A picture can never tell the whole story. The problem with weight loss before and after pictures is what they leave out, forget to tell you and distract from.
The other day, I was productively going about my workday playing on instagram, when a friend's weight loss before and after picture popped up on my feed.
In her before picture, she was pregnant. Like, super pregnant, I'm guessing 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 subtle 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 not look awkward in selfies (sidebar: someone please explain that angle to me).
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 facebook 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 I'm saying this as someone who has zero desire to be one herself!
Knowing this, it made me so sad to see her disparage her pregnancy body. What was wrong with her body, being pregnant, 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? How could she look at that with disgust?
Then I thought of the commenters and wondered how they felt. They might say motivated and inspired, but I knew envy and inadequacy was underneath it. Perhaps you've felt a similar twinge of inferiority when faced with a friends "motivational" before and after picture?
Before and after pictures are presented in a way that implies the before is someone who is gross and unacceptable (because their body is bigger) and the after is someone who is happy, healthy, has their shit together and is someone to aspire to (because their body is smaller). But after working in this field over 8 years, I've heard and witnessed quite a few "transformation" stories. Here's what I know:
- 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 cooking one up). Sometimes they're someone who has simply lived in a bigger body, because they have a bigger body. Fatness does not equal unhappiness.
- Not everyone is happy and healthy in their after picture. Sometimes dieting has become their full time job, robbing them of the time to do things that bring them joy. Sometimes they're practically (or actually) starving their self. 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.
- After isn't 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 fleeting moment in time.
One time I was talking with a potential new client and she asked me if I ever posted before and after pictures. Nope. Not of myself. Not of my clients. Not ever. That's because the kind of transformation I'm after can't be captured in two snapshots.
Thoughts on before and after pictures? Leave a comment below!
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