In TV shows about people and hairdos and houses, in social media posts about my friends and fitness inspirations, in magazines I read if I ever get time to read a magazine, I have always liked the ‘before and after’ shots.
I like to see how subtle use of bronzer warms up a face, how “eating clean and training mean” drops inches off a waist, and how people can make a house with kids look like a catalog display with storage buckets and some impractical curtains and tabletop decor. (I am still waiting to see the after-after, when the family with small kids moves back in to that stylish house. They never seem to show that…)
I must not be alone because there is no shortage of ‘before and after’ all around the web. Sometimes, I see them and feel inspired: I really could apply blush. I could. I just know I could. She says this whole face only takes 5 minutes and clearly it looks better. (In reality, I pretty much always choose spending the 5 minutes for blush application sleeping 15 extra minutes, then rushing madly about the house running late. Try it. I am sure you can do it.)
And, I have *always* tried to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes they apply way too much makeup and hair … poof (for lack of a better word). I like the before/natural look much better. Sometimes the subject of the photo gets way too thin, which isn’t healthy AND apparently makes some people want to get terrible orange spray tans and wear impractical swimsuits with heels (never take it this far, ladies. Never this far.)
Sometimes the house looks great because they don’t have any *real* stuff in the house. It is pristine because it is fake. I saw a Trading Spaces once where a designer (Hildi. Remember her? She was crazy. There must have been something in the contract for that show that said ‘You have to continue to have your house redecorated even if you get Hildi.’ Because they had to have seen it coming.) GLUED HAY TO A WALL. ‘Shabby, country chic,’ or something like that. Clearly she has never been around an child (some lived in this house!), who would have had no trouble creating ‘shabby’ for free. That is probaby what got the family on the renovation show in the first place. Plus, I think I have specifically forbidden gluing “nature” to the walls on multiple occasions, so hay decor just seems hypocritical. And kids will almost certainly eat any organic decor. Fail.
So, ‘before and after’ photo lovers, it is time for me to pay back into the system with my own contribution. As much as I’ve looked, I’ve never submitted; but you can see that I appreciate realistic and uplifting ones, and I have really been working on mine:
Correctly labeled (I grant not a completely parallel comparison. I find I take fewer no-shirt pictures lately; more on that later).
If you’ll quickly pause to google, “before and after,” you’ll see that almost all of the images are labeled opposite of mine. But for me, the before is when I’d reached my “ideal” weight. I had 18% body fat. I worked out six times a week and ate clean and even applied blush. (The house was still a disaster; that is the focus of another episode. Probably in someone else’s series).
Guess what? Worst year of my life. I was so unhappy. My eating became unhealthy; I weighed myself 4 times a day, obsessing over the number. I chose working out over… well, most things. What I looked like was what I could control and I stopped trying to fix painful things that actually mattered and just focused on my physical appearance. I was the probably the best looking I’ve ever been, and I pretty much hated myself. I suffered physically and mentally, and it hurt my family. “Ideal.” The supposed “after” state I’d worked for… super sucked.
I hit bottom. Then I started making changes. I worked out less; I ate more; I came home and hung out with my family and ate dinner with them instead of dashing off to gym classes and making myself separate meals. I started paying attention to other things about my life again. (There are so many! That you can’t even weigh on a scale!) The expanded focus and self acceptance (slowly growing!) allowed me to start to address the real issues in my life.
I left my “ideal” weight. I packed up the ‘never, ever thought I could wear this size’ wardrobe. Because I never ever want to wear it. I ate brownies and slept in on Saturday (you know, with kids, so until, like, 7:45). I snitched cookie dough and had movie dates with popcorn and sometimes skipped workouts to do nothing at all.
Apparently there is growing movement like this on the Internet. I love it. Check out others who have walked this path; apparently some call them “reverse progress” photos. I like to think of them as ‘self love’ photos. ‘Finding a better measuring stick’ photos. ‘Choosing your priorities’ photos.
Check out Body Image Movement from Taryn Brumfitt. It is awesome. And watch her trailer for the documentary Embrace, her journey from body loather to body lover.
I still care about how I look. I actually love working out and do so often. And sometimes–like this morning, even–have a freak-out that my body isn’t what I wish it was and feel a pang missing my old abs.
But I’ve learned that ‘before and after’ shots that go from fat to thin, messy to clean, soft to toned, are NOT showing a linear progression of happiness. Not a one size-fits all map of self improvement. Happiness is mental. Almost completely. You can’t show it in photos. And if you don’t have it, really, you won’t feel any better with toned arms and smokey eyes.
After: an arbitrarily chosen point on my infinite journey to being happy, loving myself and others, and being at peace.