The “Before” Person and the “After” Person

Lynne Murray says

“I wish I could have seen that when I was 16,” my friend said when I showed her this short clip of a photographer taking “before and after” shots on the same day.

It still might not have saved her from forty years of diet madness.

As of 2007, Reuters estimated fat-fighting scams to be the most common form of fraud.

But knowing that one con artist or a thousand snake-oil salesmen deliberately lie won’t protect someone from the documented truth that the mainstream “legitimate” weight-loss industry has the roughly the same failure rate at attaining long-term weight loss as the outright criminal fraudsters.

We breathe in fatphobia with every exposure to mass media and doctors sometimes even demand weight loss before or in the place of attempting any other diagnosis or medical treatment.

The “before/after” photo layout usually contains outright fraud of one kind or another. But the very before/after format itself damages our view of our bodies even when not perpetrated by pure scam artists using photo tricks and Photoshop effects.

The same damage is done by giant diet corporations who recruit celebrities for short term weight loss marathons and discard them when they regain the weight.

The before/after photos successfully demonstrate the fatphobic attitude they wish to reinforce. They install the buttons they will press to wring dollars out of their victims. They also set up a scenario for the viewer to follow. The mindset they try to create owes a lot to the religious conversion experience.

In the before photo, the (sinner or) before person shows a miserable expression, clearly a soul tortured and tainted by their unacceptable body.

In the after photo, the newly cleansed, streamlined, muscular after person smiles at the happy life now possible in an acceptably buff body, reaping all the admiration, rewards and happiness denied the before person.

There is also a before/after in the Health At Every Size mindset. I see it clearly in my own life. Before giving up dieting and obsession with my weight I lived with the belief that I could never be happy, loved, or accomplished until I lost weight. After learning how to accept myself and befriend and celebrate my body as it is, I am free to enjoy life and to love and be loved by those who accept and respect me. And about those accomplishments: I’ve had much more time and energy to get real work done once I eliminated the futile quest for weight loss from my schedule.

My own transition from before to after didn’t take place overnight or in a blinding flash of conversion. It took hard work over several years, but it was worth it.

6 thoughts on “The “Before” Person and the “After” Person

  1. The ads get more obnoxious all the time. The one I hate most right now is the huge silhouette of a woman (usually featured on Yahoo) that shrinks steadily until you’d swear she was going to simply snap in the middle like a wishbone. Then it reloops. So obnoxious. The advertisers aren’t even pretending to have a sense of decency anymore.

  2. I’m on yahoo a lot and I know the ad you mean, Volly. I agree, it’s offensive and every time the loop shows the fat silhouette shrinking into the “perfect” cartoon figure with impossibly tiny waist and big breasts, it adds another reinforcement of the damaging fantasy that our bodies are infinitely shrinkable and we will magically reach an unnatural, basically impossible body size and shape if we only purchase the right product.

  3. OK…deep breath here. I agree totally with everything above. My ideal of the human body encompasses almost all forms – I’m an artist who loves the human forms in all its infinite variations.. My own attractions in terms of partner runs to delightfully padded – and she is gorgeous! I have friends who are “over weight” and they are beautiful. Persuading me of the horrors of the mistreatment of those deemed overweight and the horrors visited upon the world by the advertising and fashion industry would be a definite case of preaching to the choir. Everybody’s body is different, and people can carry different amounts of weight and be perfectly healthy. You with me? Now…address for one moment the point where weight IS an issue…the individual whose weight IS slowly killing them because they aren’t at a healthy level for them personally.They don’t need to become skinny, or fit some impossible ideal – they just need to get enough off to become healthy. I know of dear friends whom I live in fear of their loss to stroke or medical complications, who are virtually house-bound and their quality of life is severely reduced because of too much of a good thing, so to speak…and they spout the fat activist line in denial of their situation. If you are going to address weight, do you have a moral call to also address this issue. Weight is not a “sin” and the social perception of it that drives self hate and disorders and depression for no reason is morally bankrupt. But when you are driving the justifiable activism to oppose this madness, where in lies the dangers of too much weight – same as too little – that can kill? There are people out there who are invested in the fat activism that could die, not because they are “over weight” by societies standards, but because they are physically carrying enough weight to damage their bodies. Where is the line? And of course, the SECOND you address this, the screaming will start the other way. This may be a can of worms…and if you choose not to open it on your blog, I would not blame you. But email me your thoughts privately maybe? Its a real catch 22.

  4. Hi again, Cameron. First off let me say that I don’t know you, but you seem to be an extremely thoughtful and caring person. I’m delighted to hear that you enjoy a myriad of body shapes and it’s wonderful that your partner is “delightfully padded and gorgeous.” However, I believe you are misinformed about the inevitablity of weight “causing” ill health. And you’ve expressed your concern in a way that makes it seem painfully judgemental and not at all caring. I just went back and took the quote marks away from the word “concern” because I myself have had extremely bitchy people express concern about my weight, when they really wanted to put me down in a passive aggressive way and I believe that was not your intention.

    I hope I’m not doing the “screaming” that you anticipate if I address some points you make in your comment. (I have a special mental padded room for a primal scream or two before I address such issues. Okay much better now. Deep breath.)

    Several of your points are kinda inflammatory. Frankly, I was sort of hoping this cup would be taken from me because I am not the best person at untangling webs of misconceptions about weight, health and fat activism such as you’re presenting here. However, I dare to imagine that Laurie and Debbie would agree that this can of worms is one of the things Body Impolitic was created to examine.

    Actually, to me your comment seems to be not so much a can of worms as a yarn-like tangle of cultural assumptions, some mistaken, some toxic, mostly counterproductive:

    You say: “I know of dear friends whom I live in fear of their loss to stroke or medical complications, who are virtually house-bound and their quality of life is severely reduced because of too much of a good thing, so to speak…and they spout the fat activist line in denial of their situation.”

    First off, “spouting the fat activist line” is an extremely offensive phrase and no concern for someone’s health can make it okay. You’re making the equation that Fat Acceptance = Death and I may have to step into my Primal Scream Room for a moment before I continue. Okay. It’s insulting in a way that reflects poorly on you and certainly demonstrates no loving concern for the people you call dear friends.

    I know what it’s like to fear for someone’s health. There are many positive things one can do to help, but attacking a person’s efforts to feel good about their fat bodies is not among those helpful things

    You say: “If you are going to address weight, do you have a moral call to also address this issue.” [sic no “?” but I’m assuming this is a question.]

    I gotta say that I have no such moral imperative. I am a fat woman. I have high blood pressure. Thin people also get hypertension. You know what makes my blood pressure really skyrocket? Assuming that EVERY discussion of fat people MUST add a little zinger at the end about how “unhealthy” size is. How is this helpful? No one has ever been able to tell me how. To me it’s a hairline away from the “bullying for one’s own good” line of attack. It’s a widespread behavior however. Michele Obama does it, and I am glad that some of my fellow Health at Every Size advocates are calling her on it.

    What we in this culture call “weight” covers a multitude of manifestations. Now we come to the “fat is one thing, too fat is another” argument.

    You say:
    “There are people out there who are invested in the fat activism that could die, not because they are “over weight” by societies standards, but because they are physically carrying enough weight to damage their bodies. Where is the line? And of course, the SECOND you address this, the screaming will start the other way. This may be a can of worms…and if you choose not to open it on your blog, I would not blame you. But email me your thoughts privately maybe? Its a real catch 22.”

    Frankly, I think the Catch 22 (love that book) is located in the cultural assumption that attacking people at whatever weight “for their own good” actually accomplishes anything.

    You say, “Where is the line?” Why does there have to be a “too fat” line? What in the name of all that’s holy does drawing a line and pronouncing everyone on one side of it “Too fat” accomplish?

    One of my favorite exercise tapes is Kelly Bliss’s “Super Fit Sitting Aerobics Workout” for those of us with bad knees who still want to move.
    The DVD cover shows a picture of 500-pound fat acceptance pioneer, (to me a heroine) Lynn McAfee

    I found many of Lynn’s comments during the video about getting in touch with her body and working with her body at whatever size incredibly helpful. That’s my idea of a positive, useful approach to body size.

    Okay, another deep breath on my side of the internet. Again, I say, I hope we can have a good dialog here and consider how to be helpful to those we care about in a genuinely effective way.

  5. Whoa! OK…good dialogue is totally desired. First, if I gave the impression that I am judgmental of weight or fat, please allow me to apologize and see if I can express myself better. That was not my intention, nor is that my stance! I actually have never said one word to the friends that I am concerned for, about weight. I am not concerned about their weight…they are beautiful, individuals, and I loathe and despise the societal perception and lies that condemn weight and size.
    I fight a daily battle for my spouse, who is gloriously and beautifully curved and built, telling her she is beautiful and holding her when her self esteem takes too many hits from judgement and “fat” bigotry. I have seen the results of the obsession with weight and size and what it has done to people! It infuriates me. I remember when I found your blog I rejoiced at your stance and your activism and shared your photography on your site with my friends, how your beautiful photography and portraiture of the human body in all its variations so supported what I believe is true.
    So maybe I didn’t phrase myself right. I don’t know how to phrase it right, maybe.
    Please back up, and realize that you are preaching to the choir, lets establish we are on the same page, and find a way to start over.
    Whatever size or shape the human body, it is beautiful. No human being should ever be denigrated for their unique individual build, and all the variations of the human form are valid and precious! I would never EVER tell someone that they are ugly, or “endangering their health” solely because they are fat. NEVER! Because it would not be true. Health and weight are not intrinsically linked. It goes back to individuality – people who are taller than me with larger bone structure than I would appear skinny at my weight – I am short and stocky myself; overweight by the Dr’s flow charts which are utterly ridiculous! If I weighed what that chart said I “Should” weigh, I would be one step off emaciated…I know this because I weighed that and less at one time, not through dieting or wanting to be “thin”, but through poverty and starvation. I literally had no food and no money for groceries and by the end of about a 3 year period, I was below that unrealistic target weight – way below. And caught hell from people who wanted to know, to my face if I was “Anorexic” *snort* No, I was not. I was living on 2 or 3 meals a week because that was all I had.I actually have never been on a diet in my life. Truly. And I was furious with people who would try to condemn me for being skinny and call me anorexic, but had no interest in addressing the poverty or the struggle I was living in. Now I have to fend off my Dad who wants to lecture me occasionally on being “fat”! Argh! I hate the judgement and the condemnation – In my dad’s case it is self condemnation. He has absorbed the lies and schema of this society that condemns any person with society’s definition of “too much weight” and worse yet he is buying into the ads and the products promising instant weight loss and or control – and he is not “fat”! Its all in his mind! He is a very handsome, well formed figure and at 83 years of age, is in wonderful shape. It’s all in his mind. *sigh*
    So…how can I phrase my concern without sounding like I am bigoted or insensitive, which I so am not!
    When an individual carries not “too much weight” or “fat”, but rather has crossed not a societal line, but their own individual line of personal health, and they are in danger of heart attack, stroke and not living to see 50…
    When it’s not that they need to suddenly invest in the brutal bigotry and fat hatred and get trapped in trying for goals that are not healthy and not attainable, but merely need to back their size back down by X number of pounds…still large, still beautiful, still unique and individual…AM I making any sense???
    Fat is not inherently unhealthy. Weight is not inherently unhealthy. And I certainly get that the bigotry and hate and insensitivity are far more inherently dangerous to health and well being! I am transgender…and I have not had surgery or testosterone. I live daily with the bigotry and lies about transgenders, and I live daily with the struggle to love my self, and accept myself, since my female body is so totally out of sync with my inner male self.(haven’t sought the surgery or the T for a number of reason – and more than happy to discuss that maybe further in the conversation, if need be….) Its not quite the same…and yet all of us who live ostracized by being different in any way had better hang together, or we will all hang separate. Gender Identity Disorder is still in the DSM-IV-TR…and they are discussing actually adding “Obesity” to the damn V version! ARGH! NO, NO, NO!
    I am about to tie myself into a knot trying to find a way to express myself clearly here. Do you see what I am trying to say? Help me here!
    But I once again, profoundly apologize with all my heart if I offended you, or caused any pain with my perhaps ill thought out post. We are allies. And I am horrified that I expressed myself so poorly. Please forgive me. Lets continue to talk. And I profoundly respect your answering me and encouraging dialogue. Thank you for not just blowing me off or out of the water.
    I honor everything you have sought to accomplish on this blog.
    I wish to listen…not just speak.
    Here is my hand…

  6. Bless your heart, Cameron!

    Please set your mind at ease about having caused me any pain! Please forgive me if what I said I gave you the impression that you injured me, and I certainly did not intend to emotionally hurt you or to make you feel bad in any way. Everything I have seen you write here is thoughtful and caring, and I’m not surprised to hear that you said not one negative word to your friends who are fat even though you truly are worried about their health and self-esteem.

    I took a little time to think about it and realized that although I used too many words, I managed to not prominently point out the main root of the misunderstanding that fat people face! Here goes:

    The concept of losing weight in our culture is built on an outright lie.

    The simple truth is that intentional weight loss is temporary 95-98 percent of the time. Many of us have gained back more than we lost over and over. There are scientific studies going back decades proving this. It’s late at night but I can provide a raft of links and references and one blog in the links here: “Junk food science” is particularly good on these points.

    Unfortunately presenting scientific references to people rarely has much effect.

    People passionately embrace lies about weight loss because the lies are woven into the fabric of our culture. People ignore truths they don’t want to hear, because they want them not to be true. Also some people lie about the effectiveness of weight loss methods cynically because they’re in the business of selling weight loss–I’m not going to go there, because that really does anger me.

    That’s the central problem with talking about weight and health because no matter what benefits weighing less may have (and these are debatable in many cases), a reliable and permanent, non-damaging weight loss method does not exist.

    Now, what does exist is a variety of ways to maximize health without focusing on weight loss. However, weight loss is such a holy grail in our culture that it’s a very radical act to turn away from it.

    I also meditate a bit about your observation that some fat people seem to recite a kind of fat activist party line without thinking, and I can see how it might look that way. Part of the journey to self acceptance in a fat body is to convince ourselves that we are okay just as we are. That doesn’t happen overnight. For me it was like building a new friendship with my body and learning to trust a body that everyone told me I should starve, punish and not listen to.

    Okay, too many words again. I know we are both people of good will. I am not the one to address transgender issues–although others on Body Impolitic can speak with deep understanding.

    I can say with confidence that everyone who contributes to Body Impolitic will rejoice to hear that it has been a positive and empowering resource for you in many ways. And I hope that we can have many helpful, healing dialogues on many topics in the future.

    Blessings on you and your loved ones!

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