Obviously, you have the internet, since you're reading this post, so I'm going to make the assumption that you've been on Instagram at some point. To that end, I will guess that you have seen a transformation photo.
You know exactly what I'm talking about: two side-by-side photos of a woman, one in which she is her Before Self. She might look a little soft. Maybe her thighs touch. Maybe she's not perfectly toned. She's certainly not ugly. In the photo to the right, she is - voila! - a new person with abs, biceps, and little to no fat. She's in workout clothes or underwear. She is transformed.
There's something about those photos that really, really bothers me.
I get the impulse for wanting to make a then and now comparison. Maybe you feel better now than you used to and want to rejoice in that fact. Maybe you started working out for the first time in your life or started eating healthy and you want to show off the results. Maybe you worked hard to lose 5 pounds or to sculpt a six-pack, and you love seeing how far you've come. That's all fine.
I am all for wanting to be the best version of yourself. There's nothing wrong with priding yourself on making a dramatic journey from unhealthy to healthy. So I understand why some people post progress pictures. It can be very satisfying and helpful to track your changes; that's why groups like Weight Watchers exist and have been so successful - they provide people with a support network and a way to hold yourself accountable. I don't think weight loss is bad. Sometimes, when your health is at stake, it's necessary.
What bothers me is the idea behind the majority of these photos: that comparing yourself is an OK thing to do, and that whatever came after is inevitably better than whatever was before. It's the idea that whatever you looked like before was not good enough, and, to that end, you were not good enough, either.
Unfortunately, that's the message I see perpetuated on social media - especially on Instagram - where social media influencers send messages to their followers that "this - not that!" is what's good. These same influencers also often post platitudes like, "you're beautiful no matter what you look like!!!!!!1😊" which is weird, because by posting a before and after photo of someone, it's definitely implied that the after picture is the "better" picture.
These influencers know that women on Instagram want to hear body positive words, but that they also want the secret to rippling abs.
Make no mistake: That's the message they're trying to send. The bubbly, often grammatically unsound, emoji and typo-laden copy plays to the fact that these influencers know that women on Instagram want to hear body positive words, but that they also want the secret to rippling abs. Sure, these influencers claim to be promoting "confidence," but they're not encouraging the real confidence that comes with accepting your body as it is and treating it well by exercising and eating right. They're talking about the confidence that could come with joining their network and following their lead, which is explicitly about all about your outside, not what's inside. It's a "confidence" you can get by punishing yourself and chastising your present body, desperately searching for your own "after" body.
Because don't forget that Instagram influencers, after all, are looking to bolster their personal brands and ramp up their followings, and they probably want you to buy their training program or sign up for some app or YouTube channel. By posting before and after photos with "CONFIDENCE!!!!!" written all over or underneath them, they're not-so-subtly telling women that this - the transformation - is how you get confident. So hop on the bandwagon, or forever feel like a lesser-than version of yourself.
These transformation photos - often taken from a woman with a small following and blasted out via an influencer's account to millions of followers - invite comparison to yourself, which is just unnecessary and cruel. No matter how much better you feel about yourself at your new weight, and no matter how great you objectively look, there's no point in shitting on what you used to be. Worse, posting these photos on very public forums invites a whole other group of people you may not even know to the criticism and comparison party (worst party ever, by the way).
I'm sick of seeing Instagrammers use body positive jargon when the message they're pushing isn't body positive at all. Instead, it promotes the idea that you need to change in some way - get even smaller, shrink your waist even more, have bulging muscles - to be happy, which is the very opposite of body positivity actually means. Body positivity is about celebrating where you are now.
And I'm tired of the idea that confidence is a construct that only exists in comparison to something else. I want people to stop trying to disguise weight loss as ~confidence and joy~. Confidence comes from within, not from an external source. Maybe after you're in better shape you will feel better about yourself, but there's no reason to push the idea that you need to change to feel that way.
No matter what a transformation photo shows on the surface, they send the message that you think less of what you were before, which is bullshit. And anyone who pedals the idea that confidence can only be found in rippling abs and tiny waists isn't worth your sit-ups, burpees, time, or likes. You're better than that. We all are.
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