They were all shapes and sizes, ranging from twenties to fifties, I’d say. Some had paunches and slumped shoulders, others were toned and ripped (is that the word?) – standing proud. Look at me proud. And I did look – I couldn’t help it – they were right in front of me…
They weren’t in the flesh, though. Yeah, sorry about that – I led you on. No, they were photos blown up big on posters advertising a local gym.
The slumped beer-belly shots were the BEFORE shots and the I-might-be-an accountant-but-I-could-also-be-in-an-ageing-boyband shots were the AFTER.
Anyone in London will have seen these posters all over the tube. They are everywhere. Reminding us that we all need to get our act together, join a gym, drink protein shakes – then you too could be an AFTER shot! And your life will be perfect! Men/Women will think you’re hot! You’ll get a promotion! Just sign up for £70 a month….
I was once a BEFORE and AFTER shot for a gym. I was part of a six week challenge to drop a dress size by gym-ing five times a week and cutting out all sugar and booze and carbs. I lost eight pounds in the process, got a semi-six-pack and went from a size 14 – a size 10.
I won’t lie, it was cool.
I remember looking at myself in the mirror thinking ‘Wow, this is is. You are officially a slim person. This is a good body.’
It was brilliant to go into shops and know that anything I tried on would fit and probably look good. It was a joy to look in the mirror and not hate what I saw. The exercising also had a huge effect on my energy and mood. Mum reckoned it was like I had a personality transplant because whenever she asked me how I was I’d say ‘Fine! Great!’. She was not used to this.
But the high didn’t last. After a few months of prancing around in my skinny jeans, nothing had changed. Men were not falling at my feet. My mood was better but the sun did not shine every day. I still had deadlines and bills.
I was still me. Just with a three-and-a-half-pack and smaller boobs.
A few months later, I moved away from my gym. I joined a new one but never went. I made excuses that I didn’t like the machines. Or the changing rooms. Or the music they played. Before long I’d slipped back to BEFORE shot me.
So what next? I felt like I was running out of options.
For years I’d thought that getting promotions would make me feel like an AFTER shot, but it didn’t work. I’d thought the same with the designer handbags and going to fancy places. They didn’t work either. I’d kind of had my hopes pinned on the being skinny thing. But that had been a let down too.
And so I set my sights on self-help. If I could just do a BEFORE and AFTER on my personality – that would do the job! Yes I would do a bootcamp for my head – a 15 month psychological bootcamp!
The whole of this blog was basically a long BEFORE and AFTER…. but three years and a half years down the line, I didn’t get to the AFTER I was after. I didn’t get rich, didn’t get mountains of confidence, didn’t walk into the sunset with a hot lawyer…
In a way the book was meant to be the big AFTER.
Look! Unhappy, neurotic girl does lots of self-improvement and ends up with a book deal and a Hollywood movie! What better ending than that? All the mess of the blog – and indeed my life – would be tied up in a neat bow and a red carpet!
Clearly it hasn’t worked like that. Forget major book deals and Hollywood, well right now I’m just so grateful that I did not have a complete mental breakdown last year.
But even if it had got what I wanted, would it have been what I thought? Probably not.
Talk to any gazillionaire/Hollywood star (and I chat to them often, ha) and they’ll say that , will say that the money/fame/sex with supermodel does not make them happy.
Talk to anyone who anyone who finally found the man of their dreams, or started a family, created a successful business – or even written a best-selling book – and they’ll tell you that they still struggle. They still have doubts, fears, stresses. Nothing is perfect. Even when you’ve got the thing you’ve always dreamed of.
I’ve now realised that there are no BEFORE and AFTERS in life. There is just a series of beginnings. You get up every day and begin again. And again. And that’s it.
AFTER is an illusion. A mirage that we’re all killing ourselves to get to.
So let’s stop. Let’s stop treating our lives as a frustrating ‘BEFORE’ shot. Sure, go to the gym, lose the weight, write the book, keep swiping on Tinder – but never do these things in the belief that they will give you the happy ending you want. They won’t.
Life is not an obstacle you have to overcome in order to get to the place where you life will REALLY begin…
There is no BEFORE and AFTER – there is just NOW. And when you realise that, it takes a lot of the pressure off. At least that’s what I’m finding.
So right now i’m going to head out to my local coffee shop and have a flat white and a cinnamon pastry. It’s what my non-existent personal trainer would want.
Then I’ll come home and get back to work. Again. And I will do my best to remember that in many ways the life I’m living now would have been the AFTER shot in my head a few years ago – and that even though it’s not perfect, it’s the moment that comes BEFORE more things, some good, some bad… but all part of life.