The Problem with Before and After Photos

Disclaimer: In this post I am sharing my own personal experiences. I am not attempting to diminish or discredit anyone else’s experiences or thoughts. I understand not everyone will agree with me and that’s ok! I’m always open to continuing the conversation in the comments, I just ask that you are respectful! 🙂

Before and afters. We see them all the time on social media. A side-by-side comparison of someone you may or may not know. The caption usually says something about how the person in the “before” photo didn’t have *X,Y,Z*. Then you see the “after” photo and the caption talks about how perfect and wonderful their life is now that they have the *X,Y,Z* they didn’t have before. To me, these types of photos are problematic. Now, bear in mind that when I was in my eating disorder I used to be the person who posted these types of photos weekly, and sometimes even more than once a week (read more about my struggle with an eating disorder and social media here, here and here). So what makes me have such a bone to pick with them?

That’s a great question! It’s taken me a while to get here. And yes, you read that right- I used to post before and after photos (let’s call them B&A’s) for my over 2,000 Instagram followers to gawk at and praise me over. But it wasn’t until I started recovering from my eating disorder that I realized how truly detrimental posting B&A’s was not only to me, but to the thousands of people who followed me.

Highlight Reel

“Social media is a highlight reel of someone’s life”- I heard this on one of my favorite podcasts (Food Psych) but can’t remember for the life of me who said it (If I ever remember who said it I’ll be sure to credit them so you guys can check out what else they have to say). The reason I was able to hide my eating disorder from so many people was because of what I posted on social media and B&A’s played a huge role in that.

On my B&A posts I talked about how great I felt, how much I loved myself and my body, and how wonderful my life was. But in all reality my life was the complete opposite of everything I wrote about online. In a way, I think I was trying to trick myself into thinking my life was better than it actually was. Remember, not everything you see online is as it seems.

I can remember spending hours trying to figure out which photo I would use for my “before” and which one I would use for my “after”. In the “before” I had to make sure I looked “bad” and in the “after” I made sure I looked “perfect”. But you know what’s the one thing I never did for the “before” photo that I did for the “after” photo? I never gave the girl in the “before” photo any credit. I never talked about the college degree she worked hard to receive, her academic accomplishments, the awards she won, the people who loved her, or the drive she had to follow her dreams. I made her out to be some sad and lonely girl who lived a depressing life.

You can ask any of my friends who knew me before my ED and they will tell you I was anything but sad and lonely. I was a leader, I was the president of  multiple organizations, I volunteered my time to help others, and was there for my friends and family in their hours of need. I was the farthest thing from the girl I made myself out to be in that before photo. Now, I don’t tell you this to make you clap for me and my accomplishments, I tell you this because a lot of the time people make the person in the “before” photo out to be some lowly dwelling loner who didn’t have anything going for them. I’m going to make an educated guess that 99.99% of the time, that’s not the case at all.

I simply chose to show people what I needed to see myself- someone who was better than before and living the life she wanted. In all reality, I wasn’t better and I wasn’t living the life I wanted. So remember that although you may see someone online who portrays a life that seems to be “amazing”, “perfect”, or “goals”, it’s more than likely not. 1. Because perfection isn’t a thing (Even the wise Hannah Montana reminds us that “Nobody’s Perfect”) and 2. You never know what could be going on behind that Instagram grid. In my case, my life was quickly plummeting to the bottom of the ocean like a freshly dropped anchor, yet on social media I made it seem like my life was the best ever.

I like to compare social media, specifically B&A’s, to wedding videos. When you see a highly produced wedding video with all the pretty music, clips of the couple staring lovingly into each others eyes, and the various views of the guests crying watching the couple during their first dance, you feel a certain way. But what you didn’t see was the stress of the bride’s hair getting messed up at the salon, a guest getting drunk and causing a scene, or the limo getting lost on the way to the church. We’re shown what’s pretty, not all the crap that happened behind the scenes. Think about that the next time you see a post that seems too good to be true, because more often than not, it probably is.

The Worthiness Game

Worth. It’s something I used to struggle with every single day and still struggle with from time to time even now, over a year into my recovery. I used to base my worth off of how small my waist was, what the scale said, and what the size of my clothing was. I also used to base my worthiness on how many likes and followers I had on Instagram. My B&A’s always got me the most of both, so they held a lot of power over me.

Although, what I didn’t realize back then was that I was not only telling myself that I wasn’t worthy enough “before”, but I was also telling the thousands of people who followed me that they weren’t worthy either. Because I was pretty much saying, in so many words, if you don’t look like, eat like, or workout like me, you are not worthy. Not cool, Becca. Not cool.

Because essentially what we’re saying when we make B&A posts is that the person in the “before” photo isn’t worth as much as the person in the “after” and somehow the person in the “after” photo is superior. We’re saying that the “before” person is not worthy enough to receive love, to receive respect, to receive fair treatment, or to receive the same opportunities because they’re not as good as the “after”.

I think back and shudder at the amount of people I negatively impacted with those photos. The amount of people that compared themselves to me, the amount of people that looked at me and read what I wrote then determined that they, themselves, were not worthy enough. Although that was not my intention, that’s what ended up happening. Comparison is the thief of joy, and all those photos did was make people compare themselves to me- potentially taking away any joy or worth they felt in themselves.

If you were one of those people, from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.

Outward Validation

The thing about posting things like B&A’s on social media is, more often than not, people are looking for praise and validation in their own lives- trust me, I would know. I was so insecure and disordered in my thoughts and behaviors that I needed other people to validate that what I was doing and how I looked was “good” and “accepted”.

Now, almost one and a half years after posting my last B&A, I’m proud to say that I don’t feel the need to look for outward validation because I know that my worth is not based on my outward appearance. Although, when I slip back into my eating disorder thoughts, my therapist encourages me to ask myself “How do I define myself?” A few years ago my answer would have been by the size of my body and the number on my clothing, but now I define myself by my laughter, my smile, my kind and giving heart, my love for my friends and family, and my drive to follow my dreams.

My goal for this post was not to make you avert your eyes or shame people who post B&A’s, my goal was to help you realize and remember that every person, no matter their shape or size adds value to our world, are allowed to take up space, and live their lives. People shouldn’t be made out to be sad and lonely or have everyone assume they hate themselves and have nothing going for them just based on the size or shape of their body- they should be appreciated, loved, and shown respect as much as anyone else.

So remember- however you see yourself, don’t ever forget for a second that you are deserving of all the love, respect, and happiness in the world. And above everything else, never forget that you are always and forever worthy, no matter what.

That’s all she wrote…

How do before and afters make you feel? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “The Problem with Before and After Photos

  1. These are thought-provoking words, and I appreciate them. I did recently post about my 70 pound weight loss (still working on it), and posted a before-and-after, although my post focused on taking charge of my health. Here’s an interesting thing: when I tried to boost my post, Facebook denied my ad because of the before-and-after. I was taken aback! I appreciate that your words here have helped me understand their position. Keep writing!! And I’m happy you are conquering your eating disorder.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing, Kim! I actually wasn’t aware that Facebook denied promoting those types of posts- so that’s interesting to learn. I’m glad to hear my words have provided some more understanding for you, as that is one of the main goals of my blog- to raise awareness and aid people in better understanding what it’s like to have an eating disorder. Thanks for your continued support! <3

  2. “I was so insecure and disordered in my thoughts and behaviors that I needed other people to validate that what I was doing and how I looked was ‘good’ and ‘accepted’.” A-to the freaking-men, sister! I’m so glad you shared this experience. Even though I do love a good #MakeoverMonday and #TransformationTuesday, I know that often my motives aren’t pure. That kind of thinking keeps my far from the One gives me the only validation that matters; which keeps others from knowing Him, too.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Alley! I too used to be a fan of #TransformationTuesday, but, as you read, that was where a lot of my disordered thoughts and behaviors stemmed from.

      I found this quote on Twitter one day that really resonates to what you mentioned about those kinds of thoughts keeping you further from Him: “Do you ever think God gets sad, like, “what do you mean you don’t love yourself? I worked so hard on you…” That has put so much into perspective for me as I recover and heal the relationship with my body and hope it resonates with you as much as it did me! <3

  3. Girl, I agreed with word you wrote in this blog post! I’ve never been a fan of before and after pictures to begin with and I loved your last sentence! We are all always and forever worthy. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Maythe! 🙂 I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this post! I love that line too- such a good reminder to everyone! If I could put it on a billboard I would! <3

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