My teenage son went through a hard year after my ex and I separated. He changed his group of friends, he refused to participate in all the team sports he once loved, and then he got caught smoking pot on school grounds more than once and was facing expulsion.
I didn’t even recognize the boy I’d given birth to. He shut me out completely, retreated to his room, and never wanted to discuss why he seemed so angry all the time.
He was desperately searching for attention and help. I tried as hard as I could to give it to him — I was tough on him with punishments, letting him know I cared about him too much to allow this behavior. I spent extra time with him. I tried to get him involved in team sports again and encouraged him to have his old friends over. This went on for almost a year and it was clear he needed more than what I was able to give him.
Nothing my ex-husband and I tried was working and he fell deeper into a depressed and anxious state. My ex and I realized he needed outside help so we got him into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
If you aren’t familiar with CBT, it’s a hands-on approach to help to make changes in the way you feel by giving you tools to help cope with your sadness, anger, anxiety, or whatever you are dealing with. While it’s not for everyone, it was the only type of therapy he agreed to attend because he knew he wouldn’t have to talk about his feelings a lot and it worked beautifully for him.
A few weeks into therapy, my son wanted to join a gym after his therapist explained the benefits of exercise and I couldn’t sign him up fast enough — it was the first time in over a year he seemed excited about something.
He fell in love with lifting weights and wanted to get to the gym 6 days a week. He began taking measurements of his biceps and legs. He started cutting out sugar, and he has many pictures to document his progress. Sometimes he posts them on Instagram, but mostly he keeps them for himself.
I watched my son return to himself through those gym sessions. He’s stuck with it. He’s much happier now. He’s found a healthy way to cope when he feels sad or anxious. And taking and posting his progress pictures have been a part of that journey.
I’m aware that before and after pictures can be triggers for people who have had eating disorders in the past (like me), are in the process of recovering from an eating disorder, or have medical conditions. And of course, if these images lower your self-esteem or make you feel anything less than healthy about your body, they don’t need to forced upon you and you have every right to not look at them.
But think we need to realize the intention behind a lot of those shots is not to make anyone feel like thinner or more fit bodies are better. They aren’t about telling someone else they should change their bodies either.
My son looks at his pictures and he is proud, as he should be. He’s worked hard to achieve those muscles, but even more than that, his hard work helped him through a really rough time in his life. But in no way is he promoting the fact his body is the way everyone’s should look.
A few of my friends and family members rolled their eyes after seeing his muscles pics saying how he was presenting as a “Knucklehead.”
I have problems with this attitude for a few reasons: one, that’s my son you’re talking to, so shut it.
Two: we are constantly posting pictures or videos of our children scoring a goal, making a basket, or singing the solo in the chorus concert, right? Is that the only acceptable way to share certain accomplishments?
I’m not teaching my kids to shrink themselves into a box and that they should only be proud of certain goals that are reached — I encourage those progress pictures.
But the most important reason shaming a progress picture should be off limits is because we have no idea what the person has had to battle to get where they are now.
We don’t know if pilates helped them stop drinking.
We don’t know if running saved them during their divorce.
We don’t know what working out and praising themselves, and wanting to spread that energy, has gotten them through.
We may think it’s narcissistic or conceited at first glance but let’s take a second to rewind here.
A chiseled physique is only one of the benefits here, folks. When someone posts a progress picture, it’s because they are proud of the strides they have made, and it takes guts to be proud of yourself. Especially after you’ve been through some tough shit and have worked through it.
So think twice before you leave a rude comment or roll your eyes at what you see — you probably aren’t getting the whole story.
People work out and document their progress for many reasons — to look and feel better, to spread the energy to others they hope will be contagious.
Or, just maybe, they could be like my son and want to share a happier version of themselves after getting through a rough patch and seeing it through to the other side.