Why Before & After Photos Don't Work

*CONTENT WARNING: DISORDERED EATING

 

After a year and a half of researching and learning about how women can truly be healthy and love their bodies, not only did we say, "no selling diets ever again" we also said, "no before and after photos ever again." We knew there had to be another way for women to celebrate their hard work.

Don't roll your eyes. Hear us out.

First, let’s explain the type of before and after photos we’re talking about. 

Think of you standing straight on in front of a camera with no makeup, bed head, in your underwear or a bikini (because apparently you haven’t “earned” the right to look cute and attractive at your current size yet. Don’t worry girl, you can get sassy and hot in your after photo).

Then place that photo next to a tanned, smaller version of yourself. The message is clear: the before photo is when you were being “bad” and the after photo is when you were being “good” or at the very least, “better.” Next, cue everyone on social media praising you just for your physical appearance regardless of what it took to get there and what it will take to maintain that after appearance, health be damned (more on that below). 

We’re talking about those kind of before and after photos.

A year and a half ago we were doing what the majority of people in the industry do (some well-meaning people and some not so much… that’s a different blog for a different day!). We sold diet and exercise plans  (never, ever again.) and we posted before and after photos of women who had worked with us. Each time we posted a picture of our gorgeous, hard working women, we were truthfully so proud of their hard work, and even more proud that these women were proud of themselves!

But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have a tiny (and increasing) feeling of guilt afterwards.

If we’re being completely honest, when we look back, we think we knew that posting a before and after could mentally and emotionally hurt someone in the long run. (It was just a feeling, and then some common sense. Now we have the research to explain what we suspected.)  In the short term, celebration! In the long run though, that photo could become the new standard that they’d always have to measure up to if they wanted to be hot, beautiful, disciplined, fit, desirable, accomplished, and all the other things people said about their after photo. 

Heaven forbid they get pregnant or become the same weight as their before photo down the road.

Finally, we don’t share before and after photos, because THEY DO NOT WORK…

For you anyway… for the woman in the photo. Sure, it works for brands trying to sell a weight loss product. But if we’re speaking long term (which we so desperately encourage our women to make a priority in a world of quick fixes and 30 day challenges), then BEFORE AND AFTER PHOTOS DO NOT WORK.

And in case our bucket of feelings above didn’t get that message across, we have more reasons (and more feelings) below. #becausewecare

7 reasons before and after photos are THE WORST:

1. Before and after photos reward outcomes (your appearance) and not healthy behaviors.

An after photo can get a ton of praise with no regard for how that outcome was achieved. So even if a person used unhealthy or dangerous methods to achieve their after photo, it still gets praised, and that’s messed up. Now let’s talk about what that unhealthy process could look like:

  1. Extreme amounts of exercise

  2. Social isolation

  3. Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, binge eating disorder

  4. Laxatives and other prescription weight loss drugs

  5. Amenorrhea and early menopause

  6. Other weird sh*t that we wouldn’t even believe existed, except for the fact that people have told us they tried it.

2. Skinnier, smaller, more muscular, less body fat, and the existence of abs does not automatically mean you are fit or healthy.

There’s now a slew of research and great literature reviews to support this statement. Trust us that this was not an easy pill for us to swallow (We used to write diets, remember? Super inconvenient finding to say the least!). If you want the best analysis of all valid weight loss studies then you need to get this book stat. Don’t feel like reading the book? Check out this video of the author summarizing her findings.

3. Fast weight loss → more muscle loss → slower metabolism → harder time maintaining weight and increased likelihood that you’ll gain back all the weight and more in the future.

This is exactly the reason you’ll never ever see us host a weight loss challenge. Quick weight loss from diets, cleanses, and challenges is a mix of body fat and muscle loss. The faster the weight loss, the higher percentage of muscle loss. Here’s the kicker—you lose a mixture of muscle and body fat, but all the re-gain weight is usually body fat.

In the short term you might be able to pull off some big changes, but after about 3-6 months, diets do not work... and you’re likely worse off than you'd be if you never dieted at all. We are seriously not interested in just 3-6 months of your life, especially at the expense of your health for, oh we dunno, the next 30, 50, 80 years OF YOUR LIFE. #notworthit  

4. Your after is someone else’s before.

So yeah, talking about how embarrassed or ashamed you are of your before photo, and apologizing for ever getting that “bad”... how is that supposed to make other women feel? And what if you were actually healthy at your before size? THEN WHAT ON EARTH SHOULD YOU BE APOLOGIZING FOR? Nothing. You don't owe anyone, especially strangers on the internet, an apology.

5. Guilt and shame never helped anyone lose weight.

Think about the reality show, Biggest Loser. When contestants are at their heaviest, they have to stand on the scale shirtless, ladies wearing a sports bra. As they get thinner, they’re allowed to put on a shirt. Apparently, other people’s weight struggles and perceived disgustingness (not our thoughts… the media’s) is somehow a twisted form of entertainment. 

*Excuse us while we pause to keep from gagging and violently throwing our laptops at the wall… deep breaths… breathing… phew, okay.*

Our best guess is that the super unflattering and objectified template for a before photo is to motivate people to lose weight. The thinking is, if you’re sick and ashamed of yourself enough, you’ll do something about it. Except there is absolutely no research to back that up. Like none. In fact, the opposite is true. A 2013 study from Florida State University found that this so-called motivation tactic actually increases a person’s risk of becoming and remaining overweight.

6. You become a slave to your after photo.

“If I could only get back to my pre-baby body.”

“Look how great I looked at the beach here 5 years ago. Life was perfect then.”

“I can’t believe I let myself get this way!” (As you stare at your after photo from 4 years ago... during a completely. different. stage of your life.)

That picture owns you. That was when you were the happiest. That was when you were the strongest. That after photo is when you were “worth it.” It's like that picture becomes your awful ex-boyfriend that suddenly seems like the perfect catch when Facebook shows up with "Remember this moment from 5 years ago?" The questions start, the guilt sinks in, and the vicious cycle start all over again from one picture. 

7. It insinuates that the person in the before photo isn’t enough.

Case in freakin point: OPRAH WINFREY. The woman has accomplished pretty much EVERYTHING. In a commercial for Weight Watchers, Oprah passionately shares with the viewer, “Inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can be.” 

Um, excuse me? You are OPRAH. With everything you’ve accomplished--you know, like changing the cultural landscape, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and honorary doctorates from Duke and Harvard, and being widely regarded as one of the most influential women in the world--you still aren’t enough?? 

This all begs the deep and profound question, IF OPRAH ISN'T ENOUGH IN HER BEFORE PHOTO, WHO THE EFF IS?!?!?!?!?!?

 

Remember, life isn’t lived in "before and after." There is only now. And we want to get to know and celebrate the full you, not just the bits we can see in a bikini or undies.

**Shout out to our incredible #OMGNeverDietAgain community below! You are the real MVPs!**