Ever since I was in 9th grade I have known that my purpose in life is to help others realize how amazing they are. Sometimes my means for achieving this have perhaps appeared clumsy and weird, especially since while I have studied these subjects on my own, without getting a related degree (my B.A. and M.A. have nothing to do with this), I am not a therapist, dietician, or physician. I remember in 9th grade reading a book about physical and emotional development as girls travel through puberty, and sharing my newly acquired knowledge with a girlfriend, and soon her friends (girls and boys) were coming to me for advice so I then read the boy version. Since then, I have keenly studied everything I can get my hands on related to psychology, neuroscience, nutrition, exercise, spirituality, personal growth, and so on. But usually, while these lessons and instruction have informed me in a way that they have shaped the way I intellectually tune in to people, I have found that my most productive and rewarding guide has been my own intuition. And sometimes my intuition has led me to accompany someone on their personal journey in ways that would never be in a textbook.
That being said, while I am certain that business and marketing books and classes and webinars encourage companies and distributors to prey on consumers’ deepest emotional vulnerability, I am quite certain that health providers, both physicians and psychological, would agree that this approach is extremely damaging. I am talking about the way companies and individuals make the most of pervasive, free social networking media in order to get us where we are most vulnerable – our insecurities about our appearance.
Whether you are on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc – it is virtually impossible to escape all of the Before and After “success” stories. I completely understand the seductiveness, first of feasting our eyes on the transformation, and then reading the unbelievable speed and superhuman degree of commitment with which this transformation was achieved. Ever since I started reading Shape Magazine in my 20s (I don’t anymore), I also have been fascinated by these inspiring stories. Shape Magazine, to its credit, only publishes stories where the protagonist has lost weight by making lifestyle changes (i.e. not by starving and consuming only blended liquids), and has kept it off for a few years. These types of stories are truly motivating. They provide hope.
When I look at the B&A pictures on Facebook (I have unfollowed every single person I know who posts these, but a few creep through), I quite frankly feel dismay. It makes me feel sad that adults would see their value summed up in a Before picture where they apparently hated themselves and then an After picture where suddenly they have achieved Nirvana, have all the answers, and are eager to teach (read: sell to) others. Some people do continue to live with some positive, healthy changes that undoubtedly are a great improvement on the tailspin in which they were previously living. That thought makes me happy. And I also am happy for the people who are achieving their financial goals, because making money is important. I am happy for the people who finally feel that they are part of a group that is encouraging personal development, supporting others, believing in self, because I know that sort of social group can be hard to find. Those are great things.
Where I am most sad isn’t with what I see as unethical practices such as exaggeration and misrepresentation. I am most dismayed by the reduction of wonderful, kind, smart, beautiful people, to a set of images that focuses on something as superficial and impermanent as one’s body, primarily one’s midsection. This is not mindful living, mindful work, or mindful transformation.
Mindfulness, I think, is about living in a way that is paying attention, being authentic, being compassionate, being present. Often in my Poga classes I invite participants to let go of the tendency to compare. When we come to the mat, let us let go of the notions that we have of who we were (and looked like) 5 years ago, 5 minutes ago, or our vision of ourselves in 5 months. Let us focus on how and who we are today, in this very moment, this very breath. There is no Before and After because Before no longer exists, and After is never promised, so all we have is Now. Who we are right Now is what matters the most, and when we start to notice our breath, the way our body feels, our emotions, our thoughts, the way we react or don’t react – that is the beginning of true transformation. This type of awareness is not available in a cleanse, and there are no guarantees or shiny promises. Learning to cultivate this type of awareness is not something that will be evident in photos of people in different stages of undress, in different lighting conditions. But this is the type of journey that I would love for more people, especially parents, to be curious about.
I don’t want my 14-year-old daughter to see her body as a sum of different parts, which reflect values and their lack of, such as commitment, discipline, morality. It is my wish for her to love, or at least be kind to, the way she looks and feels. To me, there is no dignity in posting these sorts of photos and updates on social media. There is no compassion for self or others in so doing. There is no kindness in denying ourselves real food. I want my daughter to accept that certain stages of life have different effects on our priorities, energy, motivation – and it is all part of the journey and it’s all good. Do we have to stay there? No. But let’s not hate it or make fun of it or invite others to do the same. And while my parenting is always a work in progress, one thing I am absolutely certain about is that our children are our mirrors, and they will absorb and model everything we do. So let’s try to proceed mindfully, starting with how we treat and talk to and think of ourselves. Not Before. Or After. Now.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.