Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cry Uncle

I've always been intimidated by Before & After photos. On the wall at the gym, magazine ads, Xenadrine commercials, pictures of an unhappy schlub were paired with a smiling, thinner, more toned counterpart. Those testimonials made six weeks look like an eternity. How much time, energy, and effort must have been poured into those six weeks to accomplish that result? How many sacrifices? How much pain? How many times and ways do you say goodbye to aspects of your identity that made you into what you are, and into what you've grown to hate? Two photos simply do not encompass enough of the story.

I began to see myself in the mirror as a full-motion Before photo. I hated staring at myself, but I did it anyway. I'd require myself to hold the gaze, identifying which areas I wanted to change - the areas I was bullied for from grade school to grad school. I'd stare until the afterimage stained my eyes when I'd blink. I'd stare until my image lost all meaning, like a word repeated too many times.

I'd stare until I developed enough self-loathing to inspire change.

In college I owned a Polaroid, and with it came the notion that I could take a Before picture of myself and tape it to the mirror. Then, every time I'd pass to or from the shower, I could measure my progress at a glance. I considered taking a series - once a week, perhaps - and watch the progression. It was an idea I never actually tried; the cost of film and inadequate mirror space I thought would tank the idea before it amounted to anything cool.

I've gained and lost a significant amount of weight a few times over the years.  By "a significant amount" I mean I'd get a lot of attention and commentary from people if I hadn't seen them in a while, and by "a few times" I mean once every two years over the last ten. Every time I longed for a decent set of comparison photos, but never had the foresight to know when I'd have an effective round.

The larger frustration was how often the cycle repeated. Gain 30 pounds one year, lose it the next. A set of old clothes shifts to the front of the closet, then back again. A belt cinches up a couple of notches, then releases. I longed for a way to keep the problem solved once and for all, and find other things to worry about.

A digitally kept photo album made possible a tracking system I hadn't imagined. It'd be even better than a simple Before & After because it would tell the whole story. All the pitfalls and moments of despair. Each struggle and every triumph. Strategies attempted, failed, modified, adapted, adjusted. Best of all, it provided the chance to do a time lapse video of my very own. I've always been enamored with those, and the idea of creating one with a long time frame and personal values had a deep significance for me. Just maybe, doing so under such public scrutiny would grant me the permanence I so desired.

But it didn't work.

It's been five months. Every few weeks I'd shift my pattern. Different amounts of exercise, different types of exercise, different diets, different amounts of food or booze or running or lifting, different times of day . . . no difference in the mirror. No difference in how my clothing fit. No difference in how my body felt. The only difference was on the scale, demonstrating that I had, in fact, gained about twelve goddamn pounds.

One person even asked me why the same picture kept reposting since November.

In the end there's only been one thing I'm doing differently than I've ever done before, and that's doing this so publically. How does that matter? I don't know. Why would these pictures supersede all other forms of previously successful tactics? I cannot fathom. What does one have to do with the other? I can't even guess. But I know I can't do this anymore.

If any good has come from this experiment, it is that a few people have told me I inspired them to action, and they're happier for it. Some people expressed trepidation about what others would think of their own posting every day, and my reaction was the same - fuck 'em if they don't like it, they can keep scrolling. None of this is required reading. If it serves you without harming anyone, do it.

I've come to realize my own posting isn't serving me anymore. So I stopped. I have neither plans nor desire to catch up or continue. I'm done with this.

I do still plan to get into shape, mind you. My battles with diet and exercise will remain for years to come, and my health will play a larger role in that struggle the older I get. But apparently this is something I have to do alone if it is to happen at all.

The punchline is that one week after posting the last picture, scale says I lost 6 pounds. So.