In the past year I’ve lost 50 pounds by radically changing my diet based on (finally) receiving some accurate medical diagnoses, along with eliminating most processed foods, gluten, dairy and nightshades. (See “Six Months of Health Recovery”) Since I do PR for the health care team that led me to the accurate diagnoses, and I now sell nutritional products, it seems like I’d be quick to share some stunning “before” and “after” photos.
As a feminist I’m concerned that “before” and “after” photos would support the cultural discrimination of valuing women based on their appearance. I feel like “before” and “after” photos are somehow rude to, well, “Before” me, and to women who look similar. It reminded me of the piece by Pamela Houston: “I am walking down the street in Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in the lower sixties, women with shopping bags on all sides. I realize with some horror that for the last fifteen blocks I have been counting how many women have better and how many women have worse figures than I do. Did I say fifteen blocks? I meant fifteen years.”
The constant judging of appearance is so ingrained we consider it normal and appropriate. After decades of being devalued because of my size, and now having major health recovery, I was not eager to look at or share “before” photos of myself. I dug around last week and found very few full body photos of myself. (I’m the queen of strategic cropping.)
Looking through photos was painful. Our culture is brutal to people who are overweight, as if it is the last acceptable form of discrimination. The photos led me to write long rants full of rage and sadness and reflection of my health journey. I ranted about my experiences of being insulted, ignored, judged and criticized. I ranted about the many misdiagnoses and the side effects of unnecessary medication. Pages filled comparing the differences in how I am treated now compared to “before.”
Just looking at photos and considering sharing them for comparison led me to want to write an Ode to Before Me … a tribute for what she survived and how she thrived. I wanted to defend myself, list my accomplishments and prove on paper I was just fine, and I would have been always been just fine. Decades of frustrations, maybe generations, flowed from pen to paper.
But I know my value and the value of any human is not in her resume or her ability to match the current culturally ideal appearance. So my ranting writing led me to see some blessings of my health journey such as self-love and acceptance, and the wisdom and strength to hear messages of shame and blame about my body and ignore them.
Beyond the warped cultural issues, the more meaningful story told in my “before” and “after” photos is health recovery. By getting accurate medical information about my conditions and applying it to my diet, along with eliminating most processed foods, I have significantly improved my quality of life. I no longer have the chronic pain I was told would need lifelong medication, and I feel the best I ever recall feeling.
Sadly in our fast-food world, it seems like radical self-care to scrutinize ingredients and eliminate processed foods as much as possible. We only get one body in this lifetime and yet we often eat ingredients we don’t recognize and can’t even pronounce. My body is healing from a lifetime of damage from side effects of misdiagnosed medicine, and processed food, allergens and toxins.
Eventually I will post “before” and “after” photos as I share more about my health journey. Perhaps I’ll write some sort of disclaimer to soothe and honor my valid feminist concerns. My intent will be for the visual to show natural healing can occur simply from eating healthy foods. And hopefully that will encourage someone else on their health journey.
“Before Me” would be proud.