Since shifting my focus away from weight, I’ve been contemplating the multitude of “Before and After” pictures I have shared and what to do going forward.
I have very mixed feelings about those pictures, to be honest.
On one hand, I want to take them all down. This isn’t about what I look like, it’s about lifestyle. Health. Fitness. Happiness. Inner peace. Etc. When people see those pictures everything is all wrapped up in an outer package. What does that really mean? It means less than people think it does. It can mean so many different things. This image, of a large body made small, is a ubiquitous symbol of success. A montage of bad and good. Failure and victory.
In reality, you can’t see much in these pictures. You can’t see my health. Yes my health has improved and I am in much better shape than I’ve ever been fitness wise. Coinciding with that, my body is smaller. But one does not necessarily equal the other. One can find her body shrinking for reasons other than improved health. A person in the grips of an illness or eating disorder might be able to produce a before and after picture of a larger body turned small. Conversely, a person may add daily exercise and better foods to her life and remain in a body of the same size. It’s all more complicated than I realized when I initially created those pictures. I wonder about the message they send and if I stand behind it. There is nothing “wrong” about my before picture or any of the in between pictures. I’m still me! Still Kate. Still awesome. Just looking different on the outside.
On the other hand, this is my personal story and my personal truth. All of those pictures are still me. I am proud of them. For me, they do represent a positive change in my lifestyle and my overall well-being in addition to the smaller body. For me, it did all work that way. I am not ashamed of any picture in the montage. I embrace them all. Steps on a ladder. A record of change. Pictures of different points in my life. I have decided not to take any of them down, just as I do not edit my old blog posts no matter how much I have changed my mind.
Even now, I like looking at them. No, they do not tell the whole story and they don’t tell a story everyone experiences. But they do tell a big part of my story. This is my personal truth.
I vividly remember taking each one.
The first picture is the only picture I can find of myself before I started losing weight. I was checking out the house I ended up renting in Phoenix, AZ and I caught myself in a picture of the bathroom mirror. I knew I was in the picture, but I was very far away. I had to crop this picture from a much larger shot intended to show the rooms of the house, not my body. It’s an accident this picture exists. I was in Phoenix in August and I had never experienced anything like that desert heat. I remember the smell- like dry asphalt baking in the sun. But the scenery was amazing. I felt like I was on Mars.
The second picture is from the locker-room of the 24 Hour Fitness I belonged to for a total of three years while living in Phoenix. I had just run a continuous mile on the treadmill for the first time in my life, ever, including high school. I was very excited. I remember the feeling that anything was possible. “I got this.” I said to myself.
The third picture is the day I hit my initial goal weight of 180 pounds after 18 months of calorie counting and exercising 5-6 times a week. Making a goal and meeting it after so much effort is a very rewarding experience indeed. My confidence was through the roof. I wanted to do this, I did it. I rule.
The fourth picture was taken shortly after I reached my lowest weight ever, around 160 lb. The pictures I have of myself at this time give me a strange feeling to look at. It’s the smallest I have ever been in my adult life by a lot. This picture is probably the only picture I’ve ever seen of myself and thought, without a doubt, “I am skinny.” This is a bizarre experience for someone who has always been larger. Surreal. I don’t remember anything about the day or the circumstance of the picture. I took it in the bathroom of my house because I thought the outfit made me look a lot thinner than I usually felt. It’s strange to look at this picture and think about how much I thought about what I looked like. I’m glad I don’t spend that much time thinking about it anymore.
The fifth picture was taken last year in June. I hadn’t hung the Kandinsky painting on the wall in my new apartment in Redwood City, CA. I was settling in to life in California and my new job location, new gym, new climate. In this new place, in my smaller body, I felt gloriously anonymous. No longer did strangers approach me at my gym, at restaurants, at the grocery store and comment on my body size. In Phoenix, it would frequently happen that someone who had seen me “before” wanted to come talk to me about the “after”. Suddenly, I wasn’t Kate-Who-Used-to-be-Fat, I was just me. Average sized person. Nothing to see here. It was very freeing. I felt that I had left that chapter behind in a way. Now I was free to just live my life.
The sixth and final picture I took today. The painting is on the wall and the place is kind of a mess. That’s how you know I live here. I just ate brunch with my boyfriend; scrambled eggs with spinach, mushrooms, green onions, and garlic and roasted potatoes. I am almost finished with the novel I’m reading (Jennifer Egan’s Look At Me – so good.) After I finish writing this I’m going to go outside and walk around the neighborhood for awhile. Everything is blooming. California smells like blossoms and spices- sage, cilantro, eucalyptus, jasmine…
So, I’m keeping them up because this is part of who I am, but they mean something different to me now than they did when I started making them. When I made them, I wanted to showcase my “success”. I wanted to say “look, I did it! You can do it too!” But that’s not how I feel anymore because I have changed and grown as a person. What I did in my life means nothing in terms of someone else’s life. We’re all different. I did this, but it doesn’t mean others can do it too necessarily. You are you and I am me. We will all be happier if we accept this. My body is a good body, large or small. And I am a good person, regardless of my body size. I don’t believe in Before and After pictures anymore because life is a continuum, not discreet points in time. So instead of showcasing my “success story” I want to showcase something else. Be true to yourself. It’s what inside that matters. Your outside will always be changing as you grow and age, but real growth is something you can’t see in a picture.
I am not a Before or an After, I am me.