Skincare business owner Jennifer Kramer spent much of her life training for marathons, impressively completing 13 in addition to nearly 100 smaller races and two Ironman contests. But despite her ridiculously fit body, her mind wasn't always healthy. To make this point, Jennifer Kramer posted three Instagram and Facebook selfies that represent different stages of her quest toward fitness, along with descriptions of her mental state during each time. The photos and captions were related, but not in the way you might think.
In the first photo, taken while training for her second Ironman competition and a fitness commercial, she appears the thinnest and strongest of the three, but she was the least mentally healthy, she writes:
I set the highest of standards for myself, which now I see was very cruel. I had very little patience, was aggravated easily and was extremely rigid, especially to those around me. My body was fit, strong and healthy and I was in the best shape of my life, but my head was a complete mess.
The second two were taken 15 pounds later (though she's still in amazing shape), when she made a conscious decision to relax more and prioritize mental stability over physical perfection. This time, she writes:
I love that I am now able to observe my actions, learn from them, and move forward without clinging to what my ego has decided is "good" or "bad." Ironic, perhaps, for me to state that physical appearance and self worth don't come from a product in a shiny bottle (considering I own a skincare business) but the truth is that one's beauty comes from deep within... where it's pure and authentic and REAL.
"I realize the more I share with the world, the more authentic and real I am when I share, the more I really connect to others also dealing with confidence issues," Kramer told Bustle over email. Read the full post below:
This series of photos is part of a larger body-positive trend of using before and after pictures in unexpected ways. We're used to seeing "before" photos in diet commercials of larger people and "after" pictures of thin, toned people. Images like these flip this narrative on its head by showing that sometimes it's healthier for both our bodies and our minds to be bigger or less muscular.
Australian photographer Taryn Brumfitt, for example, posted "before" and "after" photos to Facebook after she gained weight and made peace with her body to demonstrate that self-acceptance is a greater goal to strive toward than thinness.
California writer and editor Joni Edelman did something similar when she wrote the article "Being Thin Didn't Make Me Happy, But Being 'Fat' Does," where she explains that counting calories and obsessively exercising made her miserable, but living her life to its fullest and letting her body look the way it naturally does has freed her.
People have been making this same point using the hashtag #HappinessIsNotANumber, which disconnects emotions from clothing sizes and scales.
As messages like Kramer's remind us, happiness really can only come from within, and it's attainable no matter what we look like. "I'm hoping to let others know that we all struggle with confidence to some extent and that even if you are feeling stuck, there IS a way to get out of that mindset. It's just a choice. I hope the work I've done on myself and sharing what I've experienced can help others make that choice, too," she said.