How many times have you come across a social media post where an individual sets multiple photographs of their body side by side in comparison? How many times have you witnessed the claims “I am so happy with my body now” and “I believe in body positivity” uttered within the same breath? You might be wondering what exactly is wrong with either of these statements, and that is exactly why a conversation about this phenomenon and its implications is necessary.
While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it.
The example I mention above is a result of a culture driven by a need to constantly be in progressive motion. The very existence of the Before/After binary depends on seeing one side as superior to the other. It connotes that the Before image is something to be reviled and altered, while the After image is the one to aspire towards. Many claim that such a comparison merely functions to motivate the self and others to achieve difficult goals, but this is a common and harmful misconception that we unknowingly fall into.
While many of us undertaking fitness journeys claim to be body positive, our public treatment of our past body betrays an explicit disdain for it. Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body—and celebrating its transformation into a thinner, conventionally more beautiful body vehemently opposes the notion of all bodies deserving respect.
While there is absolutely no harm in establishing goals for personal betterment, either for physical or mental health, it is critical to recognize the line between personal projects and the way they are publicly celebrated. In a society where fat-shaming is increasingly common and socialization dictates that all must conform to certain bodily standards, the public shaming of our own bodies contributes to the same regressive notions. Too many people keep engaging in discussion about their bodily transformations in a manner that actively excludes those who have failed to meet the same standards.
Often, this past body is the bigger body, the fatter body—the “uglier” body.
When someone openly shames their own unfit body, they automatically convey the same message to others who may also be struggling with their own body image. In cheering our own transformations, we propagate that those with even bigger, and hence “worse” bodies, are automatically in need of changing.
The same is the case with a common tendency to constantly refer to our bodies as “fat” or “ugly” while interacting with others. Too many people, especially young girls, are in the habit of publicly degrading their own bodies while talking about them. I am certain many of us can admit to sharing our photographs with a disclaimer like “I look fat but…” without a second thought.
In truth, when we publicly self-shame, even as victims of conditions like body dysmorphia, we unintentionally end up reproducing the same standards that oppress us. In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own. It’s an endless cycle where everyone suffers.
Of course, those producing this self-shaming discourse are its own primary victims. By setting a standard of progress that is rooted in physical transformation, we tie our own self-worth to our body image. In instances where we fail to consistently replicate similar progress, we shame ourselves for failing. Many times, the strive from a Before to an After results in a never ending cycle where every After is a new Before, and no ultimate satisfaction is achieved.
In vilifying our own bodies, we pass on the same message to others who may, in turn, compare our bodies to their to their own
The constant need to always be doing better is a pressure that most of us are victim to in today’s fast-paced world, where personal worth is inherently tied to productivity. Fitness journeys, fad diets, and Before/After transformations exist within this very context, and necessitate us to be in constant flux. It is normal to fall victim to the standards that are constantly pushed onto us through media, societal conventions and our own interactions, but it is time to question our own role in reproducing them.
It is entirely possible to celebrate achieving our personal goals without shaming our past selves in the process. If we must strive towards betterment, then let it be in our treatment of our bodies. Verbal narratives hold power, and it is never too late to start being mindful about how we talk of our bodies. Let us start a healthier cycle of kindness to ourselves and, in turn, to others.