I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with those before and after advertisements for the latest diet miracle. I envied the thinness that instantly transformed those women into chic and fit and happy clones of their former selves. I’ve known the real answer to losing weight since I was about twelve…and I’m aware these photos were always taken immediately after the weight loss, never six months later…but I still inspect each one carefully, wistfully, enviously.
My own photo albums are full of decades of similar images. There I am, chubby at the prom, thinner at my college graduation, chunky after my daughter was born, as close to slender as I’ve ever been, three years later. On my way back up the scale, I could almost see my body, my walking autobiography, sauntering toward the blaming side of town.
There’s a picture of me with my brow knit and my lips pursed. I remember how miserable I was that day, two weeks into a diet where I force fed myself bread that had to be sliced with a saw. There’s another of me, casting what I felt was a mighty shadow, sitting next to my sister who has always been ballerina thin. In an unguarded moment, my stormy expression reveals the depths of my misery as I watched her devour a huge slice of chocolate cake. And one more with my best friend who I remember feeling jealous of that day even though she had just broken up with her boyfriend and was recovering from the flu… because in her misery, she had lost seven pounds.
Then I look at my various “after” photos, expecting to see dropped shoulders and an easy smile. Nope. Still not happy. I never felt near as thin on the inside as I looked on the outside. I look back on year after year of pictures and can’t understand how I never saw the strong, fit, tight body then that I see today. How could I not have celebrated slaying the Mallomar dragon? It was as if I knew that thinner me was a temporary state. As if I were swimming in a race, touched the far side of the pool (the magic number on the scale) and dove back to return to where I began. Time after time after time.
So with the wisdom that comes with age, what have I learned? Today I understand that the people who matter in my world never cared…or probably even noticed… if I were up ten pounds or down ten pounds. I could have used a more accurate pair of glasses to notice I’ve never been really fat…or really thin… one day of my life. All that angst…for what? That heavy punishing calorie-counting conscience I lugged around all my life resulted in days (decades?) spent less richly, less completely, less forgivingly than I would have wished.
I’m committing myself in this new year to live each day in the present, because all that’s important occurs in the middle of before and after. Knowing that today is tomorrow’s past, I vow not to waste any more time aspiring to own a body that’s just not in the cards. And when I look back at a picture of me today ten years from now, I hope to see a woman who, at least body image wise, looks happily ever after.