Beth vs. Beth
May 9, 2015 4:12 PM   Subscribe

"I created a series of pop culture-inspired portraits of my friend Beth, playfully celebrating her fantastic weight loss of 150 pounds. I shot her "Before" and "After" selves two years apart, and the digitally integrated them to interact with each other within each scene. To properly communicate and celebrate Beth's accomplishment, her body shape has not been digitally altered."
Photographer Blake Morrow on The Beth Project
posted by Room 641-A (51 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is really cool, and such a neat gift.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:15 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Very nice. 150 pounds -- that's impressive!
posted by Triplanetary at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is amazing! What's great is that, in agreeing to pose for the first pictures, Beth committed to losing the weight to her friend. That must've been very inspiring throughout the process.
posted by sfkiddo at 4:30 PM on May 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Funny, I looked at this as a lighting guy and thought "wow, that's a lot of work to be doing for free, to recreate each setup. He must love his friend. Nice guy."

This is a really fantastic idea. Good on Beth for all her hard work!
posted by nevercalm at 4:32 PM on May 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm impressed and would love to know how she did it too! Photogenic beauty and great photographer!
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 4:46 PM on May 9, 2015


I love the change in her facial expressions. The "new" Beth looks much more confident, happy and so on.

Bravo to Beth and hat's off to her friend who did the photos.
posted by Michele in California at 4:46 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


He must love his friend.

Yes, I thought this was much more about a friendship than simply celebrating a number on a scale.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:49 PM on May 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


The "Frida & Diego" tableau was adorable. The moral implications of "Prison Beth," however... I'd love to hear the subject's reaction to that picture specifically, what it means to her, how she felt in the orange jumpsuit vs. in the prison guard costume (with a collapsing baton!), and perhaps what her perspective is on the justice system. That one really sticks out like a sore thumb - all the other juxtapositions are of equals, friends, and companions, and are amusing and lovely portraits of a person at two different times in the life of her body.
posted by katya.lysander at 4:54 PM on May 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Ha, these are really funny! A cool project. I like how both old and new Beths look happy, healthy, and confident, too. So often you'll see these before and after pictures where "before" looks bedraggled and grumpy and "after" is beaming, has a new hairdo, and is wearing a bunch of makeup.
posted by Secretariat at 4:55 PM on May 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I was a little unsure what to think of the prison one, if I should try to read something into that one. I like tough prisoner Beth's glare, though.
posted by Secretariat at 4:59 PM on May 9, 2015


The "new" Beth looks much more confident, happy and so on.

vs.

I like how both old and new Beths look happy, healthy, and confident, too.

I agree with the latter opinion.
posted by fairmettle at 5:19 PM on May 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


I like how both old and new Beths look happy, healthy, and confident, too. So often you'll see these before and after pictures where "before" looks bedraggled and grumpy and "after" is beaming, has a new hairdo, and is wearing a bunch of makeup.

This was almost word-for-word what my thought was as I made my way through this. I have nothing against the idea of weight loss, but I have a problem with the idea of fat people as universally sad and helpless and lazy. And yet, what kind of person do you have to be to actually make big changes in your life and be still following through with them years later? Obviously the real prison system's got issues, but in a pop-culture kind of sense--the "old" version here looks like she's got a plot brewing to break out of confinement, not beaten-down. The one where she's punching herself is softened considerably by the fact that there's another photo where it's portrayed as a match where both are celebrated fighters.

So--there's some conflict there between them in both cases, but it's not portrayed like the new Beth is the winner because she's skinny, she's the winner because she did this big thing. That her former self planned and that every day in the middle she has been in the process of executing. That plus the pictures where they're partners, not adversaries--it just seems like a pretty healthy outlook all around.
posted by Sequence at 5:25 PM on May 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


This is awesome and adorable, lovely and wonderful.
posted by dejah420 at 5:33 PM on May 9, 2015


I'm impressed and would love to know how she did it too!

In another link I had read that she had gastric bypass. Great results, and I agree that she looks healthy and beautiful in both the before AND after shots.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 5:36 PM on May 9, 2015


This is so awesome. Weight loss has never been my personal struggle, but there's something here that speaks to a fundamental truth about self-improvement. Basically, that the best asset in changing something major about yourself is not thinking yourself as "less than" because of that part of yourself. Or something. I'm on a phone and having trouble wording it right now.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Laurel and Hardy set is fantastic. Way to set a goal and hit it.
posted by effugas at 5:47 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Yeah, I was a little unsure what to think of the prison one, if I should try to read something into that one.

I honestly thought it was a Orange Is The New Black reference.
posted by magstheaxe at 5:53 PM on May 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


I can be a bit touchy on fat phobia, so I was really worried about this when I first clicked the link. But I agree this is really well done. The prison one did rub me the wrong way, but I'm willing to overlook it given that it probably wasn't the artist's intent to shame fat people.
posted by mokin at 6:08 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as a fat person who sometimes struggles with it.... These are awesome! There really isn't any shaming here. This is just a celebration of friendship and progress and success.
posted by poe at 6:20 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good for Beth, that's amazing work she's done! The pics were fun, I went 'ha' a bunch of times. But why is Old Beth always taking the masculine role?

I know for myself, when I was physically bigger than many women I knew, I felt my size was incongruent with a classically feminine self-presentation, particularly in contrast to the slighter women around me (and I made that contrast, myself). I worried I might look silly in dainty things, and tried to keep clothing details in proportion to my proportions. (I stayed well clear of spaghetti straps, for example, opted for chunkier shoes, chose darker colours with concealment chiefly in mind, etc.). Not sure what kind of influence it had on other aspects of self-presentation, but I do think that in my interactions with slighter women, I allowed myself less room to be or act "girlish", whatever that meant, because I thought it might be unseemly. All that's ridiculous, of course, and it was entirely self-imposed, and certainly had a lot to do with general anxiety - but, is that something that's come up for others?
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:22 PM on May 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


(Seeing Old Beth in these photos makes me think that maybe, it wasn't just me, is all.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:29 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was a little unsure what to think of the prison one, if I should try to read something into that one.

It's definitely an Orange is the New Black reference, and the prisoners rule that roost, if not literally (in terms of being more sympathetic, bad ass, relatable, etc., though they are certainly still suspect to humiliations of imprisonment). So not as uncomfortable as it seems at first glance, though of course one's mind does go to who is policing whom in that image.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:26 PM on May 9, 2015


Orange is the New Black didn't air until July 2013, though. Even if the two year elapsed time referenced in the summary is rounded up by two months such that the friends had seen the OITNB premiere before creating the first set of photos, Beth & Blake would have had to be pretty prescient to predict it would be a cultural touchstone two years later. Add in time required for editing photos, etc., and it seems unlikely the show was the inspiration for the prison set.
posted by philotes at 7:48 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, so everyone and their parakeet loves it and I'm the only one who had trouble with more than just the prison image, but also that the before Beth was expected to play the male role in the Frieda kahlo photo, be the more covered up one wherever one was more covered up, and even presented without heels in the swimsuit one so the thin version's legs can be presented more attractively.

I'm uncomfortable with weight loss, especially when done via a dangerous gastric bypass surgery, as being presented as an "accomplishment" and necessarily an improvement in health.

I mean, goal setting and sticktuitiveness, great. But I can't see people celebrating someone who chose to gain 150 pounds and then did so, so this is really about reinforcing the "right" way for women to look.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 7:56 PM on May 9, 2015 [42 favorites]


These are so adorable. Awesome!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:11 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mysterious_stranger hit the nail on the head for me. Wish I could favorite the comment multiple times.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:31 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yep, I'm with mysterious_stranger too. Many of the "before" shots were asexual and masculine, compared with sexualised, feminine "after" shots. Technically, it's fabulous. But it's pretty much a poster presentation of the celebration of one acceptable shape for women, lest they be genderless and unattractive. The world didn't need another "take up less space" message, even a beautifully curated one.
posted by shonias at 1:13 AM on May 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm uncomfortable with weight loss, especially when done via a dangerous gastric bypass surgery, as being presented as an "accomplishment" and necessarily an improvement in health.

Well, look, it's not an accomplishment in the sense of it being a victory over some kind of essential "badness", though I can see it feeling that way, absolutely. It's almost impossible to avoid coming to that conclusion, reading our culture more generally.

It is a lot of bloody hard work, though. Even, I'm given to understand, with weight loss surgery. It's not just goal-setting. Though it is that, and feeling yourself to be agentic in changing something as fundamental as your body, with all the things it carries and says, is a hugely powerful experience, for many. For some, it might be the first time they felt any sense of self-determination. It's reconfiguring your basic physical and psychological relationships to food and to your body, daily, incrementally, consistently, over years, against a homeostatic pull. It's a lot of bloody hard work. Those who've done it will say it's had an impact far beyond numbers on the scale or any aesthetic effects. And it's meaningful to Beth, which should count for something.

(Not really wanting to get into the health side of things, other than to say, of course, there's a good bit of research that suggests that yes, weight loss tends to support health, and sure, there is some research now that makes other claims.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:53 AM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm uncomfortable with weight loss, especially when done via a dangerous gastric bypass surgery, as being presented as an "accomplishment" and necessarily an improvement in health.

People are free to judge Beth on how she chooses to present her own, personal version of femininity, but it's probably better not to second-guess her health status and what she may or may not have discussed with her doctors in deciding to lose 150 pounds. (Especially since she's not making any health claims herself.)
posted by Room 641-A at 2:33 AM on May 10, 2015 [12 favorites]


Room 641, I was quite obviously referring to the way people on this thread were treating Beth's weight loss as a health-enhancing activity. Please don't twist my words into a straw man to argue against.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 5:24 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh and, I wouldn't assume any of those pics represent her personal version of anything; she's a photographer's subject.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 5:26 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Funny, I looked at this as a lighting guy and thought "wow, that's a lot of work to be doing for free, to recreate each setup. He must love his friend. Nice guy."

We used to call this "friendship".
posted by Mezentian at 6:19 AM on May 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh and, I wouldn't assume any of those pics represent her personal version of anything; she's a photographer's subject.

But you're apparently willing to assume she had dangerous gastric bypass surgery and that those pictures are really about reinforcing the "right" way for women to look. There's a lot of barely-veiled disapproval in this thread.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 6:21 AM on May 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


All that's ridiculous, of course, and it was entirely self-imposed, and certainly had a lot to do with general anxiety - but, is that something that's come up for others?

Absolutely. The heavier I am, the less I feel comfortable presenting femininity, even though for me being heavier means bigger breasts and bigger ass and hips. Our culture most often equates femininity with being small, dainty, delicate... and even at my lightest weight, I'm still broad-shouldered and big-chested in a way that makes spaghetti straps look utterly ridiculous. I can tell myself over and over that no one's paying any attention, no one's judging me, and if they are it says more about them than it does about me, and I've gotten a lot more comfortable wearing dresses and presenting a more classic femininity. But... there's still some discomfort for me. It's hard to shake the feeling that having a larger body makes me less feminine.
posted by palomar at 8:36 AM on May 10, 2015


Yep, I'm with mysterious_stranger too. Many of the "before" shots were asexual and masculine, compared with sexualised, feminine "after" shots.
Yes, this is why I LOVE the Laurel & Hardy and Jazz Singer shots, and the Boxers poster! And I agree, who wears heels to the beach? That was a weird choice, although not entirely inconsistent with the pin-up art the photographer is trying to mimic.

Somehow it makes the project make more sense (to me) if Beth had gastric bypass surgery. I don't assume that people undergo that procedure primarily for vanity/gender compliance, but to prevent the future expense of worsening medical problems. As a personal visual reminder to motivate her to take care of her post-surgery body, it successfully avoids many problems with "before/after" shots articulated by other posters. As art, it suffers from Gaze-related issues.
posted by katya.lysander at 9:28 AM on May 10, 2015


So many people are starting to change ideas about who's allowed to look feminine, like fashion blogger Nadia Aboulhosn, who I think looks extremely great (and feminine) in spaghetti straps.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:35 AM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read the presentation in the photos as representing how Beth feels about herself, having made such a fundamental change in her physical body. I don't know that this personal project has to be laden with everyone's concerns about femininity or body issues; it is not synecdoche for larger social issues. This is just a friend documenting an important event in another friend's life, and looks to me about how this all felt to her, herself, not what it may or may not represent for you or anyone else, or society in general.

I don't think it's always meaningful to project yourself into a work of art or other creative project.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:37 AM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, sure, if it's a personal project that only the photographer and the subject are privy to. But it's not private, it's a public project that's now been presented here on Metafilter for discussion. Are we all allowed to discuss it?

My personal reactions to this public artwork were of mild sadness and disappointment. If Beth feels empowered by these images then fair dos, good luck to her, I thought. But I don't feel empowered by them. As someone who looks more like Old Beth that New Beth, it saddens me to think that a Future Me Who'd Lost Loads of Weight would feel like this about me.

I was going to skip commenting on this post as it was pretty clear from the admiration it was garnering that an expression of my feelings would be unwelcome. But if you're going to outright tell me I'm unwelcome then fuck that.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 1:40 PM on May 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


I kind of interpreted the prison picture as being about plans to escape the prison of her excess weight.

At one time, I was quite large. Working on my health had the unexpected and unintended consequence of shrinking me substantially. There are lots of burdens that a very large body comes with, not just the burden of moving all the weight when you want to do things. I do feel a lot less like a prisoner of my body -- not just because I shrank, but also because I am healthier, so my body is a lot more like a machine that serves my will than a prison that I can't escape.

Given that Before Beth was willing to be photographed in a swimsuit, I didn't think she was hugely hung up about her weight or image. I was pretty impressed with her willingness to do all the Before photos. People who don't like the way they look and feel a lot of shame about it usually avoid being photographed.

So while I read the pictures as showing a big improvement in her self confidence and enjoyment of life after losing the weight, I didn't read the before pictures as "poor, pitiful fatty with no self esteem and no life." Hell, she had a friend willing to do all this work and count on her to actually lose the weight. Sounds like she had some serious positives in her life that a lot of people at any weight lack.
posted by Michele in California at 1:47 PM on May 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


> We used to call this "friendship".

Uh, don't we still?
posted by desuetude at 4:15 PM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't help wondering how she'll feel if the before and after shots reverse themselves, as they do in ~95% of weight loss cases. (Summary article here, which has a link to a huge study, and here's another paper (pdf), and there are more.) I have shrunk recently, as a side effect (I hope) of changing my exercise habits, but when people tell me I'm looking good/better, it makes me deeply uncomfortable, because I know in all likelihood it's a temporary situation, and it really highlights what they thought I looked like before, and how I will very probably look again.
posted by shonias at 8:13 PM on May 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


shonias, I wouldn't assume that. The "Dances with Fat" blog, which links to the article, I think is counting on no one actually reading the NYT article:

It is a depressing article of faith among the overweight and those who treat them that 95 percent of people who lose weight regain it -- and sometimes more -- within a few months or years.

That statistic has been quoted widely over the last four decades, in Congressional hearings, diet books, research papers and seminars. And it is the reason so many people approach dieting with a sense of hopelessness.

But in fact, obesity researchers say, no one has any idea how many people can lose weight and keep it off. Now, as researchers try to determine how many people have succeeded, they are also studying the success stories for lessons that might inspire others to try.

''That 95 percent figure has become clinical lore,'' said Dr. Thomas Wadden, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. There is no basis for it, he said, ''but it's part of the mythology of obesity.''

Dr. Kelly D. Brownell, the director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, said the number was first suggested in a 1959 clinical study of only 100 people. The finding was repeated so often that it came to be regarded as fact, he said.

Since then, nearly all studies of weight-loss recidivism have followed patients in formal hospital or university programs, because they are the easiest to identify and keep track of. But people who turn to such programs may also be the most difficult cases, and may therefore have especially poor success rates.

To get a more accurate picture, two researchers are studying long-term dieters for a project called the National Weight Control Registry, and have found it surprisingly easy to collect success stories. About half the people who maintained a substantial weight loss for more than a year had done it on their own, they found. This suggests that many people have found ways to lose weight and keep it off, but have never been counted in formal studies.
...
To their surprise, Dr. Wing and Dr. Hill found that on average the respondents had maintained a 67-pound weight loss for five years. Between 12 and 14 percent had maintained a loss of more than 100 pounds.

But the study has little relevance to the current understanding of how to control weight, said Dr. Stunkard, who specializes in the treatment of obesity and eating disorders. The 100 patients in the study were ''just given a diet and sent on their way,'' he said.

''That was state of the art in 1959,'' he added. ''I've been sort of surprised that people keep citing it; I know we do better these days.''

posted by sfkiddo at 9:53 PM on May 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


And emphasis mine for the above (obviously).
posted by sfkiddo at 9:55 PM on May 10, 2015


Those who've done it will say it's had an impact far beyond numbers on the scale or any aesthetic effects. And it's meaningful to Beth, which should count for something.

Untrue. I lost close to half my bodyweight over a year or so a few years ago, and... meh. It's no bigger a deal than getting a haircut or something to me. Some of those who've done it may say what you say, but damn if I'm going to sit and have you speak for me.
posted by Dysk at 4:01 AM on May 11, 2015


IME, that's an unusual response, most people I've talked to have reported a number of non-aesthetic benefits, but fair point, it's not always existentially pivotal. I should have included a qualifier.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:02 AM on May 11, 2015


I dunno that I'd consider it an aesthetic benefit either, really, just a difference.
posted by Dysk at 7:31 AM on May 11, 2015


Yeah, of course. I just meant that the benefits I was referring to have nothing to do with aesthetics or compulsory femininity or the gaze or anything like that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:55 AM on May 11, 2015


I lost close to half my bodyweight over a year or so a few years ago, and... meh. It's no bigger a deal than getting a haircut or something to me.

Dang, certainly surprising to read that.
I can't imagine someone going from 260 to 130, or 300 to 150, etc, and being so nonchalant about the difference.
Hey, you do you, (and I hope it was a healthy choice for you, as I know not all weight loss is,) but yeah I'm still surprised. :)
posted by Theta States at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2015


"But you're apparently willing to assume she had dangerous gastric bypass surgery"

Are you not aware that gastric bypass is dangerous, or are you not aware that that is how Beth lost weight?
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:49 AM on May 11, 2015


I drop or gain 10 pounds and feel like I'm working with a completely different body (balance is different, joint sensitivity is different, flexibility is different, breathing is different). It's fascinating to imagine something more extreme being NBD. Thanks for sharing, Dysk.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:51 AM on May 11, 2015


(and I hope it was a healthy choice for you, as I know not all weight loss is,)

It wasn't really a choice at all, it just sort of happened. In pounds, it would've been from about... 250ish to about 140ish.
posted by Dysk at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


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