Before and after pictures are like the slap-chop of the dieting industry.
The visual allure sucks you in and makes you want to “buy buy buy!” They dominate Saturday morning infomercial TV and the sidebar on my Facebook… promising that you’ll lose 4 inches with this one simple trick.
They sell you the promise of looking ripped and therefore being the happiest person in the world, while you prancercize along the beach running your lee press on nails through your perfectly coiffed hair. I’d like to call bullshit on these pictures…
Here are 4 reasons before and after pictures are bullshit:
#1 – They tell you nothing about the person’s health
Let’s be real here, most people are driven to diet in order to look good naked or because they have a faulty association with fat and health. I’m guilty of this myself and it’s what led me into this incredible world of nutritionism and then disordered eatingism. However, this is a problem for two reasons:
a) Being healthy doesn’t make you a better or worse person than anyone else. And frankly, it’s your choice. More importantly, it doesn’t make you any more worthy of love or feeling enough as you are.
b) Just because you have abs and a clavicle that you could hang your dry cleaning on, it does not mean you are healthy. And just because you are fat, it does not mean you are unhealthy.
Take myself for example… this is a picture of me when I was at my ‘skinniest’ from 2005-ish.
Don’t be deceived by my hot sunglasses and pink sash. I was suffering from depression, insomnia and also had some gut issues as well as reactive hypoglycemia. I relied on a few prescription pills to feel normal.
I only cared about being as skinny as possible and therefore I was under-eating and over-exercising and consuming foods that had zero fat, which only made me crazy.
#2 – Fabulous ‘afters’ do not equal confidence
Whenever I see an ‘after’ photo, the person is totally glammed up and plastically happy. Their life must be so wonderful now, right?! I mean, they are standing by the side of the pool posed like a Barker beauty prepping you to bid on the latest VCR. Life. Is. Awesome.
Getting to a certain size or body fat % doesn’t make you happy or confident.
If you are unhappy with your body and think that being leaner will make your life better, you have it all wrong. You don’t wake up one day, have your body fat measured and say, “Yup, I’m happy now…Now I’m confident enough to quit that job that I hate or ask that guy out.” ERRR…wrong. Confidence is something you can have no matter what your shape and size. Letting your body fat dictate when that will happen is a losing battle.
You can be confident and happy in any size.
Confidence comes from doing the things that you are holding back from doing and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. It comes from giving back to others and just relishing being your pure silly self.
People who strive for these types of physiques are often perfectionists and never satisfied. Let’s use the above picture of myself as an example again. At that time I thought I was disgusting. Honestly. I know. Looking back, I definitely had body dysmorphia. It’s ridiculous and I regret ever insulting myself – but truth be told, it speaks to the fatphobic beliefs I had at the time.
I hated my body so much and I was SO self-conscious. I was chronically frustrated and angry for not being able to get as thin as my friends. Things on the inside felt very different from what was happening on the outside.
Odds are good that many of the before and after pictures you see are a false representation of what is happening on the inside. It’s a story that we’ve created based on what the media tells us happens when someone loses weight.
What I know now is that you must love yourself – the person that you are at this very moment – in order to truly be happy. Accepting yourself is one of the keys to a better life and this is not achieved through food.
#3 – The prospect of maintaining this long-term is often bleak.
Generally, the effort that it takes to get to that ‘after’ look is something that would result in a life of constant restriction, hormonal stress and sheer unhappiness. In other words, your social life would suck and at meal time you’d be raging like Kanye West getting his picture taken. I’ll use me as an example again… this is a picture of me when I was at my lowest body fat %.
This picture (taken back in 2008) is the ONLY time in my life that I had a little deltoid definition. Want to know my secret? I was eating ~1,100 calories a day (that’s enough to keep a hamster alive) and exercising 7 times a week (mostly CrossFit and then extra strength and cardio outside the gym). DON’T DO THIS.
I was OBSESSED with measuring my food and tracking every bite that I took. I would feel guilty for eating 1 extra almond and I would drag myself to the gym even when I had no sleep. Does that sound maintainable or healthy to you?? Some would probably say I had an eating disorder or obsession with exercise. I would agree.
And guess what? I still hated my body and wanted to push it even further. The end result was that it contributed to my adrenal fatigue and resulting hormonal issues (low thyroid, estrogen of a post-menopausal woman, no menses).
#4 – Photoshop, lighting, posing and other bullshit tactics the industry uses to sell you their “magic solutions.”
I can easily look at myself in the mirror and look 10 pounds heavier by slouching over, smearing mascara over my face and wearing granny panties. Adding a tan takes at least 5 pounds off…This is a scientific fact because back in my crazy diet days I insisted on being as tanned as possible even when there were 30 centimetres of snow outside. It’s also so easy to manipulate photo’s as illustrated here.
Beauty comes from being confident with who you are and what you’ve got right now. Oprah might call it ‘your authentic self.’ I call it, ‘bitches be’in real.’ Those staged pictures reek of artificial flavours and discomfort. Let your true self shine through and who cares if you didn’t get the best angle.
This is me now… healthy, happy, confident, not giving a crap what other people think and eating whatever I want.
What do you think? Are you sold by the allure of ‘after’ pictures? Sound off in the comments!
Love love looooved that post, Summer! Great advice! It’s so important to remember that being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthy… Going to extremes to lose a few pounds can definitely have consequences.
You go girl!
Visible ribs are every girls dreams? YIKES! Here’s to raising a generation of girls who love their bods!
Thanks for sharing this, and how unrealistic and unhealthy killing yourself for ‘skinny’ can be!
I know it’s so terrible, but I honestly remember being excited that you could see my ribs. Yikes indeed!
Awesome post! Loved and agreed with every word.
I really relate to your history as well, and would be interested to know how you recovered from it. I’m still struggling with the “low thyroid, no menses, estrogen of a post menopausal woman” thing.
Thanks! The road to recovery was a long one… First, my menses stopped when I came off the pill and it never came back. So it’s hard to say whether all the stress was the cause or if it was because I had taken BCPs for 18 years and my body had no idea how to produce a normal cycle. I think it was a combination of the 2 things. I did Acupuncture and was able to get 1 cycle, but then experienced a stressful event so it never came back. It was far too expensive for me to maintain so I started to see a Naturopath – she helped me a ton and was the one who pointed to my adrenals as one of the root issues (my cortisol panel showed that I was low all day). After almost a year of drastically changing my lifestyle and taking many supplements, my adrenals functioned normally again (although they are still sensitive and I have to be careful) but I still had no cycle. And I was still suffering from symptoms of low estrogen/progesterone. After 3 years without a cycle, spending thousands on alternative/holistic treatments and making HUGE changes to my life, I decided to pursue BioIdentical Hormone therapy. It was the best decision that I made…I take estrogen and progesterone BioIdentical hormones that mimic a normal cycle. Immediately my metabolism and libido improved (hooray!!).
Everyone is totally different and some people can fix their issues with simple lifestyle and diet changes. Hormones are so delicate and complex that it can be a tricky thing to ‘fix.’ I usually recommend that my clients see a Naturopath as a starting point to understand what hormones are out of balance and to address the root cause.
Hope this helps!
Thanks so much Summer, that actually helps more than you know. I’ve done a bunch of similar things to help restore my thyroid, adrenals, and estrogen/progesterone and had similar hurdles. I’m currently on Cytomel for my thyroid and taking some supplements for adrenals. It was recommended for me to do the same thing with bioidentical hormones (estrogen and progesterone to mimic a natural cycle) but I have been too scared to try it because I’m afraid of the possible side effects of taking hormones and afraid of having to depend on taking external hormones indefinitely. Did you experience any side effects like weight gain, acne, or anything else from the bioidentical hormones? Were you happy overall with your decision to take them? I feel more encouraged now, hearing your experience, that it might be a helpful option for me!
Glad my experience can help! I was super skeptical at first and really wanted to address the issue naturally, but after 2 years of exhausting all holistic options and focusing on nourishing and de-stressing myself, I decided to just meet with the BioIdentical Hormone doctor to see what they had to say. I did a ton of research and felt confident in my decision. I am thrilled with the result…it took 2 weeks for me to feel major improvements and I haven’t had any negative side effects. I will say that the first protocol she put me on did not work well at all and I felt worse…I stopped taking it immediately and so we tried a different protocol and that was the one that worked great.
You have to figure out what works best for you and what you feel comfortable with. I don’t necessarily ‘like’ the idea that I’m relying on external hormones and I would have loved to address it 100% au naturel, but I felt I had done everything I could from a holistic perspective and I just wanted to feel like a woman again. Sometimes modern medicine is a good thing. I don’t regret my decision at all…I actually kick myself for not doing it sooner.
Good luck with your journey!
Thank you so much :)
Wow. I feel like you wrote the story of my life. Thankfully, my body only the madness go on for about 8 months. That nasty cycle of working out like a fiend, eating 1100-1200 calories a day, 25g carbs a day or less, obsessing over food, etc, came to a halt when I had a car accident. I was so zoned while driving, I didn’t even see the red light. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I wasn’t even listening to the radio. But guess, what, I looked great! I actually had cheek bones and a defined collarbone. I was a size 4, something I hadn’t been since probably 4th grade.
Since you confessed about the ribs, I’ll confess that I used to feel my collarbone often and finding it stuck out more than the day before was one of the few things that made me smile. Talk about being broken. The accident came at my busy season (I was a wedding photographer), and it shut me down. I would feel somewhat okay in the morning, go to the gym, cry because I couldn’t do anything for pain and migraines, go home, and lay on the couch, often working and answering emails for only a few hours a day. I never went and saw any medical, holistic, or other professionals, so I don’t know how badly my thyroid and adrenals were functioning.
I’ve healed… a long, 12-month process including throwing my scale away, eating a full-fat Paleo diet, and I now concentrate on my training numbers. I still love to lift and CrossFit, but now it’s a reward and not a punishment. I finally eat carbs again, enjoy a little honey with my hot lemon water, and eat dark chocolate on a semi-regular basis. I have a healthy relationship with food now, and it’s funny how using “willpower” is easy when you’re nourishing your body correctly.
However, I’ve never quite been the same since. Maybe that’s a good thing. I can’t push 150% in workouts anymore, and I take scheduled days off. I used to ignore my breathing and heart rate, and now when I start gasping for air, I pull back a little. There’s always that little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me to be careful. It won’t be silenced like before. I can’t be “on” and going 100% of the time anymore with work. I still get stressed out really easily and cry when overwhelmed. The depression even comes back every now and then.
Regardless, I’ve made changes in every area of my life, and I’m finally happy. It used to bother me when people would comment: Wow, you’re so skinny… I bet you’re so happy now. Like the number on the scale and the size of the pants you wear is the only thing in life worth living for. I’m glad I’ve learned otherwise.
Thanks for sharing your story Mariah! It does sound so similar to mine… sista from another mista! Especially the part about your healing process. That’s pretty much exactly what I did with my workouts and food… being relaxed with my food was HUGE! It’s so much easier to live without thinking about every bite of food you put in your mouth. I’m so sorry your wake up call came in the form of a car accident though – that’s awful. I’m happy to hear you have recovered and are happy now!! Praise dark chocolate!
Oh, and I lost my cycle too, which thankfully came back after a few months. Even that’s been a little sporadic since. Not something a married-mid-20’s-maybe-start-a-family-soon girl wants to deal with. I’m so thankful I didn’t disappear further down the hole than I did.
Just stumbled upon your work. This line is *so true,* and basically defines my entire 20s and early 30s: “You don’t wake up one day, have your body fat measured and say, “Yup, I’m happy now…Now I’m confident enough to quit that job that I hate or ask that guy out.” ERRR…wrong.” Boy, have I learned this the hard way! And I’m *still* learning it. Trying to work on many other aspects of my life so that weight/appearance don’t hold as much as weight (no pun intended, really) as they do. I’ve already lost far too much time feeling self-conscious and inferior, and losing out on many opportunities for meeting people, going places, and just *enjoying life* and making memories of great experiences. The fact is, no matter what my size, I’ve always been healthy and beautiful. A size 2, no. But healthy and beautiful, with a waist, hips, thighs, upper arms, and all those other things we women tend to think are too big no matter *what* size they are, when the truth is, most men (and women!) find women more attractive when they look like curvy, healthy, fertile, sexy women, and not like emaciated little boys.
Anyway, thanks for spreading your positive messages. We need all of that we can get.
Hey Amy! Thanks for your message – I’m so happy to hear it resonated with you! And I’m glad to hear you have rounded the corner and started to realize that your appearance does not dictate what you can/can’t have in life.
Sending you big hugs!
This is great! Thank you for posting the pictures of yourself as examples. I sometimes look at my photos of myself when I was my thinnest and “fittest” and feel a little bummed. But, I remind myself that even at that time, I knew it wasn’t sustainable. Like, I wouldn’t always have a schedule that allowed me to exercise 2 hours per day every fucking day. I just didn’t know how bad the crash would be when it all came to an end.
Hey Chris! YES! I think that sometimes we need to mourn the loss of our ‘thinner’ body in favour of choosing fun, happiness and sanity. I’d much rather have a couple glasses of wine and skip a workout than fit into smaller jeans so the sake of nothing!
Hi! I am glad to hear that you found the perfect balance that makes you happy! And I hope that is the essence of your message, because I am at the opposite spectrum of the dieting. I absolutely LOVE it! I love being selective in the foods I eat and I love working out and feeling strong! I went from 155 to 105 and was at my happiest when I shed the pounds. I gained a few pounds due to medical reasons, but am absolutely miserable and am in my quest to get back down to 105 and although I had a bumpy start, I can begin feeling a little stronger and cannot wait to accomplish my 105 again!
Hi Summer, I was curious about the work that you do and have read several of your posts. Love them all! I shared several of them with my 10 year old daughter….this particular post was a real eye opener for her because of the links you posted about how images are easily manipulated and what you see isn’t what you get. She was shocked! Her comment – Why make changes in the first place? What’s wrong with things just the way they are? Thanks for starting an important conversation and getting women and girls thinking about the ‘Why’.
Thank you so much Meena!!! I’m so happy you are teaching your daughter about these things!! xo