Ask Bodyposipanda: How Can I Look Back At Past Photographs Without Hating On My Present Body?
Today I saw a picture of myself from a few years ago when I was much thinner than I am now. It's completely thrown me into a body hate spiral and I can't stop comparing my current self to that picture. Do you ever look back on old pictures and wish you still had that body? Do you ever wish you were thinner?
Do I ever look back on old pictures and wish I was still thin? Short answer: no. But I did for a long time, and I had to work to let go of that wish.
Since I quit dieting and decided to accept whatever body came with that decision, I've gained around four dress sizes worth of weight. And I regularly get comments from people pointing that out to me as if I hadn't noticed. One comment I caught a while back was left on a post of mine from 2014, at the height of my restrictive diet days, and it said 'don't you wish you could be this thin again?'.
I don't think that person was trying to be offensive, most people genuinely can't understand that thinner does not always mean happier. After all, we've spent lifetimes being told that it does. The biggest lie that diet culture sells us is that our happy ending awaits at the end of the diet brick road, wrapped up in a pretty thin bow. So naturally when we see a picture of someone who's attained that prize of thinness, we assume they must have it all figured out.
Even when it's us in the picture, even when we know deep down that wasn't the case, we still look back with rose-coloured glasses that erase the reality of our lived experience. It's easy to forget what was truly going on behind the scenes when all we're left with is a glossy picture of a body we're told solves everything.
All that person who left the comment saw was a smiling girl with a thin body, their mind connected the diet culture dots and assumed I must have been happy. Do you know what I see when I look at that picture?
I see a girl relapsing into an eating disorder that had already almost killed her once. I see a girl who was still so disgusted with her body that she thought her own mother was lying about how small she looked in the picture. I see a girl whose whole life revolves around numbers and counting and weigh-ins and who was secretly terrified of leaving for that day's event because she knew the food there wouldn't be 'on plan'. I see a girl who would never ever believe that she was thin enough. And the only reason I would ever want to go back to that girl is to give her a hug and try to make her see that she is so much more than thinness could ever give her.
So my advice to you is to check in with the reality behind the rose-coloured glasses. Really remember everything you felt then and don't gloss over the parts that are hard to feel. Reconnect emotionally with the version of yourself in that picture. Chances are, they needed someone like you to tell them exactly what I wish I could tell myself.
And if you look back and remember that you actually were happier then, you must know rationally that your thinness was not a direct cause of that happiness. There are a million different things that go into creating happiness, how your body looks might give you a fleeting boost, but it's not enough by itself. Be honest about what was really going on beyond your body.
After that, close the image. Click away. Let that person go. You don't need to hold on so tightly to one snapshot of who you were when you have a lifetime of memories left to create. For whatever reason, you've outgrown that body. That isn't necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It's just human. Growth and change are just that: human. So allow yourself to be human.
Work on reminding yourself daily that however your body looks right now is where it's supposed to be in this moment. And however it might grow and change in the future as a result of you prioritising your mental wellbeing and treating yourself with respect, is okay too. Trust your body, and keep zooming out to the bigger picture.
Love & bopo,
P.S. If you like this column and want more advice like this, I wrote a whole book of it! You can find Body Positive Power here.