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There is only hereafter

Inspired by this post on Can Anybody Hear Me?, I want to talk about this photo I recently posted of myself on Instagram. On the left is my race photo from the 2012 Tinkerbell Half Marathon, and on the right is my race photo from the Star Wars Half Marathon this past January:

A photo posted by Thu (@vivaglamr3d) on

Normally, I'm wary of Before/After photos, and I also don't like to emphasize weight loss, because it's not my goal, but I do want to talk a little bit about my weight loss.

Sometimes I feel guilty about pointing out that I've lost weight. Why? Well, a big part of it is that THINNER is a societal mandate. You can't escape it - everyone and everything in mainstream media encourages thinness, sometimes at the expense of your own health. It took me a long time to stop making weight loss my focus and to learn one very important thing: my body will do whatever it wants to do. I'm going to keep pursuing the activities that I love, and my body might lose weight as a result, or it might not, and I've made peace with the idea that it doesn't matter what the numbers on the scale are, as long as I'm happy with the life I'm living.

Lisa (from the above blog post) is right when she says that it's problematic to associate your "After" with a number. Your appearance may change, and your clothing size may change, but you never stop being who you are - your struggles and insecurities are not going to change. Your insides are not going to change just because your outside has changed; you need to change your insides.

And I'm not saying "you need to change your insides" as an admonishment. I'm saying that nothing can take the place of learning to love and accept yourself. Some people think that hitting their goal weight will help them do that, and for some people it works*, but I think a lot of people find that the internal unhappiness they were feeling before, in their "Before" bodies, still exists even after the pounds have melted away.

Weight loss was my goal for many years, and while I was successful in that endeavor for a time, I wasn't happy. To be honest, it constantly felt like work, and not the good, satisfying kind, but a stressful, anxiety-filled chore.

I stopped exercising and dieting for weight loss, and I started training for specific sports and eating to fuel my training, and it changed my life, not because of any weight loss that might happened, but because I learned to see my body in an entirely different light. I also learned to see weight loss itself in a different light - I stopped caring about having a "hot body," and started caring about having an efficient one, one that can run faster or lift heavier. If I'm trying to lose any weight right now, it's because I want to be better at my sports. But I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal health or happiness for that weight loss, so it either happens or it doesn't, and it's all the same to me; my body will do whatever it wants to do. 

And you know what? My weight hasn't budged much. As I wrote on my FB, the numerical difference in weight between my two pictures is less than 10 pounds, which only goes to show that the numbers on the scale don't tell the whole story. I've only lost a single-digit net amount of weight in the last three years, but in that same span of time, I've run 3 marathons and 22 half marathons, and in the past six months alone, I've brought my powerlifting total to 840 (385 deadlift/315 backsquat/140 bench press). People might tell me I look better now, and I'll accept it as a compliment, but the truth is that I don't look better; I feel better, and it's because I'm happy about the things I've achieved, which are not wholly dependent on weight loss.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't be mindful of your body and your physical health; I'm saying that your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health, and that thinness doesn't necessarily equate to physical health anyway. (And, for the record, health and fitness aren't the same thing either, even though I'm using them interchangeably right now.) Just like there's no magical pill for weight loss, there's also no magical number for personal fulfillment and self-actualization.

So, she's right. There is no After; there is only hereafter. There is no magical point where all your troubles and struggles will disappear, and everything will be sunshine and rainbows. There is just you, your body, for the rest of your life, and the lifelong battle to love yourself in the face of everything that encourages self-loathing. I have not reached my After, and I probably never will, and that is okay.

* There are definitely cases where weight loss will significantly improve people's quality of life. I will not deny that. I'm not here to judge which cases those are, either. I'm just acknowledging that they exist.