I’ve had the same Weight Watchers “Before” photo for nearly 12 years.
It is of me and my ex-husband, drinking wine at an outdoor cafe in the Fifth Arrondissement in Paris — the day after my 31st birthday.
My friend Nora calls it the perfect before photo, pointing to the visible roll at my belly, the buttons straining at my pre-reduction breasts, gaping fabric, and my somewhat distorted face.
I share this photograph with new Weight Watchers members as a way of creating rapport and earning credibility — as if to say “I’ve been there…I know” and also, “this is possible” without uttering a word.
Some gasp. Others laugh uncomfortably. A few offer up kind words like, “You were still cute.” Occasionally I am asked, somewhat rhetorically, “This is you?” to which I reply “the other is my ex husband,” and sometimes add, “it is his ‘before’ photograph too.”
Last week I heard something different, something I hadn’t heard before — twice, from two different people.
“Are you still with him?”
I was taken aback. It seemed out of context, but also surprising, as for so many years, so many of the members knew him — or at least of him.
He was the one pushing the basket at Trader Joes. The bike racer turned massage therapist turned doctor who helped guide this girl who failed gym class into a reluctant athlete who dabbles in bike centuries and triathalons. The one who asked if I earned more activity points in the winter, as I surely burned more calories trying to keep warm. The reason I left California and then Chicago — choosing to flank him on his journey from medical school to residency to doctor.
But I rarely, if ever, mention him in Weight Watchers meetings anymore.
Thursday, after my lunchtime meetings closed, I shared the twice-asked, seemingly unusual question — “are you still with him?” — with my colleagues and added, “I think I need a new ‘before’ picture.”
It feels like more than a gentle nudge from the universe telling me to “move on” — to find another 35-pounds-heavier reminder of who I used to be, because offering up a photograph of the two of us more than half a dozen times each week is no longer serving me.
And so I wonder what else I might be doing that doesn’t contribute to my “moving on.”
There isn’t much of our past surrounding me — I left most of it with him in Seattle. A cooking pot, French coffee press and a three-season sleeping bag. My Italian road bike, a pair of snowshoes and a lithograph by an African artist called “Masks of the Healer #2.” It hangs over my dining room table, a sort of talisman watching me as I write.
I also removed him from my feed on Facebook after being “greeted” by a photograph of him, his girlfriend and his new cats on Christmas Day. It wasn’t the image of him and another woman that bothered me so much (I’d seen photographs of the two of them before.) It was the juxtaposition of him in his new life, wearing his old bathrobe — a plaid flannel, L.L Bean — that got to me.
And yet, I was still typing part of his name and social security number several times each week — using the combination as a secondary password. So yesterday at work, I changed it to something more me-centric.
But finding the right before picture is more challenging. We were together for 15 years, so he is in many of my photographs. (My mother’s too. She cut him out of the one on top of her bureau.) Also, I didn’t keep many photographs of me 35 pounds ago. I had ceased to be that woman.
And I’ve ceased to be that married one as well.
There are other befores. And there will be other afters.