You Are Not A Before

lucky-ad-2Are you a woman over the age of twelve? You should definitely be on a diet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or a size 20, there is always weight to lose or maintenance to be done. How will you ever find love and succeed in the world, if you don’t know your daily caloric intake? It’s not just about beauty, of course, it’s also about health. Everyone knows that health is a number on a scale. Today is the first step in a journey! You are a before now, but soon you will be an after!

We’ve all heard this message. As women, society expects us to be on a never-ending quest for perfection. If it’s not fat to vanquish, it’s wrinkles or cellulite. This message, this unyielding refrain of “Be prettier, already!”, makes me want to find the nearest dried up lake, fill it with full fat chocolate pudding, then wallow in its sugary goodness until I seize and/or drown. I am, it seems, alone in that. Lately, my Facebook feed has been overrun with women in their late twenties on a “journey.” Friends, of all shapes and sizes, are posting caloric counts and exercise logs and—worst of all—before and after photos.

You’ve all seen these pictures. On the left, there is a somewhat/slightly/vaguely chubby woman glowering into a mirror, while on the right is that same woman turned into a glowing, smiling health angel. The caption is, always, thus:

“I never thought I’d share this photo, friends, but it’s time for me to be brave. This was me three years ago: fat, depressed, and deeply out of touch with my health. Through hard work and hours of dedication, I’ve taken control of my life. If that girl can do it, so can you!”

Just last week, one of my old school friends posted an eerily similar photo-and-caption combination. When we were younger, she was always one of the chubbier girls in our class—not morbidly obese or anything, just somewhat out of the norm—which all changed when she went to college. She became a nutrition major, an avid runner, and is currently getting her physical training licence. That is all fantastic! She found her raison d’être and is super happy in life! What’s not fantastic, however, is that she completely disavowed the person she was before. By calling herself an after and raising up a picture of her teenage self as proof of what she had overcome, it turned that girl I loved into a negative. She’s now an after, not a before. 

girlancientprejudiceremovedLThere, right there! That’s my problem with before-and-after photos and the sensationalism of weight loss in this era. Losing weight doesn’t and shouldn’t make you a different person. More over, being overweight does not make you a before. A woman is not a butterfly, waiting to emerge from a cocoon of shame, with just a little diet and exercise. You are a real person, have always been a real person, and will continue to be a real person until you die…no matter what you weigh.

While I completely understand and support people wanting to lose weight, because of either happiness or health issues, a scale number shouldn’t be what defines someone as worthy. By framing our body image in terms of before-and-after shots, I worry that we internalize the narrative that after is always better. Weight loss doesn’t make you a better person and it certainly doesn’t make you a different one. You may be more confident, able to shrug off negativity more easily, or happier in your own skin, but you are still Odette. Losing weight is not a woman’s one great accomplishment. If we look at it as such, we are encouraging women who are not in perfect shape to hide away from the world, because conventional beauty is the sole characteristic of a successful woman. The message does not become one of inspiration, but one of shame.

I think it’s wonderful to share accomplishments, especially ones you’ve worked so hard for, but maybe we need to check which ones we’re assigning highest value to . It’s okay to be unhappy at a size 18, but it’s also alright to be happy as one. There are more important things to you than skinny or chubby or gaunt or fat. Are you kind to other people? Are you pursuing a long held dream? Do you make really awesome apple pie? All of these things make you more worthy than fitting into tiny pants. I wish there were more people posting before-and-after shots of academic success or pie baking attempts. If I’m going to be an after someday, I want to be the after of literary success and dressmaking skills.

In the end, however, I don’t want to be an after. I want to be Grace, living her life. I am not Before-Grace, just as you are not Before-Odette. This day, this person you are right now, is just as important as the one you will become. Neither one should be judged by the size of her pants.


24 thoughts on “You Are Not A Before

  1. I hate those before and after pictures also. As you say so well, we are much more than a number on a scale. I would like to be thought of more than my weight, or age, or beauty or non-beauty. Maybe we can change this one person at a time.

  2. Love the message here. Which probably sounds odd as I am, at age 46, on my own ‘journey’ to exercise every day of 2013. No before/after pics on my blog, as you’ll see. And not even a weight-loss goal, per se. For me it was about recognizing that while I didn’t look obese, I was not in good health. Yes, I’ve shed a few pounds (20’ish), but more importantly I’ve shed a lot of baggage, self-imposed limitations, and other assorted bits of crazy. Who knew exercise had the power to do that?? 🙂

  3. Just reading the title of this post, I had a feeling that it was going to be good – and it was. This is a great message, and something I’m always trying to remind myself of!

  4. Grace, Grace, Grace. I will most certainly come and join you in your lake of full fat chocolate! I hate that today’s media and attitude seems totally diet-controlled.

    However, I have lost ten kilos and my husband has lost 22. We were both tagged by the physician as “obese” when we went for a Drivers Authorisation renewals (legal permission to carry paying passengers aboard a bus). Finally my husband (who had always been thinnish in the past but had cracked the 105kg mark) decided he wanted to lose weight. I, having had trouble reaching my shoes to tie my laces comfortably, thought it wasn’t a bad idea either. He had the brainwave of calling ” Lite n Easy ” , a calorie controlled diet (1500 calories daily intake – don’t ask what that is in kilojoules, I have no frigging idea!) that arrives on your doorstep once a week (no shopping or cooking, and minimal cleaning involved. I love it!) so it was easy to lose weight. I am a lot more comfortable with my weight and still want to lose more, but for myself. Not for anyone else. My parents are both diabetic and losing weight will significantly assist in reducing liklihood that I, too, will follow that path.

    I wish my husband would hurry up and lose all the weight he wants to lose because he will NOT go out for dinner, lunch, or even breakfast until he reaches his goal. He is stubborn and goal oriented. Me, I say LIVE LIFE! If I want to go out with my girlfriends for a coffee or dinner, then stuff the diet! Sure. I like losing the weight as it makes me more comfortable, but I wasn’t unhappy being overweight (86kg… now I’m at about 75kg) but I do feel better being that little bit less fat. I’ve even taken up running… running because I get home faster than if I was walking, and that allows me to blob infront of the computer again that much quicker.

  5. I heart this so much. I constantly have to tell women to dress the body they have now. To live in this moment with this body and not think of themselves as a “Before.” I also make awesome apple pie and practice yoga regularly. Both are part of who I am, neither is who I am as a person.

  6. I love this thought, and the way it really brings up the questions surrounding identity. When I was younger I thought of my identity in terms of my definition- a student, captain of the color guard, etc. If I stopping being one of these things it felt as if I would stop existing as myself. I even had a huge debate with myself over whether I should buy a lolita dress or not because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to ‘be lolita’. Then I realized I could buy the dress and wear it whenever I felt and not wear it when I didn’t want to, and not have to ‘be’ anything. Your identity is made up of what you do, what you think, and how you feel, all of which are ever changing in a big ball of churning existence, a personal ocean of being. And the growing and shifting nature of youness cannot possibly be divided into as simplistic a binary as before and after. Thank you Grace for my daily does of life philosophy!

  7. This is brilliant an such a great observation on our society at the moment! On the one hand it is great that we are so aware of the dangers of obesity and the spreading culture of it around the world. Exercise and healthy eating culture is great in that it is expanding however, it does lead to increasing negative beliefs about associating bad characteristics as people with being overweight. Also it creates the belief that who we are is not good enough if we are not seen to be striving to improve our physical selves. It’s good to have open discussion about the importance of not relying on the physical to judge the worth of other people 🙂

  8. I totally agree with you! You’ve made your points so clear and in such a simple manner. By allowing these ‘before’ and ‘after’ self image reflections we are in a way shunning those who are happy with themselves in any shape and that are just being people with a life and a dream. By focusing merely on image centered matters like weight and dieting we are telling (mainly girls) that if you are not an ‘after’ you’ll never be accepted or happy in life. The ‘shame’ still exists if your not a size 0 or 2. Even if you know deep inside you have, and have always had a normal weight, and that’s just not fair for girls. They should be happy because they are young, living, learning or have a hobby that fulfills them, by sharing time with family and friends and by expressing their individuality in a healthy creative way not unhappy with life because they don’t fit a certain ‘weight standard’. We are all special in our own particular way and its so unfair to center life’s achievements and happiness to a simple number on a scale but unfortunately that’s the message that is coming through to girls nowadays and it’s scary.

  9. Reblogged this on Persistence Over Perfection and commented:
    What a great post with a fabulous message! So many women put off doing things with words like ‘when I’m slim I’ll….’ – I’ve done it myself so many times and am really trying to work against this negative cycle. If I’d stayed in my ‘before’ and ‘after’ mentality I never would have tried internet dating and met Mr PoP.
    What are your thoughts on ‘before’ and ‘after’?
    ~ PoPpy ~

  10. This was a great post and more people need to think like this. I am pretty normal-sized but would love to be a little skinnier and feel more confident in a bikini. But I also love baking treats for my family, eating out with friends and sometimes, let’s be honest here, just pigging out and hoovering up a huge bar of chocolate in under two minutes! The last time I went out for lunch with my boyfriend and we wandered out of the restaurant feeling full and satisfied, I said something like, “that was amazing, but not good for my waistline… I need to diet now!” and he said “no, I love the fact that you enjoy your food, and we can go out for lunch and you’ll eat a massive burger instead of worrying about your weight and picking at a few lettuce leaves.”

    We need more people like you, more people like him and more people like Jennifer Lawrence.

  11. Reblogged this on Sierra zel Chandler Presents and commented:
    Alas, my week has been a wee bit too busy to prepare a rambling post for you, so instead of leaving you bereft of a 5-minute distraction I’ll share this, a post from one of my favorite blogs that is, alas, on an unwarned hiatus.

    A Confederacy of Spinsters is hilarious and insightful. The topics usually bounce around from third-wave feminism, frustration at the modern age, and the quest for love and friendship. “You Are Not A Before” is a good example of their overall attitude of acceptance. If you have the time I recommend you take a gander through the archives. I promise you’ll enjoy yourself.

    What I am trying to say is: Mae and Grace, please come back! I miss your wit and observations! Please return to the blogosphere and give me a giggle over my morning Star Trek. Pretty please?

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