fat. And this is a very real and serious fear that people with eating disorders have, and that might make us not want to start recovery. Whereas seeing examples of people who have recovered and maintain a physique we find nice encourages us to follow their steps. We’re still going to believe that it won’t work for us and we’ll become fat, and we’ll also see transformations we don’t like and believe that’s how we’re going to end up. But, at least, we’ll have a ray of hope to hold on: there are people who have achieved it, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be as we think, there’s a possibility —even if it seems remote— for this to end up well.
Celebrating your body
Uploading transformation pics is also a way to celebrate your body, and this is very positive. The girl who used to hate her body is now showing it with pride, and that shouldn’t be censored. A person who’s gone through a recovery process has the right to feel proud of what she’s built with hard work and effort. Of that body she’s raised from the doors of death and turned into a healthy and strong body that allows her to live her best life. I think the same about other kinds of transformation photos: fitness, weight loss, etc.
Physical problems matter
On the other hand, even though eating disorders are mental illnesses and the visible physical part is just the tip of the iceberg, that doesn’t make it something merely incidental. The physical effects of anorexia are grave too, so grave that they can lead to death. You don’t have to wait until you reach the lowest weights in order to “be sick” and choose recovery, but if you already are at a very low weight, you must realize and do it with more urgency than anyone, because maybe when you want to do it it’s too late. In addition, once you’re our of danger, thinking of where you were and what you’ve been freed from is a cathartic experience, that makes you exclaim wittingly the words of Psalm 30: “Lord, you brought my soul up from Sheol; you let me live, from going down to the pit”.
My story is my story
There are people who argue that transformation photos perpetuate the stereotype of the skinny girl with anorexia, and therefore these cases are the only ones that are detected and the ones that society worries about. Of course: anyone, at any weight, can be suffering from an eating disorder. Mental illness can’t always be physically seen. And for a person with a restrictive ED, waiting until the effects are apparent is waiting too much. That’s why I encourage people with eating disorders of all kinds and with different physical appearances to not be ashamed, to speak up, to share their story, to show up. I’ll support them and help as much as possible to spread this reality.
But I’m not going to tell a story that isn’t mine. My story is my story, and it undeniably includes a physical element. Let me share something that’s been important to me. Oh, so I fulfill the stereotype of “young girl, white, upper middle class, perfectionist, skinny? So what? That doesn’t make my suffering —or anyone’s in the same case— less valid.
Different bodies, same beauty
Another advantage of transformation photos is that they help us to see there are different body types that can be beautiful. All the super skinny bodies look the same. Even the faces become similar. When we recover and bloom, however, our features become personal. If this is a garden, some of us are daisies, others violets, others roses… whereas before we were all weak stems. Realizing that you don’t need to fit the standard of the media, the fashion industry or the pro-ana pages, but your own body in the peak of its health will also be in the peak of its beauty, even if that looks different from other bodies you also like, because it will fit you as well as other bodies fit its owners, is a very stimulating step.
Much more than weight
It also has to be said that transformation photos show more differences than body size. To start with, we can appreciate on them the changes in other physical features that we usually overlook, such as the health of the hair, the skin, etc. These small details can be very encouraging in recovery when the perception of body size is too distorted because of body dysmorphia. But here I want to refer especially to that “thing” they convey. Something that really stands out in this kind of pictures is the spark of the eyes, the life the “after” radiates. You don’t want to reach that “after” for the body as much as for the happiness associated.
Read the texts!
Finally, I want to highlight the value of the texts that accompany transformation pictures. Indeed, there are many many things about eating disorders and recovery that can’t be seen in a picture. The picture shows a part of that reality: for the rest of them, one needs to read the texts we write, such as Instagram captions, blog posts or magazine interviews. We must always try that people don’t recall only the image, but invite them to dig deeper and reflect about what’s behind it. The visible realities are expressed by photographs; the invisible ones, by words (or art!). They’re complimentary, not opposed.
Going through an eating disorder and recovering implies a radical transformation, that’s sometimes reflected in a physical change, for which we can —I’d even say must— feel both proud and grateful. And share it with joy. The true transformation, however, will be the one of the mind and the soul. In short, the whole person. A transformation from death to life, from darkness to light. If you need it… start today.