Cast in Amber

Cast in Amber: Before and After Weight Loss

Writing in the Guardian, Dejan Jotanovic captures a fundamental flaw in the public conception of obesity. It is a singular fixation on weight loss, before and after. It squeezes life into two snapshots, leaving little respect for diversity:

“My difficulty with body transformation photos is that we’re all somebody’s before and somebody else’s after in a system that so brutally values only a narrow margin of physiques. The crowded online environment feeds us an overflowing source of images that reveals to us the body hierarchy: here, one person’s success can all too quickly become another’s source of shame.”

Before and after traps us like fossils cast in amber.

Health, Appearance, and Popular Culture

In this before and after world of weight loss, health and appearance become tangled and popular culture takes over. Celebrity weight loss becomes a pathway to media attention. But it is fleeting and sometimes brutal.

Ashley Nell Tipton won season 14 of Project Runway with a collection that was all about plus-size fashion.

“My body was not allowing me to continue working at my fullest. It was starting to take a toll where it wasn’t allowing me to mentally be healthy, be creative. I just felt like I was killing myself mentally and physically.

“I saw how people tore Gabourey Sidibe to the ground for her weight-loss surgery, so I just had to shut down all those opinions and worry about myself.”

Then, when she went public with her experience in People magazine, the harsh judgments came. “The exact thing that I thought would happen, happened.” Popular culture reduces everything to before and after, body image, and how it’s done. The plus sized community can be especially harsh, as Tipton discovered.

Happily Ever After

Before and after is a trap because it presumes that after is the end of the road. But life goes on. In the long run, health and happiness comes from good self care and healthy relationships. If obesity is a factor in a person’s health, then weight is only one marker of long-term health. Getting to better health is all about working with professionals who understand the whole person and help them find their personal best health. Weight loss plays a different role for different people in different ways.

Let’s discard the before and after weight loss paradigm.

Click here for further perspective from Jotanovic and here for more on the fraught world of celebrity weight loss.

Cast in Amber, photograph © Giancarlo Marseglia Ceccoli / flickr

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February 4, 2021