Before and after photos are everywhere for a reason. It’s what marketers call a “social stimulus” – a type of content that prompts those who see it to feel or act a certain way. They make it clear to viewers that one situation (“after”) is more desirable than another (“before”).
Think about before and after photos that focus on losing weight, for example. If a group of people looks at one picture of a person standing in a bathing suit, everyone in that group may have a different reaction. Some may feel attracted to the person, others may feel indifference to the person and others may focus on something else entirely – like what the person is wearing or how the sunset looks behind them.
But if the same photo is shown next to another photo of the same person, wearing a similar wetsuit but having a larger body, the reactions of the group looking at the photo become more consistent. They note the person’s body size in both photos before anything else. This comparison is the trigger.
While before and after photos can be useful to marketers and content creators, they are often toxic to the rest of us. Sure, some are harmless – a picture of a dirty plate before cleaning it with dish soap versus after, or a messy bookshelf next to an organized shelf. However, any pair of before and after photos that show a human being sends a dangerous message: that certain body types (or faces, hair types, skin color, lip shapes, etc.) are better than others.
Here’s why these types of images are more subtle than you think:
They make an unhealthy comparison.
Chelsea Kroningold, Associate Director of Communications at National Eating Disorders Association.
Many people who see these photos of themselves will look more like “before” than “after.” And because the whole point of the before-and-after comparison is to say that ‘after’ is better, they will likely end up feeling less than, or that their bodies need ‘fixing’. Over time, this can lead to real harm.
“Body dissatisfaction and poor internalization are potential risk factors for all types of eating disorders,” Kroningold said. “People who have a negative body image are not only more likely to develop an eating disorder, but they are also more likely to suffer from depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and an obsession with losing weight.”
They reinforce stigma against weight and prejudice against fat.
Before and after photos are in every corner of social media, but they’re more prevalent in the weight loss space. These posts often elicit seemingly positive comments, such as “Very inspiring!” or “You look great!” But there is a problematic side to these comments: the implication is that the person he did not do They look great on their bigger bodies, and being thin is always better.
“These subtle and overt messages contribute to weight stigma and perpetuate the messages of an unhealthy diet culture in which changing your body, losing weight or being thin, is seen as an ‘morally superior’ achievement,” Kroningold said.
This weight stigma (discrimination based on a person’s weight) is incredibly prevalent in our society, and it has serious negative effects. a 2018 review In the Advanced Nursing Journal Experiencing the stigma of being overweight has been found to increase the risk of diabetes, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and physical dissatisfaction. It has also been linked to increased chronic stress, chronic inflammation, and decreased self-confidence.
The weight stigma stems from the belief that being thin is better, and that being fat is unhealthy. But this is not really the case. One 2016 review Posted in gamma It found that people in the “overweight” BMI category lived the longest. else 2016 study Posted in International Journal of Obesity It found that 50% of people classified as “overweight” and nearly 1 percent of people classified as “obese” were metabolically healthy. Meanwhile, 30% of people categorized as “normal” weight were metabolically unhealthy.
The relationship between weight and health is incredibly complex, but it’s fair to say that you can’t tell if someone is healthy or not by looking at a picture of them.
Kroningold also noted that even before and after photos showing weight gain reinforce the weight stigma. The eating disorder recovery space is filled with a before-and-after body that displays a very thin “before” body next to a slimmer (but still relatively small) body “after”.
Many of those with eating disorders before and after photos send the message that individuals with a history of anorexia [nervosa] and/or low BMI are the only people affected by eating disorders.” “This reinforces the stereotype that eating disorders have a certain ‘appearance’, and can alienate people with diagnoses of other eating disorders and/or into high-weight bodies. “
“It’s a very real phenomenon that people who post these before and after photos often feel trapped by their visual ‘success stories’ when their bodies inevitably change over time.”
– Ashley Seroya is a New York City-based writer and writer
They don’t show the whole story.
Another big problem with before and after when it comes to bodies is that they only appear two moments in time. Bodies are always changing – even the person who posts pictures won’t look like an “after” forever.
“It’s a very real phenomenon that people who post these before and after photos often feel trapped by visual ‘success stories’ when their bodies inevitably change over time,” ashley siroya, a therapist and writer in New York City.
And yes, it is He is It is inevitable that their bodies will change, as the vast majority of people who lose weight will return to it within a few years. a 2020 review Posted in BMJ It found that although the diets lead to weight loss and improved health after six months, this effect disappears at one year in all diets.
else 2020 review He concluded that diet does more harm than good, as permanent weight loss is rare, and negative side effects for physical and mental health are common.
They put great value on appearance.
Just because someone is smiling in an “after” photo doesn’t mean they are mentally healthy. In fact, both Seruya and Kronengold said it can be devastating to assume that someone has gone through positive life changes just because they “look better.”
“I think it would always be dangerous to put our self-esteem into something as uncontrollable and unpredictable as the human body,” Seroya said. Because, honestly, someone’s appearance is rarely an indication of their well-being.
“Instead of emphasizing body transformations, we should celebrate mental health gains, major life events, and accomplishments that have nothing to do with appearance and/or weight,” Kroningold said.