If you could abolish one thing off Facebook, what would it be?
For me: before-and-after weight-loss photos. All of them.
No, I’m not being sarcastic or funny. I loathe them. I know when we’ve had this type of success, we love to shout it from the proverbial rooftops and bring everyone along. And that’s noble. I’ve felt those things before too – I lost 103 pounds between the fall of 2010 to the winter of 2012. But I never posted before-and-after pictures because they have this really dark side, especially when they’re used to sell a product or program.
Every time you post a picture of yourself looking sad and fat and then happy and thin,
Every time you use a picture of a thin person – yourself or otherwise – to ask if my own body is “swimsuit ready” and whether I want your help to get there,
Every time you implore me to use your product for the sake of my health but couch it in terms meant to appeal to my vanity,
You attack the value of my body and every other woman’s.
“NO WAY!” you might scream. “I value your body so much I want it to be as healthy as possible.” I want that, too. But health might look different for the two of us.
Consider my own “before” picture:
That was taken in the spring of 2012. I hadn’t had babies yet, wasn’t married, went to the gym for an hour or more every Monday – Saturday, and didn’t have to consider anyone else’s preferences when preparing dinner. I took extremely good care of my body by anyone’s standards – except, perhaps, my own. I was mostly slamming my body into submission, having hated it for so long. That’s probably a post for another day, but since it had produced nothing but dysfunction, ridicule, loneliness, and miscarriage, I had very little use for it. So, I did with it what anyone does when they hate something: I tried to destroy it. First with sugar and then with austerity measures.
Then, this thing happened. I gave birth to the two most beautiful girls I have ever seen, one in 2013 and one in 2016. And oh my gosh, did my relationship with my body change.
Here’s an example. I put on baby weight with both girls. I hadn’t taken off the weight from the first when I got pregnant with the second. Even after they were born, I couldn’t take my PCOS medicine while nursing, so that translated to even more weight gain. American culture, before-and-after photos, weight-loss salespeople, and most men would have me believe this made me not “swimsuit ready.” And yet, I have worn swimsuits much more frequently and confidently after having the girls because I realized 1) I had a body, and 2) I had a swimsuit. Boom! Swimsuit ready. I never, ever want them to see me not doing something I love – especially something physical – because of body shame.
Not only that, but I also realized that if my body could be broken for them, to give them life; if I could say to them, “Drink, drink,” after they were born; if the smell of my skin and the feel of my warmth could soothe their tears…my body might be worth something more than filling out a swimsuit in the first place.
It seems to me, having lost weight, had babies, and gained some of the weight back, that a woman must first love her body before trying to change it. Requiring compliance without love leans suspiciously toward prison wardenship, which is not the ideal relationship between soul and body. I speak from experience.
Besides, what good is dieting as an antidote to hatred? Just like I can’t ask my car to brush my teeth on the way to work, I can’t expect a diet to make me love my body. It can reshape it, maybe even revitalize it. But it can’t uproot shame and disgust. If all I do to combat body hatred is decrease in size, then the minute I put a few pounds back on, the shame will come roaring back. That is real life, y’all.
So I don’t do the before-and-after pictures and never will because I don’t want a single person to feel worse about what she looks like right now. I don’t want a single person to look at a picture of me and learn osmotically she must apologize for her body, cover it up at the beach, wear the grandma pants, and never show her thighs. I want anyone seeing pictures of me, especially my girls looking back on this time in our life, to feel empowered, strong. To feel like someone with agency. To feel like she can conquer, regardless of her size. Because, women, we are strong.
Here is my “after” picture:
I weigh more than in the first photo, yet far from the heaviest I’ve been. But you know what’s different? I believe in my strength, my power, my – dare I say it – athleticism. My size-XL self trained to run a 5k with my beautiful sister, and I ran it.
I am a daughter of the King.
I am a mother.
I am a runner.
I cannot be shaken.
I am a woman.
P.S.: This is my older daughter. After seeing me finish the 5k, she asked her dad to put the chain down all weekend so she could “cross the finish line like Mama.”
What we do with our bodies and say about our bodies matters. Count me swimsuit ready every single day.
Here’s what my car looks like now:
Here’s my sister and me crossing the finish line: