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.
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