This Woman's Before & After Photos Get Real About So-Called Bikini Bodies

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
When it comes to the messages we receive about our bodies, we'd be hard pressed to find anything positive in mainstream media. With magazines plastering weight loss tips on their covers and messaging that touts finding your "best self" with a diet, it's no wonder that so many people struggle with body image, self-esteem, and disordered eating. In a world that equates "beautiful" with "thin," and "good" with "skinny," for any of us that fit outside of those unrealistic (and arbitrary) beauty ideals, loving our bodies can be super hard.
Life coach Rachel Spencer took to Instagram to talk about exactly this thing, railing against the "diet culture, fitness, cellulite cream" that society feeds girls and young women. Spencer, who calls herself a "Confidence & Success Coach," posted side-by-side photos of her in bathing suit — one of her as a 13-year-old girl, which she captioned "Low Self-Esteem," and one of her today at 26, which she captioned "Self-Love Queen." These are not your typical "Before and After" photos. There's no drastic weight loss or physical transformation. For Spencer, the change was an internal one.
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In the photo of her as a teen, Spencer sits smiling but hunched over, her arms covering her belly. In the current day photo, she can be seen sitting tall and exposing her midsection in its entirety. "Who taught the young girl on the left to hide her tummy before taking pictures in a swimsuit? Who taught her that at only 13 years old, her chubby little body was unworthy of a photographic memory?" she asks in the caption.

I've been sitting here trying to think of a good caption but this photo just makes me sad when I look at it. So how about I ask you a question: Who taught the young girl on the left to hide her tummy before taking pictures in a swimsuit❓ Who taught her that at only 13 years old, her chubby little body was unworthy of a photographic memory❓ It definitely wasn't her parents or family, so who was it? Well, did you know that this innocent young girl was bullied for her weight? Not by the girls. The girls were nice. But the boys...the boys were mean. From then on out, she never wanted to go to the pool, saw boys as a threat, cried to her teachers, etc etc. Things started to get better in middle school, but then came the media. *Knock Knock* Diet culture, fitness, cellulite cream--CELLULITE?? Why was a 13 year old worried about cellulite??? Because the media told her it was bad. That SHE was bad and needed to change. If you couldn't tell by now, the young girl was me. There's a big difference between the closed off, hiding, young girl on the left and the carefree, happy, open girl on the right. ❤️And that difference is self love.❤️ I taught it to myself. I had to. I had to find a way to be happy. The process wasn't quick. I'm still working on it at 26 years old. But I have a message for all the women who are much older and STILL feel ashamed to show their tummy at the pool: Don't be. Put on that bikini and smile. Don't feel the need to let other people's opinions ruin precious memories with your friends and family. Show your daughters what it's like to flaunt their flaws at the pool. No shame. Your imperfections tell a story. Your body is beautiful. You are BEAUTIFUL.

A post shared by Confidence & Success Coach (@mylifecoachrachel) on

Spencer goes on to talk about being teased by boys when she was younger and then, when she reached middle school, finding that the media took over where the boys left off. She writes, "Why was a 13 year old worried about cellulite??? Because the media told her it was bad. That SHE was bad and needed to change." She says she realized that the problem was not her and she went on a journey of self-love. "The process wasn't quick. I'm still working on it," she says, but, "I had to find a way to be happy."
Her post ends with a message for anyone out there who might be struggling with their self-esteem or body image, who might still be afraid to put on a bathing suit. "Put on that bikini and smile. Don't feel the need to let other people's opinions ruin precious memories with your friends and family. Show your daughters what it's like to flaunt their flaws at the pool," she writes. "No shame. Your imperfections tell a story. Your body is beautiful. You are BEAUTIFUL."
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Spencer's message gets to the heart of what it means to have a "bikini body:" despite what the magazine covers say, you already have one. Simply put a bikini on your body and voila! You're perfect.
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