There was a dust-up on the popular effyourbeautystandards instagram when a mod allowed someone to post “before and after” pictures of her weight loss. People tried to explain that the idea of celebrating having a smaller body, especially with a “before and after” shot, is problematic in a body positive space. They also pointed out that before and after pictures seem to be very much the beauty standards that the community purports to want to eff. I agree with the sentiment and I’m glad that people pointed it out (you can see the post here if you would like, trigger warning for, you know, weight loss pictures, and possibly NSFW for underwear and partial nipple.)
effyourbeautystandards decided to defend the choice and leave the picture up (and it looks like they deleted some of the comments around it, including one where the mod, in an incredibly problematic post, accused someone who was speaking out against the use of before and after pictures in a body positive space, of being against working out.) It’s their instagram and they are allowed to include whatever they want on it. I will say that it certainly discourages me from being interested in participating, and it’s one of the reasons that I create and moderate spaces that are body positive based on my specifications – which includes absolutely no weight loss talk, which includes – obviously, I would think – before and after weight loss pictures. I find these pictures problematic for a number of reasons:
First, they are designed to create a situation where we judge bodies as good and bad or, at the very least, better and worse. I don’t believe that anything good comes out of this, and it reinforces the idea that, especially for women, manipulation of our body size is to be of primary importance as an “accomplishment” – that until we’ve accomplished thinness, we are works in progress.
Second, they are often used in money making schemes to “help” me identify my body as bad/worse, and show me that it could be good/better if I just bought whatever they are selling. That, as my friend CJ Legare says, is trying to steal my self-esteem and sell it back to me at a profit. And that’s not something I’m going to allow to happen.
In those money making contexts, I can’t help but notice that the person in the before shot always looks miserable and in the after shot they look so happy. The message seeming to be that anyone who looks like that cannot/should not be happy and that happiness is/should be reserved for those whose bodies are “right and good”. The worst for me is when the before picture is of someone in their sweat pants, eating on the couch before their shower; and the after picture is them standing in the sun, bronzed, sucking in until they are on the verge of fainting, fully made up, dressed up and smiling like they won the lottery. Also, let’s not forget that they can be fake as hell with or without photo re-touching.
People are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies. They are allowed to choose body size manipulation as a goal. They are allowed to buy into the idea that their body would be somehow “better” if it was different and they are allowed to take pictures of their body over time and make comparisons. That doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to post those pictures in every community, which is why apparently you can post them in effyourbeautystandards, but you can’t post them in the body positive communities that I moderate.
One of the things that commenters on effyourbeautystandards pointed out was that the person could simply have posted the “after” picture by itself and celebrated her body as it is now without the need to compare it to her body at some past date. I think that’s an excellent idea, and I think it’s worth considering the possibility that there’s no such thing as “before” and “after,” there’s only “during.”
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