Be Nice to Your "Before" Body

It's great to feel good about that "After" photo -- but don't forget where you came from

Back in January, I decided to lose 20 pounds purely for aesthetic reasons. I'd gained 20 pounds in 10 months, none of my clothes fit, and I wasn't happy with what I saw in the mirror.

Four months later, I've lost ten pounds and a pants size. And it's nice to be back in some beloved jeans. But I'm also entering what I call the After Photo stage of weight loss -- when people start to tell you how great you look now, but what they aren't saying is how great you did not look before. Sometimes they walk right up and say something like "Wow, you look so much better now!" Sometimes, it's more subtle, but detectable through the amount of enthusiasm they use ("You look soooo tiny!!!"). One dear friend said -- with all the love and affection in the world -- "there's the Virginia I know and love!" while studying my now-smaller butt.

When I first decided to lose weight, I also said things like "I just want my real body back," as if I'd zipped up a fat suit over my actual size and now couldn't get the zipper unstuck. We disassociate from our bodies when we don't like how they look because it's a heck of a lot easier to think of that as temporary than it is to work on accepting our bodies as less than perfect, permanently. And now that I'm smaller, it's tempting to donate all of my old clothes to Goodwill and take down any photographic evidence of that larger "Before" body.

But then I read Ragen Chastein, author of Dances With Fat on "The Trouble with Before & After Pictures." She points out how these photos are used to sell weight loss products (that don't work) by perpetuating the idea that you can't be happy and overweight, as well as the myth that you can achieve a perfect body and live happily ever after. 

And I realized: I was the same Virginia my friends loved when I had 10 extra pounds on my frame and I'll be the same Virginia if I lose another 10 pounds. Your body is always your body. It's never going to be perfect, but there are probably some pretty great things about it no matter what size you're currently wearing. Plus, it's probably not going to stay this same "After Photo" size forever. Because our bodies also aren't static. They're constantly changing with the seasons, our moods, or major life events.

When I came back to size 12 this time, I was mad at myself for having donated my last set of 12s. There was a fabulous stripe-y sweater and a pink cordoroy skirt that I would have rocked out this winter. Instead I had to go shopping for clothes that I didn't really want to have to wear. But I'm not donating them this time. Odds are, I'll need those size 12s again. 

And I'm not taking down any before photos -- because they aren't befores. They're my same body, attending friends' weddings, going on vacation to Lake Superior, celebrating holidays with my family. As Ragen writes: "Consider the possibility that there’s no such thing as 'Before' or 'After;' maybe there’s only 'During' and maybe we are all perfect exactly where we are right this minute."

So next time you see someone's Before and After pictures, compliment them on the great body they have -- in every picture.

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