Transformation Photos–What Happens After the After?

CW: Talk of fat loss/weight loss, body size and weight changes

I am a weight loss “success story.” Or rather, there was a time in my life when this was a newer reality for me, that I thought of myself that way, And I wanted to help other people find a way to become their own success stories, too. Over a few years, I went from a size 20-22 to a size 4-6, and it seemed like everyone wanted to know what I had done. And I thought about sharing my story, complete with dramatic “before” and “after” photos, proving to the generic you of the internet that I must know what I’m talking about, because #pixoritdidn’thappen.

I did some writing back then, but I didn’t go onto the internet to share my story and photos in part because “before” and “after” photos are so deeply problematic. They insinuate that the “before” body is less desirable than the “after” body. There is all sorts of implied “if I/she/he can do it, so can you,” to these sorts of gimmicks, with no discussion of how financial, genetic, health and numerous other privileges are playing a role. All they show is the outward physical changes and not what got someone there or how healthy it was for them. And it doesn’t show you them a year later, or five years later, and whether or not they’ve developed ways to take care of themselves that are sustainable–it doesn’t show you after the after. How do they live their lives today? Are they happy? Healthy? Because no physical transformation is worth it, if it adds to our misery or makes us sick.

I have these transformation pictures. I don’t look like a fitness model, but I’m healthier, stronger, and still living in a smaller body nearly a decade after I first began figuring out how to take better care of myself. The pictures show you I have stayed smaller, but they don’t show you the complicated reality behind that truth–they don’t show you the ups and downs of my mental health, the illnesses and injuries I’ve had to work around, or the privilege I enjoy that helps make important lifestyle changes within reach for me. I feel like the prospect of putting my own images out there is like owning a loaded weapon and deciding if I want to shoot–I have this power, but I’m not sure it’s ethical to use it. I know that I could draw in more readers if I sold myself as a source for information on body transformation. But I also know that THAT message carries with it a greater risk of harm. Honestly, I’m not sure if there is any way to share them without doing harm.

And from the very beginning, my goal for this community was to pursue our goals without doing harm to ourselves or others.

And the reality is you may not be able to achieve the same physical results as I have achieved. What might be healthiest for you may be to let go of fat loss or physique goals and focus on being stronger, fitter, more consistent or kinder to yourself. I refuse to contribute to the messaging that our bodies somehow equate our worth. If I put my “befores” out there, do I suggest I was less-than in that bigger body? It is not how I feel now, although I admit there have been times in the past when I felt that way. It’s hard to not tie together body size and self-acceptance when so much of the world reflects that message back at us. I’ve had to do a lot of work over the years, and continue to pay attention to it, to decouple my physical self from my self-worth.

Body image and self-confidence are so complicated, but I actually feel that the only way we make lasting changes is when we come from a place of self-love and self-compassion and not from a place of shame or self-loathing. I believe that we are only going to be willing to suffer and punish ourselves for so long, and thereby only when changes come from a place of self-care rather than punishment do we have any chance of changing our bodies in a healthy, lasting way.(1) I am not anti-diet simply because it is a tool of oppression, although it is. I am anti-diet because it teaches people to stop listening to their inner wisdom, to doubt the valuable information they get from their own bodies, like ignoring our hunger for hours or believing we must always refuse foods that bring us joy.(2) I want to create a space where people can develop and nurture these acts of self-care, regardless of their goals, in healthy and sustainable ways.

So, at least for now, I’m not going to put my photos out there, because whatever I say in text, I’m concerned about what message the existence of those images carries with them as soon as I put them side-by-side. I’m trying to create something different on the internet–a space where we explore how to take care of ourselves without the diety bullshit. Only by finding our own paths do we create our own afters, and I want you to be successful in all the ways after your after, too.

Hey, you made it this far, how about taking a moment to find and follow Progressive Strength on Facebook! Or better yet, skip the evil middleman and follow me directly here. (No spam, I promise!)

(1) Some changes we make out of self-love and compassion will not result in direct changes in our body size, and that does not make them any less valuable changes to make. When we come from a place of truly taking care of ourselves, though, it is easier to persist in this self-care, even when it does not result in external changes, because it helps us feel better in other ways.

(2) I am also anti-diet because it is anti-science, but that’s a conversation for another day.

3 thoughts on “Transformation Photos–What Happens After the After?

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