I’m so sad about all the pictures I’ve taken in my life, believing that who I was at the moment only deserved to be the first step in a series of before and after pictures.

I mean, what is the after? When does that come? Does anyone ever really reach a point in which they are an after? Because I’m not convinced that snapping a picture during a high point qualifies as an after.

To put it simply, I am no longer interested in treating today like the crappy/sad/depressed/fat/not-good-enough before to what might someday become an amazing/happy/energetic/skinny/good-enough after.

I am more than before and after pictures. I am a work in progress. Always have been. Hope to always be. 

All that being said, I would love to go back in time and give younger me some loving advice. Maybe younger you could have benefited from these words. Maybe current you could, too.

RELATED: Take the Picture, Mama—Your Older Self Will Thank You 

Dear 18-year-old me:

Either buy the bikini in your size and wear it or leave it on the rack for someone else. Buying a suit that’s a size too small isn’t a motivating goal, it’s just a really weird way to torment yourself for nothing. And, oh my gosh, you are beautiful. Wear the suit and go have fun!

Dear 25-year-old me:

Wear the dang shorts. You’ve got two beautiful daughters, you’re an amazing mom, your husband thinks you’re smoking hot, and you are healthy and strong. The jiggle of your thighs has no say here. And, oh my gosh, you are beautiful. Wear the shorts.

Dear 30-year-old me:

Come here and let me hug you. I know you are so tired, but you’re still going. All day, every day, you take care of everyone else. You love your people well, but it’s harder to take care of yourself. Joining that gym was scary, but it was a brave step. You walk on that treadmill, girl. Look at you running! Yes, you look a little silly figuring out the weight machines, but so does that muscly dude admiring his biceps in the mirror. Who cares? Keep going and kick anxiety’s butt every time you sweat it out, but trust me when I tell you that your pant size doesn’t matter in the slightest.

And, oh my gosh, you are beautiful. Keep showing up for you.

Hypothetically speaking life-changing truth to my younger self is one thing, but I’m going to be honest with you. It’s much more difficult to speak that kindness to current me. Still, I want so deeply to give myself the love, encouragement, and acceptance I wish I’d given myself my entire life. So here it goes. 

Dear current me (and you, too):

It’s not about the before and after pictures. It’s only ever been about showing up. You are a work in progress and with any luck, you always will be. So take the pictures, but not because you need to prove by comparison how wonderful someday you might be. Take the pictures because today is a gift and you’re living it. High five for showing up!

RELATED: I’m in My 40s and Finally Hitting My Stride

Your daughter is watching, and she still believes exercising makes you strong and healthy food gives you energy. Join her in that truth and don’t fall back into the trap that says those things exist to make you skinny or otherwise acceptable. So go! Take that hike. Hop on the treadmill. Try that new workout. Have fun! Aim for strength, confidence, stamina, and happiness. Don’t get sucked into the headspace that says a number on a scale or a size on a tag can make you any more or less worthy of this beautiful life you’ve been given.

Live your life. Love your people. Don’t forget to love you, too.

You are not a before picture . . . you are an amazing work in progress. And, oh my gosh, you are beautiful.


Originally published on the author’s blog

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Mandy McCarty Harris

Mandy McCarty Harris lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, young daughter, three dogs, and eleven backyard chickens. She writes about living happily in the messy middle of life. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and at HappyLikeThis.com

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