I’ve already shared how I feel about before and after pictures used in diet ads. As my birthday approaches (it’s Wednesday) I’ve been thinking more about the juxtaposition of these photos and what they are supposed to represent. When diet companies show us these pictures they want us to see the “after” picture and associate thin with happy. They are trying to sell us their product with promises of this happy life. You know what I think of that. I don’t need to tell you. But, as I approach my 38th birthday and my 20th (!!) high school reunion I want to share a little bit of my long journey to this place.
So, here are some pictures of that journey. Seeing them all together like that, these pictures from 18, 28 and (almost) 38, I understand the appeal of the before and after shot, I really do. The photographer in me knows that we like having visual imagery to represent the big changes we feel inside. That same photographer really hates to admit that pictures just can’t tell the complete story.
That first picture, the perfect “after” picture for diet ads with a smiling, thin girl, can’t tell you that I was feeling very grown-up without realizing that I was merely playing dress-up. I was happy enough but it was superficial. It was a happiness based on fitting in, passing for “normal” and very little introspection. I was a pretty typical teen and I really don’t have much to complain about. But I was also pretty insecure and had a budding eating disorder.
The picture in the middle doesn’t tell you that even though I’m smiling in Paris I’m on a downward spiral toward my rock bottom. You can’t see that I had moved on from one eating disorder and plunged head first into the next. You can’t tell from my smiling face that I had suddenly and completely realized that collecting things that represent the perfect life (house, husband, kids, career, vacations) wasn’t the same thing as actually having one. This picture can’t show you that I was clinically depressed, binge eating and miserable.
And the last picture, the one that does a great job representing what diet ads use for those “before” pics doesn’t tell the full story either. I’m not smiling (I was but I talked just as Kya snapped the picture so it came out without a smile) and as a result I look fat and unhappy. The opposite of that thin, smiling girl in the first pic. But I am no longer playing dress up. I’m no longer striving to fit in. I’m introspective to a fault. I’ve defeated eating disorders. I’ve overcome depression. I am not just happy but JOYFUL. My appreciation for the life I have is not based on my mood or the circumstances of the day. Even on my worst days I am capable of moments of pure, unadulterated joy because I am happy with myself.
So, even though my “before” is smiling, skinny and young, my “in between” is having an adventure in Paris, and my “after” is making a weird face, fat, getting older and settling for Branson instead of traveling the world I don’t mind. The truth is that all of those people are me, none of them are simply a before or after because they all brought me to this place. And I not only like where I am but I also appreciate the journey that brought me here.