Type “Neghar Fonooni” into Google Images, and you'll see a variety of pics that look just like you’d expect from an incredibly fit and inspirational fitness professional. But if you dig a little deeper (as in, click your way to Fonooni’s popular Facebook page Eat, Lift, and Be Happy), you’ll come across a pair of photos that sparked a powerful conversation around body image on the Internet.
Last May (2014), Fonooni participated in a photo shoot for which she "wasn’t photo-shoot ready.” Reflecting on the experience the next day, she was inspired to share the "reverse progress" photo below, showing the world that fitness professionals aren't always epically lean and super sculpted, that weight fluctuations are normal, and perhaps most importantly, that her choice to give up calorie-counting and pursuit of leanness was the healthiest one she could've made. The refreshingly honest post has since gone viral, garnering more than 3,700 shares and 2,032 comments within the first five days.
Check out the full post that originally appeared on Facebook below:
"This Is My 'Reverse Progress' Photo"
In 2009 I was 120 pounds and 12 percent body fat. I was ripped out of my mind and also ACTUALLY out of my mind. I counted every last calorie and worked out about two hours per day. I was in an abusive relationship, lacked confidence, and only felt good about myself when I was lean. I weighed myself every single day and allowed that number to dictate how I felt about myself.
Today I weigh roughly 134 pounds and probably am about 17 to 18 percent body fat. I don't actually know, to be honest. I work out 15 to 30 minutes per day, and once a week, I do a longer strength only session, allotting more time for rest. I enjoy red wine on the regs, and while I eat a nourishing diet, I don't stress out over food. When I travel, I indulge in local cuisine. I am active, strong, and fit. I'm not RIPPED, and I honestly DO NOT care.
Why? Because any time I want to get shredded again, I know what to do. I know that I'll need to tighten up my diet, and I know that I'll need to be patient; leaning out will take a significant amount of time. I just don't WANT to do that right now, and that's okay.
I call this "reverse progress,” but I actually think it's real progress. I'm happier now.
Being lean isn't my top priority. If it was, I'd work for it. My priority right now is being the best mom and wife I can be. My purpose is to teach women how to love and embrace their bodies, and should they want to be leaner, show them how to do it without going crazy.
I'm sharing this with you because I want you to see that fitness professionals aren't perfect. We aren't always shredded and we shouldn't just show you our highlight reel. Sometimes I'm leaner than others, and that fluctuation is normal. It took me years to be okay with that and to accept my body just as it is, 10 pounds up or down. I could look at that picture from 2009 and feel badly about myself for gaining weight, or I could look at the picture from a few weeks ago and feel proud of myself. I choose to feel proud.
In the picture on the left, I was miserable. Today I am free as a bird. I've chosen not to let my body fat percentage dictate how I feel about myself and fully accepted my body and all of its beautiful imperfections. I hope you will too.
When we reached out to Fonooni about sharing her story on Greatist, she didn’t hesitate for one second. But in light of some negative comments, there’s one thing she wants to make clear:
“I am not, in any way, insinuating that one of these bodies is better than the other… The point was not that ALL shredded chicks are miserable or that being lean is terrible. The point also wasn't to discourage proper nutrition and exercise. The point was (is) that as a professional, my body changes. I'm not always perfect, but I strive to always be my fittest self, mentally, emotionally, and physically. When I was super lean, I did it for the wrong reasons. I did it because I didn't like myself, and I defined myself by my physique. Now if I wanted to get that lean again, I could, but it would be from a healthier place.”
Starting a Movement
Fanooni’s “reverse progress” photo was the first to get our attention, but she’s not the only one putting herself out there to encourage women (and men) everywhere to embrace their bodies. Australian photographer Taryn Brumfitt, a 35-year-old mother of three who acquired Internet fame last year for unapologetically declaring love for her post-baby figure, is back in the spotlight with a Kickstarter campaign. Her goal is to create a documentary titled Embrace that explores our obsession with body perfection.
Fonooni and Brumfitt share a common message: Physical "perfection" doesn’t always translate into happiness. We couldn't agree more and are stoked to keep the conversation going.
Do images of real, healthy women help you stay inspired to reach your goals? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with the author at @liveandlerner.