Women often believe that losing weight is the key to being happy. One Instagrammer, Hannah Foster of Northern California, shared two bikini images of herself to illustrate that the number on the scale doesn’t always translate to a happier persona.
In the May 4 photo collage, Foster placed one image of herself in a blue bikini next to an image in which she sports a green one-piece with cutouts at the waist.
“Transformations aren’t always what they seem,” she wrote in the caption. “The girl on the left hated herself vastly more than the girl on the right, even though she weighed 30 pounds less than right-girl.”
Foster tells Yahoo Beauty about the struggles attached to each of the photos — and why she is so much more comfortable with her body in one of the images.
“The blue bikini picture is from 2012 when I lived in Barcelona, Spain,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “I was 20 years old and had recently lost almost 100 pounds. I had been heavy since childhood; I matured very early and started ‘dieting’ when I was in about fourth grade. After losing weight, my body image struggles seemed to pause for about four months, but that just let other image and personal issues come out that had been overshadowed by primarily hating my body.”
The photo was also one of the first times Foster had allowed anyone to take a picture of her in a bikini. “The beaches in Spain are topless, and you see all kinds of bodies — young, old, tan, pale, fit, fat, and anything in between. It really felt like a safe space for a bikini,” she says. “This was the first time I swam in the ocean — I’m from California, but the northern part, where the water is 50 degrees and rocky. I wanted to memorialize this moment.”
Foster explains that even though she was fit in the photo and had recently lost so much weight, she wasn’t happy. “Really, though, this photo is the perfect illustration of looking ‘thinner,’ but truly still disliking myself for a whole host of reasons, body-image-related and not,” she says.
The image beside her bikini shot paints a different picture of Hannah — one she is much happier with. “The green bathing suit photo in the right of the picture was from a recent trip to Hawaii. This was really my body-image revolution trip,” Foster says. “I’ve gained about 30 pounds since the blue bikini picture after a string of mental health diagnoses and the prescriptions that came with [them]. I had to adopt the mantra ‘Losing weight won’t make you love yourself.'”
In order to embrace her curves, she struggled internally for many years. “I told myself, subconsciously and consciously, that if I could just lose a little bit more, restrict calories a little bit more, find a little more time to work out — that I could be happy,” she says.
“The turning point for me was talking with someone about disliking my body and she said, ‘If you talked to another person the way you talked to yourself, you would seem like the most horrible, nasty person. You’re not a horrible, nasty person, so why do you treat yourself that way?’ This just blew my mind.”
Foster realized that accepting her body was essential to improving her mental health. “Just a few months ago, I was struggling to recover from an obsessive problem with tracking calories and restricting them,” she says. “I couldn’t sleep sometimes because I would go over all the ways in my head I wanted to change myself. I would cry in fitting rooms trying to fit into smaller sizes. After living in the waiting room of weight loss for 20 years, I was totally ready to let that go and just be OK right this moment.”
She believes that unrealistic expectations in society can harm women’s body image.
“I think there’s this ideal content point that women fantasize about — I know I did — that if you can just get there then you will be happy and perfect and your whole life will be better,” she says. “This point does not exist.”
She adds: “Beautiful models who admit to hating themselves or starving themselves are the perfect example of why this doesn’t exist; I think women are so used to seeing models and seeing them as the ideal that they think if they can just get there then they’ll be so much happier, but it doesn’t work that way.”
Self-loathing because of insecurities about one’s own body image is something Foster believes is a prevalent issue in society that affects young women.
“I know a lot of women don’t love themselves, because if they did, we wouldn’t have women’s magazines telling us how to improve our bodies and they wouldn’t make any money,” she says. “We wouldn’t have the body-positive movement either; it’s filled with women who hated themselves who are making the journey away from that nasty cycle and just trying to be happy where they are. We wouldn’t need to talk about body image or self-love if there weren’t so many women who looked at themselves and compared themselves to others.”
Foster’s social media posts help her spread a body-positive message to her followers and universal acceptance of all shapes and sizes.
“A stranger sent me a previous post on body image, thanking me for inspiring her because she had struggled with self-love her entire life too,” Foster says. “I find that people identify heavily with images I post that talk about dark places in my body image and mental health journey, but my posts were never intended to inspire other people; I just needed to release my vulnerabilities and Instagram just happened to be the medium I was familiar with. It started really helping other people and that was so wild for me. I never thought that was going to happen.”
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