Rethinking the Before and After Photo – My Own Path to Self Love
Take a peek into any fashion magazine, or scroll through social media and you are likely to run into “before and after” photos. There is that societal fascination with the idea that anyone can transform themselves into this ideal person. For some reason, we all think that will make us happier. That being thin, or fitting a specific mold will somehow make our lives better.
Spoiler alert: it won’t.
If those same fashion magazines or Instagram influencers looked at the photos below, the order would likely be switched. On the left is a size 2 woman with long hair and smooth skin. On the right, the woman that falls somewhere between a 10 and a 14 (I’m looking at you, illogical female clothing sizes), and has more than a few marks on her skin. The left woman can make a circle with her hands and fit her waist in it. The woman on the right has a soft stomach and dimpled thighs.
Second spoiler alert: both of these women are me, and they are in the correct order.
The image on the left is from my senior year of college in 2012; it was the most recent flare-up of an eating disorder that has been a part of my life since I was a young teenager. I was eating a single meal a day, and was obsessed with the “cleanness” of everything. I was averaging less than 1000 calories per day, and a good portion of that was alcohol.
I thought I was on top of the world — I had landed a coveted internship, I was invited to all of the parties and never paid for a single drink. I was convinced I was well on the way to a perfect life.
Third spoiler alert: a lower point has never existed for me than the year 2012.
For the past five years, that image would pop up in my Facebook memories and ruin my whole day. I would look at that version of me and spend the following hours poking and prodding at myself. It would be a full day of reminiscing what it felt like to be on top of the world like in 2012. Nothing I wore that day would fit right; it would all look terrible and leave me in an exasperated heap.
That is, until this year. This year that showed up in my feed and I found myself sad for an entirely different reason. Instead of the perfect pretty girl that was “living her best life”, I saw the woman who was so thin that she stopped having her period for months. I saw the woman who would have panic attacks after eating a meal with friends and the purge the entire thing. I saw the woman who was obsessed with being the perfect happy girl but was secretly filled with self-loathing. I no longer look at her with longing.
After working with professionals (please seek it if you need it, it’s essential), I found myself living in something they called a “weight restored body”. To me, that still sounded like a failed diet. I was gaining weight, and it was a positive thing, but my brain hadn’t quite caught up yet. I so easily fell into the trap of looking in the mirror and seeing a sum of parts — thighs that would never feature a gap, a stomach that tended towards softness, a chest that didn’t fit with the delicate clothes I admired, a butt looked more dimpled that I ever saw in a magazine.
It took one of those days where you try everything on, and end up in a dejected mess surrounded by your entire wardrobe on the floor to realize what I was doing to myself.
It was time to change my inner narrative.
Whenever I started to think of my legs as too big, I consciously corrected my brain into thinking about how much they have danced. Soft stomach was translated into enjoying wonderful food instead of plain lettuce. Round arms turned into the ability to catch my dog running at me with the full force of an excited pit bull. I realized that my once “too small” eyes are the feature that connects all of my siblings.
It was like something clicked, and I was finally starting to see my body for what it was – the least interesting thing about me.
My big butt isn’t the reason my friends and family love me. My thighs had nothing to do with starting and building a business that makes my heart sing. My stomach isn’t what has made me who I am. Those things have nothing to do with my self-worth.
Don’t get me wrong; there are still days when my brain goes back to 2012. It’s easy to say “I love myself”, but it’s harder to live it every day. It’s a constant battle of what you know to be true about yourself vs what your toxic aunt/society/some old partner labelled you as. There are some days where the other team might win, and that’s okay. Those are the days to give yourself some grace and appreciate that you have come far enough that you can separate that feeling into a day. It’s not how you feel about life.
Stop comparing and trying to go back to who you were “before”.
You may very well have been a different person before whatever schism you have faced down, but that doesn’t make who you are now any less valuable. Let go of trying to be the person you were before your eating disorder took hold of your life. Before you gave birth to your children, before you struggled with depression, before you lost a loved one, before life just happened. You are never going to be able to go back, so let that idealisation go. Stop obsessing over the pants you used to fit into, or how your eyelids don’t seem to be where they once used to sit and shift your focus to all of the good you bring the world. Your laugh and your sense of empathy, your work ethic and your spirit. Those are what define you, not how you fit into whatever box someone is trying to put you in.
Be the who you are now, and celebrate the hell out of it.