Weight Loss: The Truth About Before/After Pictures
I am that girl on the billboard, the amazing transformation on the front page of People magazine, the one in the before/after photo in the ad of a new diet pill, the one with an asterisk at the end of its name whose fine print says my results are not typical. It was images like these that made me, a teenager, spend all her allowance buying Metabolife because if the girl in the magazine can, so can I. Already at that age, I knew that everything in my life would be better, simpler, even perfect... if only I weren't fat anymore.
I knew this not because my doctor told me (after all, who wants an old doctor's opinion?), but because some of the most important voices in the ears of a teenager had told him. I knew that because Courtney Cox had transformed herself: from a lonely, single "loser" who destroys the swings where she dares to land, she had become a slender and sexy man-eater who starred in the series Friends. I knew this because even though Sarah Rue was one of my favorite actresses, she never appeared on the front page of a magazine until she lost 5 sizes. I knew this because books like Jane Green's Jemima J had explained to me, under their shimmering dust jackets, that even if he notices your intelligence, even if he laughs at your jokes and even if he tells you that you have "such a pretty face", he will never admit that he would like you to lose that monumental ass. Whether it's told on the big or small screen, on the front page of a magazine or in the middle of a news story, the weight loss fairy tale story is always the same. Get rid of those extra pounds and -- abracadabra! -- your life immediately becomes a fairy tale.
I've been following this "after" photo for three years and I can assure you one thing: this fairy tale is a myth. Things didn't instantly become TV-perfect after I lost 82 pounds. Yes, I'm happier and healthier than before, but if you think my life is like that of a starlet, you're seriously mistaken. So, what does the life of an "after" look like? What are the details that are hidden from you on these promotional images and these advertising posters for a modular gastric band? What does a real 70 pound loss really look like? Here's what it looks like:
You see, living in a body after a major weight loss is an art. Each day begins with a meticulous inspection of my body to see if there are any wounds, irritations or sores, the side effects of those 10 kilos of extra skin that dangle on my body like a Sharpei. This skin is a world map of scars, glowing or faded stretch marks that are the result of my many weight fluctuations over the years, bright red scabs left behind by my most recent infection. This skin, no matter how many times I have to have it treated by a doctor, my insurance company refuses to pay to have it removed, saying that this is a surgery "of cosmetic nature above all". I have to manually pull apart those folds that are where my navel once was -- before the weight of my fatness caused it to virtually collapse in on itself -- in order to clean them with antibacterial wipes. I also make sure to have a sufficient supply, because it is an exercise that I will have to repeat at least one more time before going to bed. In all, I use at least five ointments, talcs and creams that aim to keep my skin dry, help it heal or heal my bedsores. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I don't have any of that. But it's extremely rare.
After this inspection and proper cleaning begins the process of bending, refolding and encarcanating my body, until it looks as lean and firm as humanly possible. I then put on the clothes that I have carefully chosen, clothes that Candice who weighed 136 kilos could never have dreamed of wearing. When I was fat, it was this part of the fairy tale that made me dream the most. For years, I was confined to these two or three stores that offered clothing for plus size women, none of them being very fashionable. Fashion retailers simply refused to carry clothes in my size. Except here it is: now that I have access to virtually every item of clothing, finding clothes that fit me well is, to some extent, even more difficult than before. In our age of ultra low-rise jeans, finding a pair of jeans that wrap around my leg while accommodating all those folds of loose flesh around my stomach is an exercise in futility. I have to buy three-quarter sleeve blouses that are two sizes too big to accommodate all that skin hanging down under my arms, despite the unimaginable amount of bicep curls I perform. Result: the rest of the blouse hangs over the rest of my now slender body like a common burlap sack. Any hope I ever had of feeling comfortable on warm summer days was dashed the first time I put on size 2 shorts that were long enough to cover the folds of skin that coated my lower thighs. Needless to say, trying to find a swimsuit that doesn't look like some horror my grandma would have worn OR that isn't just a bunch of string redefines the meaning of the word "frustration".
Even underwear, which serves as both support and coquetry, doesn't come in sizes beyond 4. No one my size needs Spanx, do they? ? Hey! well, remember that for women, the hems are higher, the fabrics thinner and the pants more fitted when you dress below a certain size, but none of that suits you when you have pounds extra skin to hide. It would never occur to me to dare to claim that my life is more difficult now than before, but let's just say that shopping for clothes is much less fun than I imagined. Instead, I've had to master the art of sleight of hand and other illusions over the past three years.
Unfortunately, illusions have their inherent limits, and as a single woman in her early thirties, I had to learn one of the hardest lessons the fairy tale of losing one's life can teach us. weight: more than one prince charming has taken to his heels after realizing that my perfectly packaged new body was hiding a few surprises under this packaging. Suddenly, meeting someone became not a question of attraction, but a question of "timing".
It's hard, with this sword of Damocles, this time bomb, to feel completely at ease when you meet someone. Where before you may have managed to feel confident and sexy, you sputter awkwardly because you're too preoccupied with hiding your body to fully enjoy the moment. Oh! Of course, there will be some men who will tell you that they don't care, that you are beautiful no matter what is under your clothes, but that won't prevent you from noticing the slightest hesitation in their caresses or that spark of doubt in their eyes. And when that relationship ends, as they often do, you will invariably ask yourself, "What if...?" What if I had a normal body? What if I had been this ideal woman for him, regardless of the preconceived ideas on which this ideal was based? Maybe he didn't call you back because he didn't like you constantly talking politics or because you swear like a carter. Maybe it just didn't click between you, but whatever the reason, you'll always be convinced that wasn't really what was at issue.
The life of an "after" is not perfect. You won't have the perfect man, the promotion at work, or the popularity you've always dreamed of just because you got thinner. If you want a fairy tale ending, you won't get it no matter how many pounds you lose. If you only care about aesthetics, your journey will never be complete. For what? Because you suddenly won't have all the self-esteem you need just because you've dropped 10 trouser sizes or can now dress small. It took me several years to get there, but I'm starting to accept it. I am slowly learning to tame the physical manifestations of my hard work. I learned to trust fate and to believe that there is someone, somewhere in the world, who will love me as I am, whether or not I manage to pay myself, one day, the corrective surgery that I so badly need.
I don't pretend to never be wrong, and sometimes I look at myself naked in the mirror wondering why I exhaust myself daily to achieve results that I can't really see. Yet when I climb a flight of stairs without having to stop to catch my breath or when I manage to tie my own shoes, then I remember the real motivation to lose weight. It wasn't to find a guy, to get a raise, or to conform to some notion of beauty, but for my own physical well-being. Therein lies the problem of our obsession with "before/after". These images are used to sell us a fairy tale where everything becomes perfect with a simple wave of a magic wand, as long as your dress fits you like a glove. They only care about what people see, and not at all about what really matters. They hide the truth from you, which is that no matter what the Monica Gellars and Jemima Js of this world will tell you, your self-esteem does not depend on a number on a scale or on a label indicating the size of a cocktail dress.
You're still the same person you've always been, but in a slightly different package, and if you didn't like the person you were in the "before" photo, no one will accept you as that "after", not even you.
Since when does a stomach have to be flat? Who said that the buttocks had to be bulging? Why shouldn't the thighs touch each other? The HuffPost has gone back in time to understand where these slimming and beauty obsessions come from that constrain women's bodies and make them feel guilty on the beach...
Slimming and beauty obsessions