Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.Maya Angelou
I did it all the time. Even pretty recently. The before and after photos…of me…a thin, white woman. The “before” picture being me – a thin, white woman, with a little belly roll, or some bloating. The “after” picture being me – a thin, white woman, after restricting myself and disordered eating and exercise for 10-30 days showing that bloat lessened, and celebrating.
I had good intentions. I genuinely thought that the restrictive program I was following was good for me and would be good for everyone else too. I talked about all of the things that had become better in my life since my “before” picture, not just the obvious smaller belly – a veiled attempt to not make it about the size of my body. But the emphasis was still on the picture, on the way my body LOOKED.
As I started learning about all the ways diet culture lies to us and profits off creating an unachievable goal, and my internalized fat phobia, I began to wake up. I started reading about why the before and after picture is so detrimental, not just to my own mental health, but to those who follow me. What were these pictures doing in my brain? They were reinforcing that my body was bad before, and that larger bodies are bad. They were reinforcing that my disordered eating and exercise patterns were necessary in order to avoid this bigger, bad body at all costs.
What did these pictures tell my audience? That any body that is not the thin, white “ideal” is bad. That they should start following this restrictive, disordered way of eating and moving in order to try achieve to a smaller, “good” body.
I would encourage my clients to take before and after photos too. We would call them progress photos, but changing the name doesn’t change the reality or impact.
This is ridiculous, and I am ashamed that it took me so long to see this insane cycle I was in and promoting.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.Albert Einstein
I have since posted photos of myself showing a belly roll or some cellulite and talked about how I normally wouldn’t show these “imperfect” pictures, but I was learning to accept and love all these parts of my body. My intention is/was trying to normalize these very normal things for myself and others.
But here’s the thing. I’m still a thin, white woman. My body that I work hard to respect and take care of is still the “ideal.” I am not discriminated against, or abused, or denied treatment, or given vague medical advice because of my body size or the color of my skin. I see now how these types of posts hurt others, specifically those in larger and marginalized bodies. And I am sorry for participating in the continued message that these bodies are bad.
I know that people in every single body size, even thin body sizes, struggle with body image. It’s not about the size. I want EVERYONE to know that their body is good, just as it is. But even more important than that, I want everyone to know that they are MORE than a body.
I’m still passionate about inspiring and encouraging and teaching others to respect their body – to take care of the body they are in, whether they love it or not.
I am learning better, I will do better.