“Before” and “After” pictures-what do they REALLY say?

In today’s weight driven society, weight-loss photos are all over the internet. People post “Before” and “After” photos of themselves on Facebook and Instagram to show their progress. To some people, it is an inspiration. The comments range from “WOW you look great!” to “Congratulations on all of your hard work!” And you know what, it is hard. It’s very hard to lose weight, and for some people damn near impossible. So maybe, yes, they do deserve a congratulations for that.

But maybe they also don’t. Let me explain.

Someone who is fat can do all the “right” things, and still be fat. Someone can work just as hard as someone else and still not lose any weight. A fat person can be just as healthy as a skinny person…but no one ever talks about that. Everyone always talks about the risks of being fat, a.k.a. “unhealthy.” But we really need to get past that as a society, because it contributes to something that writer Jes Baker calls “body currency.”

Body currency is essentially the idea that some bodies are worth more than other bodies. I think everyone can attest to the fact that society favors skinny or thin bodies (as well as straight, white, and cisgender bodies). Look at the bodies that grace our magazine covers, our t.v. shows, or heck even book cover illustrations. Rarely do we see a positive image of someone who is plus-sized, overweight, or fat. That is because as a society, we have been taught that fat people are supposedly prone to more diseases, and therefore all fat people are unhealthy. But that is a bold-faced LIE. It’s not true. The only thing that’s true is that yes, being overweight can be a risk factor for some diseases…but not always.

Jes Baker also talks about how we have assigned being “healthy” to being “worthy.” Essentially, if you are not doing everything in your power to make sure you’re “healthy”, then you must not care about yourself. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons. One, there are times in life where focus needs to be on one area. Sometimes your health can get placed on the back burner, not intentionally. Does that mean that you are less worthy of love and respect? Absolutely not. Two, there are people who have chronic illnesses that cannot ever be “healthy.” Again, does that mean they don’t care about themselves? No, absolutely not. We understand that. So, why does anyone need to be healthy to be considered worthy?

Being healthy can be a great thing. You may feel better, you may live longer, etc. But your health does not say anything about you as a person. I REPEAT, YOUR HEALTH DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR WORTH.

So, I really wonder about posting transformation pictures. What is that telling people? It’s telling people that your body changed. That’s really about it. Which if you’re proud of that, okay, good on you. But I’m proud of a lot of other things. And really, the shape of my body has nothing to do with who I am, and with who you are and were as a person. But I don’t think people post transformation pictures to show the changes in their body, because someone who gained weight could technically then do that if that was the norm…but that doesn’t happen. I think people assign meaning to “before” and “after” pictures. I think people want to say “Look at who I was before. I did not like that person. NOW look at me and how much better I look! Look at all the ‘work’ I’ve done!” And as a plus-sized person, I have an issue with that.

I’m not a “Before” picture. You’re not a “Before” picture. You are the same person in both of your pictures. You were just as beautiful and worthy then as you are now. And it saddens me and hurts me that people think that by losing weight or transforming, they have become better. It saddens me more that some people thought that they were so unworthy they thought they had to lose weight to become beautiful or worthy or whatever else they wanted. You already are whole and worthy, even when society tells you that you’re not.

Now, some people may lose weight due to injuries or other issues. I think that’s understandable. But when we assign meaning to weight loss, we are doing serious damage to ourselves and to other people. When people post and comment “Before” and “After” pictures, it says to me that the “Before” picture is one where the person doesn’t “look great”, and is something they should not be “proud” of. And even though it may not be the person’s intention, that is the message they are reinforcing. When I see someone’s “Before” picture that looks a lot like what I do now, it makes me wonder what people think about me…and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. And that thought alone, even though the person may have “worked” really hard to get to their “After”, makes it really hard for me to give them praise.

 

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It’s been a while.

Well hey there readers! It has been a looong while since I’ve posted-almost a year, in fact. Time certainly flies!

It was a very strange year…It was around the last time I posted that I realized that happy feeling I had upon first starting the job was gone. And it wasn’t so much that I was unhappy with it-I still loved my job and what I did on a day-to-day basis. I wasn’t happy with me any more.

Something got lost over the summer-I don’t really know what it was. All of a sudden I felt very alone, and I no longer felt very confident. It’s like all the things that I had been battling that had been repressed came back, and I knew I needed to do something.

One particularly rainy duty weekend, I decided enough was enough and while I was waiting for the elevator repair man I looked up counselors in my area. I clicked on a few, but nothing seemed quite right. Then I came upon one that was promising, and so I found myself making an appointment. And I am so very glad that I did…because it only got worse from there.

One of my coworkers left around the end of October, which put more of a burden and pressure on the rest of us. My uncle died suddenly in the beginning of November as my second therapy appointment approached. His funeral was scheduled to be on the weekend of my birthday. Needless to say it was not a fun time. Right after that I attended the NASPA Regional Conference, which was great, but made it a whirlwind week and weekend. It was also right around this time that a couple of my staff members needed me for personal reasons, and looking back on it now I was probably too invested. I felt very alone, and it was nice to be needed.

I also began to date a little at this time and thought I had found someone that had all the qualities I’d been looking for. But there was no connection, no chemistry. I was confused because of how great he was. I gave it a shot but just couldn’t do it. I broke it off after our third date.

As you may imagine, I needed winter break badly. I had so many plans but I mostly hung around in my apartment because I couldn’t find the energy to get myself off of the couch. It was around this time I started to lose interest in the things that I loved to do. Playing music was hard. Writing was hard. Both of those things made me feel things I wanted and needed to block out. The only thing that interested me was reading and watching tv. So basically, when I needed to unwind, that’s what I did. This trend continued into the semester.

In February, two more of my colleagues got new jobs. That meant we were down three RDs out of ten because our search to fill the previous vacancy had failed. I decided to take on the responsibilities of another building, because like I said, I was still doing okay with work stuff. It was a good experience, but a very stressful one. My original staff also began to have a lot of issues around this time, and I felt guilty because I could not be there for them or have them sit down and fix it due to my schedule. There was a lot of drama that happened between them, which was interesting  and also disappointing to see, because they’re all great people and leaders.

Meanwhile, therapy was going okay. It was certainly helping. I was discovering more and more things about myself by the day. But I still felt very lonely and very unhappy. I felt like I was no one’s first priority, and that all of my other friends had people who were more important than I was in their life. And instead of reaching out, I shut them out.

Then, my father came forward to discuss with me his struggles with anxiety. My grandmother’s death, the selling of her house, and uncle’s passing weighed on him and essentially triggered his anxiety. I believe he’s always had it to some extent, but these events happening quickly in succession over a few years pushed it to the surface. It was a difficult thing to hear, especially when in the midst of dealing with it he realized some of the issues we had in our relationship.

So now, I’ve had time to reflect on everything that was last year. A lot of things happened. A lot of things changed. But I didn’t really deal with it as well as I could have, and now I realize something that has been holding me back my entire life-fear. I am terrified of being alone for the rest of my life and it affects everything that I do. When I feel someone pulling away, I tend to just shut them out. When I was lonely, I turned to my RAs for companionship and also blocked all of my feelings because I was scared of them. My “self-care” then required me to zone out because I just couldn’t think anymore. I needed to escape my own mind. I have this need to be viewed as “good” or “perfect”, because if I make a mistake or am not the best at something I am not good enough. I’m not worthy. And therefore that’s why I will be alone. I have essentially built this wall between who I am and who I show the world, and I’m afraid to break it down for the fear that it will not be what someone wants. I am afraid to start new relationships or meet new people because I’m terrified no one will like me and I will just be back where I was in the beginning before I met them-by myself.

I now know that I need to work on breaking down this wall. If  never take any risks, if I just stay where I am, then yes, I will end up alone. Which I know isn’t even a bad thing, but I just can’t not try because I’m afraid. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I want things to change.

So that’s what I’ll be working on this year. I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. And honestly, this post makes me a little nervous to put out there. But that’s why I’m doing it. I’m a student affairs professional who is not perfect and is struggling with real issues. I’d venture to guess that I’m not the only one. As a field we do a really poor job of practicing what we preach in regards to balance and wellness. I think for me, this is the first step in the direction that I need to be in regarding that area (or really finding a counselor was-she is amazing). Recognizing where I need to grow is not a bad thing-it will only help me in the end.

Here’s to a new start and a new, braver me.