Before and After Pics are a Violence Against the Self

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I hate Before and After pictures. I hate Before and After testimonials. I hate them because they are a harm to the people who see them and also, I believe, to the people who post them.

Before and After is a lie. We are always changing and we are not inadequate until we’ve learned adequacy. At every single stage of our growth and learning we are adequate. We are deserving of love and respect.

When I see a Before and After picture my first thought is, “What are they selling?” Intentionally or not, they are selling a consumer idea about good bodies. Posting them — whether or not we’re sharing a link to a plan or a supplement or an exercise routine — we are participating in the cultural idea that we are not good enough unless we substantively change how we look. Before and After pictures are not identifying need; they create one.

Exercise might be a good idea. Learning more about how to feed and care for your body might be a good thing. But you might do those good things and your body might not change enough to create your own Before and After pictures and that’s where the lie sits. It turns deep change into something superficial. It prioritizes your dress size over your emotional and mental health.

I look at my own life and wonder which Before would I choose to create a Before and After myth? When I was young and thin and miserable? When I was older and fatter and happier? Now that I’m thinner again, happier by far but my blood pressure is higher and I have to watch my cholesterol? Is my 20-year old self better than my 35-year old self better than my now 50-year old self?

It’s apples and oranges.

It makes sense that we might want to look at pictures of ourselves over time and marvel how we’ve changed. It makes sense that we will look at our pictures and contemplate how we’ve changed, how our efforts are reflected in our body. The danger is in participating in a culture that privileges certain kinds of change over others, that makes weightloss an ironic proxy for growth. It is dangerous to pretend that progress is linear, a place where we can arrive and stay settled. In truth our bodies are always changing and that perfect moment at age 28 or 39 or 57 wearing a bikini and posing with a green smoothie announcing that we’ve figured it all out is just a moment. Life will shift, our bodies will respond, and we try to rise to meet it.

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