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Vegan Uncensored: The Vegan “Before and After”

Photo credit: "Microstock Photography" at www.sxc.hu

An increasing trend in social media and blogs is the vegan “before and after” pictorial feature. Most vegans with a Facebook page have perhaps seen this before. Many may have even posted such pictures of themselves before and after they went vegan, during the first stages of their transition to animal-product free living until the present time. These photo montages are designed to highlight weight loss, improved skin tone, and an overall increase in physical appearance after their conversion to veganism.

It’s wonderful that folks are moving to veganism, and in doing so are feeling empowered to document their changes online, but the focus on showing off their new vegan-powered physiques to me really seems to undermine the profound, enlightened change vegans make in their lives. To become vegan for many folks does mean losing weight and improving health. It’s no secret that vegans are at lower risk for heart disease, high cholesterol and other diseases caused by meat and animal-based products. But putting up a slide show of “raw transformation” or “vegan transformation” really misses the mark in terms of the real reasons why people stay vegan long-term, which is for the well-being of human and non-human animals.

Vegan “before and after” features also implicitly equate veganism with values of thinness and traditional Western standards of beauty, which denies the realities of many vegans who are fit, healthy, and don’t necessarily have model-esque bodies. A friend of mine is a raw vegan plus-sized model who works out, downs green juice, fasts regularly, and tends to eat a pretty balanced raw vegan diet. She’s not skinny, but she’s super healthy and certainly looks great in the photo shoots she does for various fashion campaigns. In her self-promotion, I’ve never seen her showcase how much better she looked after going vegan. In fact, she’s admitted she was at her lowest weight when she was eating animal products and living a much less healthful lifestyle including heavy drug and alcohol use. For her, being proud about her veganism has nothing to do with jean size.

Proud vegan activist Laura Beck, who is part of the mastermind team at the popular San Francisco-based blog Vegansaurus.com, acknowledges in her writing that veganism isn’t just about being thin. Her recent posts have highlighted her visits with a vegan-friendly nutritionist, but much of her writing focuses on animal activism and delicious vegan fare that may or may not contribute to great skin or a slender stomach. I believe that if we are to have a sustainable vegan movement, we need to move away from cheapening our message with flash-in-the-pan “before and after”-style marketing of our lifestyles that have the potential to position veganism as just another fad diet.

It’s great to embrace a healthy vegan lifestyle rich in organic raw, leafy-green plants. It’s great to take care of our bodies and focus on how great we feel in our skin when we don’t harm other creatures in the process of buildling our strong, vibrant physical vessels. In her memoir Unbearable Lightness, famous vegan Portia DeGeneres highlights how overcoming her eating disorders involved listening to her body, which ultimately showed her the way to a compassionate, animal-free diet. No “before and after” pictures were necessary because the internal change was about much more than thinness—accepting herself and all creatures as valuable and sacred beings.

Geneen Roth, an expert on the subjects of body image disorders and the spiritual component to nutrition, has influenced thousands with her work. She divulges that her transformation in listening to her body has made her more confident and happy in her physical form. Her work is powerful and effective, and there’s nary a “before and after” pictorial  to be found in any of her best-selling books. When we keep our perspective on the bigger picture, we have the power to make lasting change in our own lives and in the lives of others.

Vegan Uncensored is a weekly space on this blog where people can bring interesting topics of discussion to do with veganism to the fore. Read it, respond to it, pass it on to your friends – vegan and non-vegan –through Facebook, Twitter,  or by sending them a link to this blog. Do you have a vegan issue you’d like to see in this space? Email editor@veganmainstream.com.

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About the Author

Sarah E. Brown Plant-source only environmental health activist and freelance journalist living and working at The Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Ariz. Sarah is a graduate of Vassar College. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahsuperb and check out her blog http://www.spiritualhipsteria.wordpress.com

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TMSSF27ABDUK2PCLS2G73P5FEA Tru

    Wow, it never even occurred to me to take before and after pictures for veganism. For other “diets”, yes, but not this.

  • Gcbboise

    Is idealogical purity or results more important to you? Do you think the animal whose life is spared minds if I don’t eat it for the sake of vanity? Perhaps someone will start for vanity and stay for the sanity, to steal a line from a friend in Overeaters Anonymous. Should we not embrace anything that moves people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products?

  • Linds

    Who cares if people take before and after pictures? Who are you to judge them as doing it wrong just because they aren’t doing it for YOUR reasons? If they aren’t doing it exactly like you want, then it must be wrong? Please get off your high horse. What I think is that if people are happy because they have become healthier, then I think that is great and they should celebrate their well-being. Spread the happiness!! Putting up before and after pictures could be their way of sharing their success with others, and maybe trying to get other to follow suit. I think that is great if that is what they want to do and if it makes them feel good. Not everyone becomes vegan for the well-being of animals. Some people do it purely for health reasons. Some people do it for a mixture of both. The fact is, some people are really fat and they want to lose weight. When they lose the weight they want to show it off because of how great they feel. I say good for them! I say get off your high horse because you sound like one of those stereotypical, “i’m so much better and more ethical than you” type of vegans that make the omni folks think we are stuck-up weirdos. Live and let live.

  • Anonymous

    I share your concerns where veganism is intertwined with unhealthy body image or our cultural obsession with thinness. Normal weight loss and maintenance can be a great entry point, however. Behavior research shows that attitudes often change once someone has adopted a new action. Therefore the image-oriented vegan may, indeed, become more interested in health, animals, etc. The immediate, personal changes of before and after can be the right initial motivator for some, while others come in for animals, health, environment, etc. There are many positive paths, as well as, as you point out, some negative ones.

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