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Living I'm recording myself every day for a year to battle mental health stigmas

Sep. 2, 2017
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For years, “before and after” photos have been used to demonstrate how a person “transforms” from “overweight” to “underweight”. They are the epitome of harmful diet culture, as they promote the idea that there are “good” body types and “bad” body types, stigmatizing any person who does not have or cannot attain the “good” body type (the after photo). Recently the body positive movement has reclaimed these photos, with leaders and influencers within the movement using “before and after” photos to demonstrate how they have transformed from having an eating disorder (thanks to diet culture) to being body positive. These reclaimed photos not only portray a healthy outlook on body image and acceptance, but they also act to represent what recovery looks like. 

This cultural shift has been so complete that I now see “before and after” pictures frequently used by body positive bloggers or mental illness advocates to show the progress they have made with their eating disorder or other mental illness. As inspiring as these photos can be, I also find them vaguely problematic. I believe it promotes the idea that there is some final goal or place of contentment that people with mental illnesses reach at some point. Some of us may never reach that point, or if we do, it's not necessarily forever. These photos can be harmful to those people who feel as though they need to reach that “after” phase or stay in it forever. That's not the way mental illness works.

Additionally, these photos skip over the actual progress the people in these photos made. Their good days, their bad days, their daily struggles, their leaps forward—all of it is fast-forwarded to show a final product of “happiness”. This does not help to end any stigmas, nor does it offer any sense of community for people struggling with mental illnesses to relate to. So I decided to work on a project that hopefully would do both.

With The During Project, I am aiming to show what it's like to have a mental illness in its entirety. Every day for a year, I will post a video of myself taking my medication to my personal Instagram. In each video, I will speak as honestly as I could about what I'm feeling that day and why; I will talk about any specific issues or struggles that I'm dealing with as a result of my mental illness, and I will ask those people with mental illnesses who are watching to comment or respond if they experience similar circumstances or issues. Every Friday, I will create a recap of the week’s experiences for Adolescent’s Instagram story. My hope is that this project will create a new form of documentation on mental illness, offer a place for mental illness to be discussed without stigma, and offer an accurate representation of the everyday struggles those with mental illness face.

The idea of “before and after” recovery photos conveys the idea that there is a final goal or finishing point for recovery and once you reach that then you will be happy. This is not how recovery works for mental illness because there is no recovery from mental illness. You can adopt healthier behaviors, you can take medication, you can go to therapy, you can manage the illness, but you can’t recover from it. The idea that there is an “after” for mental illness not only creates stigma by promoting mental illness as something that needs to be recovered from or gotten rid of, but it also gives people with mental illness the false idea that they can get rid of their mental illness if they work hard enough. 

The During Project aims to do what “before and after” photos cannot do by providing a more realistic and comprehensive representation of mental illness by showing the process and progress of managing a mental illness rather than simply showing the final outcome of recovery. Will you join me?

I have noticed that 'before and after' pictures are frequently used by body positive bloggers or mental illness advocates to show the progress they have made with their eating disorder or other mental illness. As inspiring as these photos can be, I also find them vaguely problematic. I believe it promotes the idea that there is some final goal or place of contentment that people wth mental illnesses reach at some point. Some of us may never reach that point, or if we do, it's not necessarily forever. These photos can be harmful to those people who feel as though they need to reach that 'after' phase or stay in it forever. That's not the way mental illness works.

Additionally, these photos skip over the actual progress the people in these photos made. Their good days, their bad days, their daily struggles, their leaps forward, all of it is fast forwarded to show a final product of 'happiness.' This does not help to end any stigmas, nor does it offer any sense of community for people struggling with mental illnesses to relate to. The project I suggest would hopefully do both.

The During Project would aim to show what it's like to have a mental illness in its entirety. It would consist of me taking a video of myself everyday for a year. I would post the videos on Instagram. In each video I would speak as honestly as I could about what I'm feeling that day and why. I would talk about any specific issues or struggles that I'm dealing with as a result of my mental illness and I would ask those people with mental illnesses who are watching to comment or respond if they experience similar circumstances or issues. I would end each video with me taking my medication. 

The goal of the project would be to offer documentation on mental illness, as well as offer a place for mental illness to be discussed without stigma, and lastly to offer an accurate representation of the everyday struggles those with mental illness face.