The Trouble with Before and After Pics

Before: 5’4, 284 lbs, photo by Richard Sabel
After: 5’4 284lb photo by Richard Sabel

I find Before and After pictures to be one of the most ubiquitous and insidious forms of body shaming.

First, they are designed to create a situation where we judge bodies as good and bad or, at the very least, better and worse.  I don’t believe that anything good comes out of this.

Second, they are used in money making contexts to “help” me identify my body as bad/worse, and show me that it could be good/better if I just bought whatever they are selling.  That, as the brilliant CJ Legare says, is trying to steal my self-esteem and sell it back to me at a profit. And that’s not ok with me

I can’t help but notice that the person in the before shot always looks miserable and in the after shot they look so happy.  The message seeming to be that anyone who looks like that cannot/should not be happy and that happiness is/should be reserved for those whose bodies are “right and good”. The worst for me is when the before picture is of someone in their sweat pants, eating on the couch before their shower; and the after picture is them standing in the sun, bronzed, sucking in until they are on the verge of fainting, fully made up, dressed up and smiling like they won the lottery.

Also, let’s not forget that they can be fake as hell with or without photo re-touching, as demonstrated in this video from “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” which is a really interesting documentary about steroid use (trigger warning, there are models in the video and also some negative body language)

I’m just suggesting that whether or not you want to get healthier or change the size and shape of your body, you might want to appreciate the body you have now and all of the millions of things it does for you every day (if you’re reading this, consider thanking your body for your vision/hearing, heartbeat, breathing, blinking, etc.)  If you want somewhere to start, try Love Your Body More in Three Simple Steps

Also consider the possibility that there’s no such thing as “before” or “after; maybe there’s only “during” and maybe we are all perfect exactly where we are right this minute.

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13 thoughts on “The Trouble with Before and After Pics

  1. That video was great! I always had my doubts about those ads. Once I noticed the before picture the woman had a maternity bra on. I’m pretty sure she was pregnant in the before photo.

    I’m tired of feeling bad about my body no matter what weight I’m at.

  2. Love the post as usual, but I have to say the last line is possibly one of my favorite things you have written to date.

  3. Amen! The path to physical perfection is a road with no end in sight. How much better to enjoy the “during” and forget about the after! Love your photos, btw. I wish I could pose like that, looks like fun.

  4. OMG YES! When I lost weight a while back (which of course came back as soon as I couldn’t keep up that schedule because I had changed jobs and schedules) everyone kept saying how great I looked; my response was, “didn’t I look good before?” Yeah. Left ’em speechless.
    I went to a yarn bombing gathering this afternoon and my bf was chatting to the thin neighbor and she actually asked him, “would Laurie be offended if I gave her something for her weight like a protein shake?” Let’s just say my bf told her that I get plenty of physical activity and size acceptance is healthier than downing protein shakes. I would’ve probably not been as polite. 🙂

    1. I know what you mean. In the past when I lost some weight (I was stressing because I was in the middle of a divorce!) I said “so, you’re saying I looked like a sack of crap before?” I hate, hate, hate weight loss “compliments.” Compliment what I’m wearing, compliment my hair, better yet, compliment my accomplishments. Don’t compliment me if I lose weight!

    2. I got those kind of weight loss “compliments” twice today. I’ve lost a fairly significant amount of weight due to health problems recently. Both times it was, “You look really great! How much weight have you lost?” Ummmm…excuse me? I look great because I freaking rock. I look thinner because I’m freaking sick as hell. Let’s try to distinguish between the two, ok? Ok. Great, now on to the next subject.

  5. It always amazed me that people actually bought into before and after shots. My sister and I would make fun of them during commercial breaks when we were kids. It was like a more adult version of “spot the differences.” I was actually shocked when I realized that there were people out there who couldn’t tell the photos were staged. I’d always assumed that everyone else found them just as hilarious as we did.

  6. Before and After pix are like a fun house mirror. And these days I can only believe that they are manipulated with Photoshop.
    Besides, if you hate yourself and lose 100 pounds you’ll still hate yourself, you’ll just be thinner. If you learn to like yourself, you’ll be happy no matter what you weigh.

  7. I agree completely about before/after photos meant for public display. But I do think they can be useful for private use. In other words, to document the actual effects of a new fitness program, to see what works and what doesn’t.

    A few months ago I made some “before” photos. Not staged – no exaggerated frowning, no photoshop, just me in my favorite shorts. Filed them away and put them out of mind. Not a matter of self esteem. More like “what happens when I take out the sugar and eat more vegetables?”

    I do have another “before” pic of sorts as my computer’s wallpaper: Me riding a surfboard last year. Because it looks silly and makes me laugh.

    But yeah, before & after pics meant to sell a product can be pretty bad…

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