Before and After Photos are Bullshit
The before and after photo. This evidence of change is strived and long sought after with every new diet, exercise plan or lifestyle change. If there ever comes a moment where you have two photos varying in body fat, muscle tone, or thinness. The selected photos provoke feelings of inspiration, acceptance and envy. Look at her. A snapshot that demonstrates success, self love and accomplishment. Comments and messages compile under the post and into the mailbox, congratulating the success.
Congratulating on what? Being smaller? Happier? Sexier? Fitter? Hard work and dedication? An assumed greater abundance of self love and respect?
The before and after photo was a pressing goal of mine. Show the world who you have become. But, as I lost over half my body weight in just over a year, those photos began to lose their power and motivation. The head I carried was the same. My heart and soul were the same. I was stepping into my near-dream body and I did not feel that posting those photos was an appropriate action. Sure, they showed my physical changes, which were accompanied with a different mindset to tackling obstacles, overcoming uncomfortable situations, and a sense of pride for my hard work, but the photos could not show that. What they did show was dishonest, and harmful. Two main problems occurred as I entertained this notion of posting these photos for the past 7 years and have not been able to. I was too proud of the ‘before’ photo, and my ‘after’ photo revealed a larger problem.
As much pride as I carried for my actions of change and their obvious results, I was thankful for who I have always been. That girl in the before photo is worthy of all the love, respect, compassion, and praise as the girl in the after photo… it is the same human for fucks sake. I understood that the before photo was as valuable as the after. Posting is responsible for judging the ‘before’ body with an understanding that it is the ‘worse’ of the two and there may be a person out there that is shown, once again, that they are not good enough, accepted, and that they are a problem that should be fixed. That ‘before’ body that is someones body now, perhaps where someone is longing to be. Not only that, this demonstrates to people who have not lived in bodies that are stigmatized and rejected, that it is okay to think of these bodies as projects, unworthy, and not as valued, loved and respected as the ‘after/smaller/fitter’ body that shares the screen. Most of all, it is telling ourselves that we were not good enough then and I try to believe that every step of my way and experience in this life is as valuable and important as the next. That ‘before’ person shows my most brave, driven, strong, and empowered self. Giving anyone, including myself, the opportunity to give any negative judgement to that person is wrong.
Additionally, even after my body had changed to what society encourages you to believe is the best and right way to look and move; I still did not look like some people taking ‘before’ photos. Naturally I was more broad, hairy or wrinkled than these before photos that filled my instagram feed. More -so, I carried loose and rippled skin. Luckily that skin could be tucked away with the right clothing, but naked the effects of stretched tissue and gravity could not hide as it hung like a sheet nearly 4 inches from my hips. This skin embarrassed me and had me believing I still was not done.
Feeling the shame of this smaller, yet ‘not-perfect’ body overwhelmed me. I had put in the hours to have this photo to post. But, I could not gather courage to post a photo in my skin, and I knew clothing was dishonest to my reality of these changes. So I didn’t.
Stop trying to fix your body. It was never broken.-Eve Ensler
These dilemmas brought me to realize so often in our existence we are being shown that we are not worthy or enough, no matter where we are at. At a smaller body I had the ability to benefit from the systemic discrimination that larger bodies face, which is a massive relief to not be shamed for who you are. However, by no means was I exempt from industrial and societal input of what is beautiful and worthy and the effects on my confidence, self esteem and body image.
The before and after photos are harmful and unnecessary reasons to celebrate yourself. Thats bullshit, not celebration. Shrinking yourself for external praise, pressure, and a chance for greater worth is bullshit. Smiling large at the people around you because you are genuinely happy and receiving return smiles are a celebration. The exuberant energy you bring others brings love and positivity back to you; this is reason for celebration. Recognizing an inner peace, glow and confidence is celebration, and you cannot capture these moments with a photo.