Earlier this week, theChive.com included photos of a woman with an eating disorder in a gallery of 'inspirational' weight loss before and after pictures. The woman, Anne Marie Sengillo, originally posted her pictures in an external gallery celebrating her recovery. In other words, her 'before' picture, where she weighed 150lbs, was the goal here; and not the 'before' starting point. But Chive, either without knowing or without caring (they claim the former) the backstory of the pictures, shared her images and upheld her thinner body, achieved through sickness, as something inspirational.
Chive claims that they found Sengillo's images "in the echo chamber of the internet", without any context, which means they had no idea that they were indirectly promoting eating disorders. Except- oopsie! They had seen the images with context before. Chive actually re-posted them in a gallery of their own, partially quoting Sengillo's original captions, correctly lauding the photos as the inspirational story of a woman overcoming an eating disorder. AWKS.
Hey, Chive: maybe don't applaud a woman for overcoming an eating disorder and then turn around less than a year later and feature her 'inspirational' weight loss through psychiatric illness as a good thing. Just a tip.
The internet is overloaded with weight loss images, tips and stories. Some of them are valuable, some of them are useless; some of them are healthy, some of them are unhealthy; but all of them are inspirational. Here's the kicker: they're not all inspirational in a good way.
I was a Chivette (the term that female Chive readers have been given) a few years ago, back when Chive was 80% Internet, 15% Cat, and 5% Hot Girl. It was an ex that got me into Chive- he was lured in by Hump Day, the Wednesday butt fest fap catalog, but in those days the semi-clad women were infrequent and easy to avoid. In those days, I was in early recovery from an eating disorder. In the past I had starved myself and overworked myself to look like the girls my husband now drooled over every Wednesday, and I had fallen short. I'd learned the hard way that I will probably never have an ass; that I will never have washboard abs and a huge rack; that my short legs are never going to get any longer. I didn't beat myself up about it, until the day he showed me a picture of a girl about my size (then, an 8) with a perfectly chiseled ass and a stomach that showed the tiniest, most minuscule bit of fat stretched over tight abs.
"I just want you to look at this a second," my ex said. "This is what you could look like. I mean, don't get me wrong, you're hot now, but this...?" he gave a little growl; made a climax face. "This is on a whole different level."
I repeated to him the mantra that I had worked hard to convince myself. "No, I can't look like that. I do not have an ass. No woman in my family has ever had an ass. I'm genetically predisposed to a lack of ass."
"Okay. But you could have abs like that, though. You did when we met."
"I had an eating disorder when we met."
"But you're better now. You could work out in a healthy way and get abs like that."
Now I was starting to get a little mad. My eating disorder was no secret- he knew about it from the day he met me. He'd known me at my most unhealthy, and here he was telling me that now I was 'better', I should go back to how I had looked; or, rather, his idea of how he thought I could look. So I told him, "I can't have abs like that without losing my boobs."
"She has big boobs."
"Yes, but the first place I lose weight is my chest. I will lose my boobs." Trust me, I wanted to say, I've done it before.
At that point, he stormed off in a huff. I just had to be right. I just wouldn't listen. He was ranting about squats and pushups and core work as he walked away.
His douchebaggery aside, there lies the problem with 'inspirational' internet weight loss: there is no context. The particular girl he was looking at may have achieved her body through healthy hard work, or she may not. The combination of taut abs and enormous breasts may have even been surgical- there is no way to tell by an image alone. You know what else you cannot gather from an image alone? The scope of someone's mental health. You'll see plenty of pictures of me smiling and happy at my lowest weight. If you look closely, you might notice that in the one where I am eating dinner with my roommate, I am positioned awkwardly so that my elbow hides my non-existent stomach from view of the camera. You might notice that my plate is almost full, while hers is almost empty. You wouldn't gather from that image that I'd learned how to pretend I was eating a meal so well that even people dining with me were fooled. If you look at the one where I'm on a beach in a bikini with friends, you will notice a little bellydancing sash tied around my waist. You probably wouldn't know that it was put there to hide a stomach which I concluded was enormous simply because it wasn't all muscle. You certainly wouldn't know I only felt comfortable in a bikini because I had not eaten a full meal in several days. Inspiration comes in many forms, and I had been 'inspired' by sites like theChive to think that I was fat. I had been 'inspired' to change that by the simple method of Not Eating.
I can believe that theChive didn't know the context of those photos, even though they had posted them before. I mean, I don't believe it, but it's plausible that a site that receives and recycles a high volume of images every day would accidentally re-use content from last summer in an entirely new context. It's equally plausible that someone found the images in "the echo chamber of the internet" and submitted them. It's also plausible that someone knew the context and submitted them anyway, so let's allow Chive the benefit of the doubt.
It's still inexcusable and horribly dangerous to host 'weight loss' galleries as something inspirational, especially with no context, and Chive manages to make it worse: they only offer one brand of hot. Chive Hot is a (white; always white) skinny, long-haired girl with little to no visible fat other than on her large breasts and round ass. She'll have no cellulite, or pimples, or scars. She might be a redhead, in which case she will be Redhead Hot. She might wear glasses, in which case she will be Glasses Hot. But her size and her shape will not vary. If a website has a habit of displaying "hot women of all forms" as "women of identical size with minor differences in appearance", it reinforces the idea that hotness and thinness are the same. That if you are different from these thin women, you are not hot.
Plenty of websites encourage weight loss, but it is another matter entirely to uphold an eating disorder as an inspirational way to get there. Survivors of eating disorders carefully tread the line every single day between health and relapse, all the while being bombarded with messages that thinner is better. It is hard. It is frustrating. It is horrible. And if ever the time comes when weight loss becomes a priority to us again - whether it is medically advisable or not - here, on top of all these messages, is a girl who lost weight through an eating disorder being presented as inspirational. Look how skinny she is now, and feel inspired. Do you really want to eat that whole wheat toast now?
I wish Sengillo all the best in her continued recovery. Sadly, at Chive HQ, it's just another day in the office. Oops, so sorry we accidentally sort of said eating disorders are a-okay. Here's (skinny yet rounded) Hump Day.