Why You Can't Trust Bikini Photos

I’m gonna get extra real with you today.

I recently read this article by coach Mel Wells, fellow diet-ditcher and body love advocate, titled “How to Stop Hating Every Photo of Yourself”. Mel bravely put 6 seemingly ‘perfect’ photos of herself on her blog and dissected them- telling us how her ‘perfectly’ slim body and flawless makeup didn’t accurately reflect what was going on inside her mind and life.

This article was raw. And it hit home for me.

I used to have internal freak-outs whenever I knew there would be photos taken during a night out with friends, a family gathering, whatever it was. I wanted to look good. It was so important to me to impress everyone who might look at that picture. I wanted them to say, “Wow, Kyla really has her shit together. Just look at how toned her calves are!”

...Because aren’t toned calves just the complete epitome of having our lives perfectly in place???

Sheesh. I was so unhappy in my own life that I thought the best I could do was to at least excel in weight training and clean eating. As long as I had a body that evoked envy (and this was exactly the sentiment I was going for), everyone would think I’m doing just fine, right?

Turns out, it didn’t really matter what anyone else thought. It didn’t matter if I had 4-pack abs or a squishy tummy, ate nothing but vegetables or indulged in cookies, lived at the gym or avoided it...nothing in my life changed until I did the inside work.

Following Mel’s example, I’m gonna show you 4 photos taken at different stages in my food & body journey, and I’ll tell you the truth behind the bod.

Top Left: This photo was taken of me and my beautiful sisters in Costa Rica. Less than a year beforehand, my fascination with nutrition and fitness began. While it was innocent and healthy at first, things quickly moved to a dangerous level, and here is where my body dysmorphia really kicked in. I was working hard in the gym and so looked forward to showing off my ‘progress’ on the gorgeous beaches of Costa Rica. However, after these pictures were taken (and we took a lot of bikini photos), I was crushed. I thought I looked fat and totally untoned in every picture. I couldn’t believe that all of my hard work in the gym hadn’t gotten me to my dream body. I felt so stupid, thinking “How could I possibly be so demented to think that my abs were toned enough?!” This only reinforced my drive to restrict my food and double my workouts.

Top Right: About 2 years later, this was taken on the beach in Tel Aviv. I loved my ‘results’ with this photo. My abs looked shredded, I was posing perfectly, and that bikini top suffocated me enough to make my boobs look larger than life. When I posted this picture on Facebook, I wanted the whole world to see how good I looked so they’d think I was amazing for traveling the world and keeping up with my perfect body. What can’t you see in this photo? The fact that I hadn’t eaten anything besides a handful of walnuts that day, because I didn’t feel like I deserved any more food. After seeing this picture, I knew I had to ‘keep up my good work’ and I’m pretty sure I only ate some tomatoes and cucumber later that day. While I was never one for majorly restricting my calorie intake this drastically, I just didn’t care about truly taking care of myself.

Bottom Left: Less than a year later and my list of ‘off-limits’ foods had grown to an all-time high, and so had my binge eating. I spent most of my time calculating the timing of my meals to burn fat most efficiently. I was living in Argentina at the time of this photo, and I barely ever ate any of the amaaazing culinary delicacies unique to Argentina. Living my life and exploring a new culture was not more important to me than having a thin body. While I really wanted to try all of the delicious Argentine foods, I stuck safely inside my kitchen with my veggies and oil-free peanut butter. I told myself that “I just couldn’t eat those foods” because I was addicted to sugar and had to heal my metabolism (I was neither broken nor addicted, by the way, I just needed a reason to tie to my frequent bingeing). What I told myself was for health was actually driving me to be less healthy than I'd ever been. Just a couple hours before we took this picture, I had a serious binge. I spent the whole night trying to calculate how many calories I was burning on the dance floor. 

Bottom Right: This was taken in September while I was traveling in Austin with my boyfriend. Slouched posture, belly peeking out of my high-waisted shorts, and loving life. I’m wearing a crop top (!!!) - something I never would’ve DARED to wear years before, because I didn’t think I deserved to feel good in a crop top until my body looked a certain way. At the time in my life, I had started to really grasp my body’s signals with food and embrace my body for what she is, not what I’m impossibly forcing her to be. During this vacation I devoured ice cream, cookies, and lots of brunches at amazing Austin restaurants. And I didn’t feel guilty. I just felt happy and excited, simply because food is delicious. And you know what else? My body did exactly what I expected her to do- she digested my food and balanced me out day by day. All I had to do was listen to her. More importantly, this vacation was not about the food or what my body looked like in photos. It was about the memories.

In those first three pictures, I was forcing my body to be my happiness. I didn’t know how else to manifest it. I figured that once I had those toned arms, that flat tummy, and never craved sugar again, I’d finally feel the peace and joy in life that I was so desperately seeking. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - happiness is an inside job. Our bodies should have no bearing on how beautiful, worthy, or happy we feel on any given day...and truthfully, your body can't (authentically) give you any of those valuable feelings anyway. 

It’s so easy to assume that a woman with a perfect body is perfectly happy as well. That she loves her body and doesn’t have to fight to keep it that way. That she is blossoming with abundance in every area of her life. But we can never really know these things. Always remember that.

I didn’t realize until after I chose to show you these pictures that they were all taken while I was traveling or living abroad. In 3 of them, I was so focused on my body and being thin that I forgot to live my life. You’ll never look back on your life and remember how clean you ate or how muscular your ass was. What you will remember are the sunsets, the laughs, and the relationships that you built. Don’t forget to do that before it’s too late, okay?