The before and after picture is a familiar sight to anyone who’s spent any time at all looking at Instagram or other ‘fitness’ social media spaces. In years gone by I would spend HOURS pouring over these pictures and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of posting these myself in the past.
But a while back I made the decision to stop taking these before and after pictures. And, despite it being extremely widespread in my industry, I NEVER ask my clients to take pictures of their bodies either.
So why have I turned my back on the ‘before’ and ‘after’ transformation photo?
They make physical appearance the focus of exercise
I’m starting to feel like I bang on about this all the time, but making physical appearance the measure of your progress is a bad, bad idea. There are so many wonderful reasons to exercise that have absolutely nothing to do with changing how your body looks.
I always advise my clients not to set goals that relate to physical appearance. But even if your goal is based on changing your body somehow, posting ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures is still not a good approach. These pictures promote the idea that shaming yourself and your current body is motivating. It may feel that way in the short term, but I promise you, no one has ever hated themselves into long-term, healthy, sustainable weight loss. And millions have tried!
In fact, the opposite is true as this study shows – the study found that participants who experienced ‘weigh discrimination’ (read: body shaming) were 2.5 times more likely to become obese. Learning to love, or at least feel neutral towards, your body is the foundation for long-term health. If you care about your body, it becomes easier to take care of it.
But it seems the fitness industry is EXTREMELY slow to get this message. Something that happened to me recently illustrates this very well:
Clearly, the assumption is that the only reason anyone would want to exercise is to lose weight!
They’re unrealistic and misleading
The second reason I never ask clients to take before and after pictures is that these pictures are not even always what they profess to be! Countless people have debunked the ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture online, showing how easy it is to fake a transformation with the right lighting, posture etc.
Heck! There’s even a Buzzfeed video showing how easy it is to fake a before and after.
The truth is, oftentimes these pictures are sales tools. Before and after pictures are powerful weapons in the bid to get people to part with their cash! The diet industry is MASSIVE. And PTs and other companies that sell diet programs are well aware that before and after pictures drive sales, even if they don’t drive results (more about that later).
And even when the pictures are genuine, they don’t show what people did to achieve that weight loss/transformation. Instead, these pictures are published online and everyone heaps praise on that person for ‘transforming’ their body without any consideration of the methods they may have employed to achieve those results. Sometimes, it later transpires that the body in the ‘after’ picture is actually the body of someone in the grips of anorexia or some other serious eating disorder.
Let that sink in for a second.
We are being encouraged to celebrate a body showing the effects of a life-threatening illness.
In a backlash against this, some people have started sharing ‘reverse’ before and after pictures to talk about the unhealthy and unsustainable things they did to achieve the bodies they used to have.
Lately I’ve been wondering how I made it out alive. Because really, I shouldn’t be here. 7 years ago I was lying in a hospital bed and my parents were being told that I might not make it through the night. 6 years ago I was binging until I was sick. 4 years ago I was working out every day until the room started spinning and everything went black. When starvation wasn’t enough there were laxatives and diet pills, ANYTHING to make me smaller. Anything to make me more perfect. I don’t tell you about those times in my life to leave you shocked. And I never want you to think that you have to look like the picture on the left for your struggles to be valid – you don’t. Your struggles are so so valid at any size. I tell you about them hoping that you will realise one thing: that if I can go from that fragile girl, 65lbs in a hospital bed completely consumed by anorexia, to the grown, belly roll loving, body positive woman I am today, then anyone can get here. ANYONE. Including you. You can overcome. You can rise up. You can take your power back. And you can sure as hell make peace with your body. You might not see that right now, but I do. So keep going, my love. Rise. ?????
Made a vid about my own Transformation Tuesday ?link in my bio? (the left is a pic from a couple months ago and the right is from 6/7 years ago) . I wanted to share this pic because my transformation was so much more than weight & muscle gain. I went through a mental transformation too. … People may assume that the pic on the right where I’m 3 dress sizes smaller that I was healthier. Because we are conditioned to believe it’s a compliment when someone has lost weight or it’s everyone’s desire to “lose a few lbs”. However I was obsessed to an unhealthy extreme and as you can see the image is HIGHLY photoshopped and all those years ago that’s what I wanted. I thought the skinner I was the more “perfected” I was I’d be happier and a more successful model. Letting go of that pursuit of perfection was the best thing I ever did. And instead of wanting to change my body I started working on being the best version of myself from the inside out and that made me happier and more confident. .. Everyone’s transformations look different and that’s such a beautiful thing. Just always do it for YOU, and know YOU are good enough and worthy of feeling happy, healthy and confident. Look after yourself, practise self-care and let the real you shine. .. Hope you enjoy watching my video, I’d love you to share your transformations in the comments with me. Or let me know more videos you’d like me to make. Because my channel is for you, ILY all ? .. #iskralawrence #everyBODYisbeautiful
This is not your typical transformation, and no, the photos are not reversed. Left is before and right is after ? Please read what @barbellkell_fbg has to say: ••• “Not the typical transformation pic. Left is a year and a half ago – strict macro counting (down to gum, vitamins, cough drops, etc.) Both cardio and strength training 5x a week including two-a-days, strict coaching to the point we were shamed, zero balance, zero living, zero sustainability – I had my full time job and this, which was another full time job basically. By the last week of the 10 week plan, I could barely lift my feet to run on the treadmill because I had zero energy. I had my check up blood work done and my white blood cells were so low the doctor wanted to test me for cancer. CANCER. I promised him it was from my extreme eating habits and carb cycling and begged him to just do another blood test in one month. Instead of reverse dieting like I was supposed to, I had to just eat to survive. I did, my white count went back to normal, and I gained fat. While I was never overweight, I was now depressed and unmotivated. This left pic version of me was NOT healthy at all but hey, I had abs. I lost my cellulite. I had a flat stomach. But with my health suffering, I had to go back to “normal.” The right is today. I eat what I want in moderation but still stay as healthy as I can. I do FBG workouts, with a supportive coach @annavictoria and community. I live. I eat. I drink. I enjoy holidays, parties, outings. I am strong. Here’s the biggest thing – I deleted this pic on the left forever, or so I thought. I never wanted to see it again because I’ve thought about it everyday since I took that pic. It made me sad, depressed, feel bad about myself that I no longer look that way. I found that pic today, hidden in an email to myself from way back. Today is the first day in a year and a half that I can look at that pic and say, “Damn, I love myself NOW.” I feel good. I am strong. I am happy. And that is something I NEVER thought I’d say when looking back at this pic.” . This. This is what FBG is about. Living a healthy life while still LIVING life. ❤️ #fbggirls www.annavictoria.com/guides
And you know what? Even if appearance is your goal, just because one person got particular results in a particular period of time, that doesn’t mean you will. And when you don’t you might get disheartened and give up because you don’t measure up to the before and after photos you saw.
They promote the message that there is something wrong with you – and you need to ‘hate yourself thin’
The final reason I don’t ask clients to take before and after pictures, is they promote the idea that there is something wrong with you are you are. What these pictures say is that the body in the ‘before’ picture is not good enough. It’s imperfect. It doesn’t measure up. It’s worth less than the body in the ‘after’ picture.
What happens if you get ill, or life gets in the way, or you just can’t maintain the unrealistic levels of dieting and exercise that got you the after body in the first place? How do you feel when your body starts looking like the ‘before’ shot again?
I can’t tell you all the hours I have wasted sadly glaring a picture of me from the past, bitterly regretting that I ‘let myself go’ and lost the body I had then. “If only I could be a slim as I was then, everything would be great”.
Not only is this futile, it’s a terrible waste of time and energy. Imagine if instead of lamenting the body we have now or obsessing about the body we used to have, we just got on with living and enjoying our lives?!
And what about other people looking at these pictures? What does it say about your own body if see a similar one on social media as a ‘before’ picture? How does it feel to know your ‘after’ is somebody else’s ‘before’?
I know this post is going to ruffle a few feathers, so what do you think? Do you agree with me that before and after photos do more harm than good? I’d love to know your views – leave me a comment below.