Before and after photos are commonly used to motivate weight loss in social media, but how useful is it really? Here’s why you should never allow a snapshot in time define your value.
A picture can never tell the whole story, and that’s precisely the problem with before and after weight loss pictures. There are many things that they tend to leave out, forget to tell you, and are actually distracting you from.
The other day, a friend’s weight loss, before and after picture popped up on my feed. In her before picture, she was pregnant. Like, super pregnant, it was probably a couple weeks before giving birth. The photo looked to be a candid shot. Her hair was in a messy bun, she was wearing PJ pants and probably no makeup. She looked tired, but also happy, gazing down at her belly with a slight smile.
In the after picture, her stomach was flat with no sign of a baby having hung out in there for a good 9 months. Her hair was curled and a brightly colored tank top with matching patterned leggings had replaced her comfy clothes. She was smiling brightly at the camera at whatever that angle is that makes you look less awkward in selfies. Of course, her post had dozens of comments telling her how great she looked.
And she did look great – happy, healthy, and beautiful…in both pictures.
Although I haven’t talked to this friend regularly in years, I keep up with her enough on social media to know that she really loves being a mom. I remember that having kids was always something she was looking forward to, even back in the day when the idea of children was a distant and scary thing for everyone else. Her posts about motherhood are all so sweet – honest, funny and loving.
And knowing this, it made me so sad to see her disparage her pregnancy body by implying her new body was more worthy of admiration. What was wrong with her pregnant body, doing the natural thing it’s supposed to do in order to cook up a healthy baby, the same baby who had brought so much joy to her life?
Before and after pictures are presented in a way that implies the previous body is less acceptable (often times because their body is bigger), and the newer body belongs to someone who is happy, healthy, and is someone to aspire to be (because their body is smaller). However, here’s what going on behind the scenes of these “transformation” stories based on the back stories I hear from my own clients:
1. Not everyone is sad and miserable in their before picture.
Sometimes they’re having the time of their life in college. Sometimes they’re busy traveling for a job they love. Sometimes they’ve just had a baby (or are busy growing one). Sometimes they’re just someone who has a bigger body, because that’s what their genetics has dictated. Fatness does not equal unhappiness.
2. Not everyone is happy and healthy in their after picture.
When dieting becomes a full time job, it can rob someone of time to do things that bring them joy. Sometimes they’re practically (or actually) starving themselves. Sometimes they’re lonely, because the pressure of maintaining their weight loss means saying no to social events. Sometimes the big smile in their selfie is forced because they’re really actually quite miserable.
3. The ‘after’ isn’t really a true ‘after’.
It’s just now. Research shows 95-97% of dieters will regain the weight they lost, and for two thirds of those people, they’ll end up gaining even more. So what you’re seeing in that after picture isn’t a permanent state of being, but rather a snapshot in time.
Remember, your value and worth can’t be fully captured in two snapshots.
Adapted from the original article.
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Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC. By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.