They seem to pop up everywhere. Whether you are scrolling through your social media feed or a commercial promoting the latest weight loss regimen flashes across your television—they are difficult to escape. I’m talking about “before and after” pictures, of course. It’s easy to get caught in that trap. You see a “transformed” body and instantly want to throw your money at that product or program.
Being an anti-diet dietitian, it probably comes as no surprise that I am not a fan of “before and after” pictures. By now, most of us are at least somewhat aware that with current photo editing technology, it’s pretty easy to manipulate the appearance of your physique. Even without editing, a person can twist and turn their body in such a way to create the illusion of change in the new photo. These are all the more obvious reasons why I don’t care for comparison photos. Nothing new here.
What if I told you I don’t care for any kind of #TransformationTuesday photo?
I know what you’re thinking. “But Amanda, what about the pictures where people show a needed weight gain between the two photos? Why wouldn’t you be in favor of that?”
My answer is simple—before and after pictures, of any kind, continue to draw focus back to our physical appearance. Isn’t that part of what got us in this weight-obsessed predicament to begin with?
While I don’t think there is anything wrong with being proud of progress you make in your eating disorder or chronic dieting journey, the “before and after” photo trend often reinforces misconceptions of what an eating disorder looks like. For example, many of you have probably seen photos of someone while they were struggling with an ED as a “before” photo and the next picture shows them in their recovered body. Often, you see a noticeably thinner body in the first photo. While this can certainly come across as inspiring to some, this is problematic for others. People in EDs often tell themselves “oh but I’m not that skinny, so my eating disorder isn’t that bad.” This happens all too often. However, the truth of the matter is that EDs and disordered eating does not discriminate based on size. I often still find people comparing their bodies to the people in any of these “before and after” photos and justifying to themselves that they are not “sick enough.” The use of photo comparison further exacerbates this problem.
Awhile back, I remember hearing the phrase: “true humility is not thinking less of yourself: it is thinking of yourself less.” That quote really stuck with me. I couldn’t help but think of all the time in my life I have wasted by fixating on my physical appearance so much. That’s time I will never get back.
At the end of the day, for me it all boils down to what I truly value most in life. For the longest time the cognitive dissonance between striving to be thin versus what I truly value (family, friends, relationships, helping others…my dog!) did not bring me happiness. Once I let go of caring as much about my outward appearance, it freed up all this extra time to focus on the things that I actually care about in life.
Oh and while we’re on the topic of things I love, I thought I’d share the only “before and after” picture I am a fan of—my dog, Bela. <3
It comes down to sitting with yourself and thinking about what it is you care about. What are your goals in life? What is important to you? How do you want to be remembered? I think if you are honest with yourself, you will find that the answers to these questions have nothing to do with your outward appearance at all.