Dear fitness professional sharing ‘before and after’ pictures,
Hi. Can I have a word?
Your ‘before and after’ pictures – whether they are pictures of you or a client you’ve worked with – make me feel very uneasy.
I’m referring to the pictures that show weight loss, reduced inches, more muscle mass, and anything that falls under the phrase ‘body transformation’.
I try to scroll on and ignore that sort of post, and sometimes I silently click ‘unfollow’. But we work in the same virtual space, which means (a) your actions reflect on me, and (b) you’re motivated by helping people, and (c) there’s a good chance that we have more in common than divides us.
So I’d like to explain to you why I feel so uneasy about your pictures.
Just so we’re clear – I’m not asking that you stop trying to change your body or be the best you can be. I’m asking you to think carefully about the photos.
You know who thrives on before and after pictures? The diet industry. The big multinational companies who make profits from people continually losing and gaining the same 10kg for most of their lives. You’re using the language of our enemy. You’re giving them a respectability they don’t deserve.
We live in a society that over-values appearances. Thin bodies, lean bodies, bodies in the ‘fashionable shape of the year’. And the people who hold the power LOVE that we care so much about how we look, because it means we’re not thinking about what’s really important. The important things like food poverty, the mental health crisis, climate change or racism – or, dammit, even just being a good person. The system exists to keep us thin and compliant, and your pictures prop up that system.
If your pictures show a reduction in size – and by far, that’s the majority of before and afters – please remember that people with eating disorders, bowel disease and any number of life-threatening illnesses are also reducing in size. Is it sensitive to make that visual into a prize?
I think what you’re trying to say is, ‘I did this, and you can do it too, especially if I help you.’ In some cases, maybe your journey helps you better relate to a client. But being a fitness professional takes knowledge, empathy and a commitment to service. These are learnable skills, not just outcomes experiences. For instance, just because someone can drive doesn’t make them a good driving instructor.
These pictures don’t show how far you’ve come. Often this is the first line of your caption. If you’ve made significant changes in your life, they’re not about your body, they’re about your brain – your habits, daily actions and mindset. Pictures don’t show that, but it’s much more interesting – so perhaps you could make that the headline instead of the photo?
Fitness doesn’t make you skinny. I know you know this, but if you’re selling fitness services, you could be misleading your audience. If anyone has an argument for sharing body transformation pictures, it’s nutritionists or endocrine experts. I don’t see that happening.
Photos lie. You know this. You know you can look lighter, leaner, or more muscley by standing up straight, moving your pants a bit and changing the lighting. You’re using a discredited tactic to make your point. Could you try another tactic?
I’m confident that you’ve been on a journey to create those pictures. Could you express that journey in a better way than a photo? The picture doesn’t show your crazy work and determination. It makes it look easy. And if you lead people to think it’s easy, they’re going to be disappointed.
Your photos artificially select the beginning and end of the story. What came before the ‘Before’ or after the ‘After’? Did you put it back on? Did you previously look ‘even better’ than you did after? Your self-selection manipulates the truth. After all, here’s the ultimate before and after – we all start as babies (with zero body hang-ups) and we all end as a skeleton (with zero body hang-ups). Surely we can make the bit in between a bit more meaningful and interesting?
Listen, I know social media is necessary evil and we’ve got to feed the machine. But there’s a better way.
I believe that you can:
- better represent yourself
- better serve your clients and potential clients
- challenge the dominant dialogue in the fitness world
- work towards changing an oppressive system
if you choose to find a better way to express yourself than with before and after pictures.