When it comes to progress photos, everyone seems to have an opinion. Some people love them and think it is a great way to monitor their progress while others feel they are triggering and can promote an unhealthy mentality about weight loss, thus promoting diet culture. For me, I am impartial to them because I feel that when it comes to these topics, so much of our opinions depend upon our personal experiences with body image.
Progress or before and after photos are a great example. Because our following on the Healthy is the New Skinny's IG page is made up of 94% women, we get a lot insight and comments when we post certain types of content. One post stuck with me because a woman sent me her before and after photo wearing our HNS tank. She had lost over 80 pounds and she shared her incredible story of being in the military and having to overcome PTSD and depression. She was able to reach a stable place mentally and had committed to improving her health and wellbeing. She shared how she did't care about what size she was, she only cared about how amazing she was feeling inside and out. I loved it so much and was happy to share it on our page because it was the full embodiment of our message!
It was only a few minutes before I started to read comments that were very accusatory and presumptuous. There were comments like, "This is triggering and you should never post before and after photos." "You are promoting diet culture." "You clearing don't care about girls with eating disorders and I am unfollowing you." My mouth was wide open as I read these comments and my frustration turned to sadness as I then read a comment from the woman in the photo. She said, "The point of this is that I have worked so hard to be healthy! Several of the comments are so discouraging💔"
Needless to say I jumped to her defense because she deserved to be proud of the amazing progress she has made regardless of the feelings other people are struggling with within themselves. I responded nicely to the few girls who were upset and kindly suggested they unfollow our page because we celebrate all kinds of women with various struggles and victories.
My point is, we tend to base our view on things like progress photos based upon how we feel when we see them. I think there were times when I was in an unhealthy place mentally and would see those photos and think, "I wish I could do that." And I would feel bad about myself. I recently did an interview with Shape.com about how you are are more than what you see in the mirror. In that article I talk about how I am not body positive, but instead I am body neutral. I am focused on caring for my mind, body, and spirit as a whole vs. only identifying as a physical body. I mention progress photos in this article and say exactly how I feel currently which is they are neither good or bad. Photos are just photos, we are the ones that bring positive or negative emotions to them.
I think being self aware is really important and part of that is realizing that how you feel belongs to you. No one else is making you feel a certain way, it is you that is responding to something. Being accountable for how we feel and owning our own feelings without labeling things as good or bad is important to do. Before and after photos aren't bad, but if you are not in a healthy place with your self esteem and they cause you to feel worse, then they are absolutely not healthy for you. But just like the mention the IG post above, progress photos for the woman in the military was healthy and empowering for her. Each one of us can find what works for us and in doing so we need to give that freedom to others without labeling them as "wrong" or "bad" just because what works for them doesn't work for you.
I have never done progress photos before and since starting my postpartum fitness journey, Normal Girl in a Fitspo World, I found some unhealthy thought processes popping up. My husband Bradford loves to weigh himself. He is able to just monitor his weight from a nonemotional place. His view is that you can use weight as a gage to see where you are at. I understand that, and I do believe there are many people like him who can totally do that in a healthy way. I am not one of those people. After week one, I stepped on the scale excited to see if I had lost any weight and I hadn't lost a pound. I instantly felt those awful feelings bubbling up. Discouragement, failure, annoyance, and frustration were all starting to ruin my day and so I had to check myself!
I had to call my own bullshit and analyze my feelings. Why was I feeling that way? It had been one week for God's sake. What I realized is that I've had a tumultuous relationship with the scale for my whole life. I took a moment to review my current health and fitness goals which are:
- I want to get in shape by being more physically fit.
- I want to build muscle.
- I want to have more energy.
- I want to eat natural healthy foods that nourish my body.
- I want to be able to fit into my clothes after having my baby.
- I want to feel strong and powerful.
- I want to help my body operate optimally to increase my quality of life long term.
As I was going over some of these goals I realized that my weight doesn't really need to be a focus. By weighing myself, I realized that I wouldn't be able to separate my healthy goals from the unhealthy relationship I had developed with the scale.
I decided that it would be best for me and my health to not step on the scale. I will continue to do my workouts, eat well, and instead of focusing on the scale and what I am losing, I will focus on all that I am gaining from this experience. I decided that instead of stepping on the scale I will monitor my progress in a much healthier way, by doing progress photos, being aware of how my clothing fits, and monitoring my strength gains in the gym. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing I feel about that decision. I have no idea if I have lost weight and to be honest it doesn't really matter. I can already see a difference in my photos, I put on a pair of pre pregnancy pants today that actually fit, and I went up in weights in the gym. Clearly I am doing something right and that is all that matters! I will let my body decided what it wants to weigh from this point on.
The photos on the left are day one of my fitness journey and the photos on the right are day 23, so I am three weeks in and feel really healthy and happy. I don't look at my starting photo and think "I am fat or ugly," it is just where I started. I don't look at myself in the second photo and think I am worth more, I am just seeing a tiny bit of muscle definition and that is great.
So remember that we all have triggers and things that can lead us down an unhealthy path mentally, emotionally, or physically, but those are issues we must work through. When we can recognize them and make adjustments that is when we are making the most progress in life.
I would love to know your take on progress photos? Have you done them? How do they make you feel? Bradford and I will be discussing this on our next episode of our Vlog.