I spend a considerable amount of time on Instagram and Pinterest. Like…hours. I purposely don’t look at my iPhone screen time facts because I really don’t want to know how much of my life is spent with my phone. But at this point in my life, I’m okay with it. It makes sense. I have a lot of down time with a baby on my lap or on my boob, so it makes sense that my brain wants something else to occupy itself with. So, the mommy bloggers and food bloggers? They’re keeping me company.
When you follow bloggers and, as they’ve come to be called—“influencers”—you’ll inevitably come across stuff about fitness and “healthy” living. (I put “healthy” in quotes because that word means something different to everyone). And that’s fine. I like getting inspiration for my workouts. I love drooling over pictures of avocados and sweet potatoes and smoothie bowls.
Unfortunately, with the “healthy” living inspiration, diet culture creeps its sneaky way in, and that’s a trap for me. In particular? The before and after photo.
You know what I’m talking about. There’s the one on the left: a girl stands in her spandex and sports bra, everything on display. She’s probably slumping and staring straight ahead with no smile. Then the one on the right: Same girl (most likely?) but twenty pounds lighter, her eyes sparkling and face beaming because of her progress. The body on the left? Obviously imperfect. Obviously unhappy. The body on the right, of course, is better and happier and, well, correct.
The photo is supposed to celebrate someone’s journey. Look how far I’ve come! Look what I’ve accomplished! I’m proud of myself! It’s inspiration!
That, in a bubble, is not a bad thing. But we don’t live in a bubble.
A before and after photo is, in and of itself, a comparison. Before compared with after. One is good and one is bad. One is right and one is wrong. Even if it’s your photo—it’s a comparison of two bodies side by side, a declaration of value: one is worthy of praise and the other isn’t.
When I see a before and after picture, I immediately assess which body is “better.” (Hint: the smaller the body, the better.) Then, after that comparison, I begin to compare my own body. Which body resembles my own? Usually it’s the before body. The bad one. The wrong one. Translation: I’m bad. I’m wrong.
In what world is a before and after photo kind, loving, and life-giving? It’s not kind to the bodies in the photo and it’s not kind to anyone looking at the photo.
In the name of “inspiration”, how many other women are we hurting?
I see a lot of these kinds of photos when it comes to the postpartum belly. As soon as a week after giving birth, I was scrolling through social media looking at before/after postpartum photos. In the postpartum before and after photo, which body is better? It’s not the body that sags. It’s not the body that just birthed a freaking human a day before, a body that most recently nourished and sustained a tiny being—that’s the before body, after all. That’s the bad body. (Heaven forbid you look like you actually gave birth.)
I’ve lost weight in the past three and a half months, and I caught myself flipping between photos, trying to see them side by side. Comparing. Judging. Analyzing. Maybe I should put up a before and after photo to show my progress? What is my motive, exactly?
Yes, I want to celebrate being “healthy.”
No, I don’t think it’s wrong to be proud of myself.
What’s wrong, I think, is placing two bodies side by side—even when it’s my body in both pictures—and determining value. Because that’s what comparison is.
So, no, I will not be putting up a before and after photo. That’s a disservice to my body three months ago, a body that is no worse or better than the one I’m in now. It deserves to be loved and cherished and respected, just like my current one.