Anna Maria Locke

Are "Before and After" photos inspiring or discouraging?

June 2015Anna LockeComment
Are before and after pictures inspiring or discouraging

Let’s talk “before and after” pictures.

What a loaded topic! I just posted my own “before” (or as I prefer to call them, my “then/now” picture) in my team’s June Challenge and it brought up a lot of unexpected feelings for me, especially since I’m at the point where I’m not trying to lose weight but I'd still like to change my body. 

I'm learning that whenever I experience a negative emotion I need to stop and really think about where it's coming from, so I started thinking! Why do we dread taking progress pictures? Why do we force ourselves to do something that makes us feel discouraged or negative about ourselves? 

I asked my health and fitness community if they find progress pictures motivating or discouraging, and got mixed answers: 

"I'm a bit of both. I don't want to not get an after pic!"

"I think it depends for me! I am a bit of both, it puts a lot of pressure on me but that's in my head. It's also motivating, and then I'm like, wait, I don't know if I can do that!! Ahh, such a conflict in my head."

"I like seeing other people's photos (those are motivating!), but I hate taking my own, I am so much harder on myself and even if there are results--if they are not as dramatic as I wanted I put even more pressure on myself. I have decided to put more distance between my after shots and give my body time to transform."

"I think they are so powerful, especially when you're in the grind every day and aren't noticing subtle changes. That being said, they can be so deceiving since you see them in an instant and don't necessarily equate the changes to the work that comes in between."

"I'm totally both. I also like seeing other people's photos, totally motivating!! But despise taking my own. Although, I want the after photo for myself so bad too!"

"I don't like taking photos of myself. I think it discourages me. Though I like seeing others photos."

"If I'm looking at someone else's 'after' photos I try to not get jealous, but it's hard not to sometimes! BUT, MY OWN 'after' photos TOTALLY inspire me! I often look back on my own progress photos to remind myself how far I have come. If I've fallen off the wagon I look at them and am inspired and re-motivated because I KNOW that I can get back to that 'after' photo body and I know the things I have to do to get there!"

It's official: our relationship with "before and after" photos is complicated!

My thoughts? I’ve officially decided that I personally don't love them because they steal my joy, make me hyper-critical of myself, and stir up negative feelings of jealousy and comparison that I’d rather not deal with.

Whew! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, hear me out!

The "before and after" fad

When it comes to health and fitness programs, the “before and after” or transformation picture seems to be a required and expected part of the process. It seems like you can’t successfully market, sell, or even attempt a fitness or weight loss program without PROVING that it works by sharing before and after pictures of yourself or others who have dramatically changed their bodies with the product.

Pictures work as marketing tools because let’s face it--we're all visual people and we want PROOF before we invest our personal hopes and dreams in a new product or solution!

We want to trust that it will work for us too, and we use other people’s transformations as  inspiration. I’ve had so many women tell me that they signed up for my challenge groups NOT because they wanted to make a positive and healthy change in their lives, but because they saw a picture of my abs on Instagram!! Agghgas;flkjasdl;kfjasdfl!!! Before and after pictures CAN be inspiring...but at the same time it makes me feel kind of icky and uncomfortable to market my coaching services with my body. I'm not a health and fitness professional, and I'm not designing these programs. I'm just a girl who wants to inspire other women by sharing my own experiences and spreading positivity and encouragement!

As a Beachbody coach, I’ve struggled a LOT with the pressure to produce and share before and after pictures of myself and my clients in order to “prove” that what I do matters.

I love cheering my clients on and helping women lose 5, 10, 50, 80 pounds with the awesome and fun programs I promote. Simply put, Beachbody programs work. They’re foolproof, they’re scientifically designed and rigorously tested, they’re the best of the best, and they WILL give you a physical transformation if you stick to the plan. I wouldn’t affiliate myself with this company if I didn’t feel 110% aligned with its mission and core purpose: to help people reach their goals and live healthier, more fulfilling lives by matching them with programs and products that meet their needs and give the a sense of confidence and self worth.

 This is one of my all time favorite inspiring 21 Day Fix/P90X transformations, my friend Hilary!

This is one of my all time favorite inspiring 21 Day Fix/P90X transformations, my friend Hilary!

HOWEVER. 

My Instagram account has been flooded with before and after pictures recently since the Tone It Up Bikini Series just ended, and to be honest, I’ve been struggling with some old comparison and body image issues that have been bubbling to the surface! Even though I’m in the best shape of my life, I’ve been dealing with a major bout of low confidence and perfectionism. It doesn’t really matter what I look like...it all stems with how confident I’m feeling. I’ve been feeling extra sensitive and vulnerable lately, which manifests in low self esteem.

The fact is, it doesn’t really matter what you look like on the outside or how far you’ve come, or how much weight you’ve lost. When you’re trying to become a happier and better version of yourself, external change doesn’t magically make you happier because you’re still the same on the inside!

Losing weight and getting abs won’t bring you joy

Progress photos are definitely a great way to hold yourself accountable and celebrate your progress when you’re working hard to lose weight, but they shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself, just like you shouldn’t let the number on the scale determine your self worth. Pictures, numbers, measurements are just tools that show us that we are changing. This can be good, but if you’re getting too obsessed or dependent on the numbers and pictures, it might be time to take a step back and think about WHY you’re trying to change your body.

You should NEVER feel discouraged when you’re actively working towards becoming a happier and healthier version of yourself.

I don’t think we should measure our success and self-worth OR the effectiveness of a fitness program by "before and after" pictures alone, and here's why:

1. THEY BRING SO MUCH INTERNAL PRESSURE!

Have you ever been afraid to commit to a fitness program because you don’t know if it will actually work for you? Have you ever committed to a fitness program but didn’t tell anyone because you didn’t want to create false expectations or open yourself up to judgment? Have you ever finished a program, but felt like you failed because your before/after picture wasn’t as dramatic as you wanted it to be?

Yup, I can raise my hand for every single one of those scenarios.

It took me over a year to purchase the TIU nutrition plan, then it took me another 6 months to come out of my “fitness closet” and share what I was doing. Once I started sharing, I was amazed at the response and discovered I had the power to inspire so many people simply by being myself! So I became a Beachbody coach to pay it forward and help other women get started with their own fitness journeys. Cue ALL THE PRESSURE, holy crap you guys. Now my reputation and livelihood depend on before/after pictures. SO much pressure on myself to be in the best shape ever and produce dramatic transformations to prove that these programs work.

I am SO DONE with the pressure! I’m done with feeling guilty if I’m not 100% perfect with my nutrition or workouts, or if I lose motivation, or if my after picture doesn’t measure up to my own expectations. I'm real, I'm human, I am far from perfect and that's ok.

You have the power to control how you feel about yourself!

2. A PICTURE IS MERELY A SNAPSHOT IN TIME.

But life is not a snapshot, it’s a continual process.

Let’s get comfortable with the concept that we are on this journey called life and the journey IS the destination! Life is happening right now as you’re reading this blog post. How do you feel about yourself RIGHT NOW?

A picture represents a moment, and that moment has already passed...so if you set yourself up with the expectation you have to maintain the body you had in that “after” picture, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and failure if you gain weight again! Is it really a bad thing to gain back weight after losing it? Maybe...but maybe not! Your life is going to be a continual cycle of weight gain and loss, a series of before and after pictures.

annamarialocke transformation

I mean...look at my big picture journey! I've lost about 20 pounds since 2006, not on "purpose" but by slowly starting to build consistent healthy habits like exercising regularly and eating healthy. My body has reached a healthy weight and I've thrown away my scale, but I still waste way too much time obsessing about my day to day body, and learning how to trust that I have officially arrived and am not going to gain back the weight!

I want to start thinking of progress pictures as “Then and Now” pictures instead. Your “Now” picture instantly becomes a “Then” picture as soon as you take it. All that matters is today, the present moment, and the choices you make. How do you want to treat yourself today? How do you want to feel right now? Make decisions based on that...not because you want to punish yourself.

3. NOT SEEING A DRAMATIC TRANSFORMATION DOESN’T MEAN YOU “FAILED.”

Last summer I did the 12 week Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide program (you can read my full review HERE). Kayla is infamous on Instagram for the dramatic before and after pictures of girls who do her workouts. Yup, I was sucked into the hype because I wanted sleek abs and tiny thighs too! I did all 12 weeks of the program and yes, I gained so much strength! But did I see a physical transformation? Nope, not at all. Does that mean I failed or that I’m not as good as the other girls who have fabulous before and afters? Nope. It just means we’re all different, and our bodies are going to respond differently.

(SIDE NOTE: it also means that when you are in 3 weddings within 4 weeks, there is going to be a lot of eating, drinking, and celebrating going on. Sometimes maintaining your weight IS a victory! Think of the season of life you’re going through right now...sometimes you have to surrender your personal goals for the bigger picture!)

4. PICTURES CAN FEED INTO THE “NEVER ENOUGH” SYNDROME

It breaks my heart when I see a strong, beautiful girl on Instagram post a stunning before/after picture representing WEEKS of hard work and dedication and then caption it with some version of “I’m still not where I want to be….” or “I know it’s not a dramatic transformation…”

You guys, stop this madness! Who is the ultimate judge of what’s “good enough?” or how worthy our transformations are? Personally, I believe that God is the only person/thing we need to impress, and guess what? You don’t even have to do anything to impress God. We were all created perfectly imperfect, we don’t even have to try.

If we constantly think we have to finish a program, lose x pounds, or see a dramatic before/after picture to be happy or feel proud of ourselves, our happiness and self worth is always going to exist in the future. That’s a horrible thought.

Let’s shift our thinking and stop this endless pointless quest to change in order to be better.

Newsflash: You’re already good enough. You are already perfect! The only way you can be better is if you get out of your head and learn how to love yourself on the inside.

5. THE 'OLD YOU' IS NOT SOMEONE TO BE ASHAMED OF!

Yup, I used to weigh more. Does that mean I was less of a person? Not at all!! I'm the same on the inside. What you weigh means nothing. All that matters is how you feel about yourself. When you're 80 years old, do you want to look back on your life and remember all the amazing fun times you had, or remember all the times you wasted because you were freaking out and obsessing about your body? In the end, our body is merely a physical vessel for our soul, our light, who we are deep down.

How to lay off the pressure and appreciate YOUR unique health and fitness journey

Keep a daily journal to record your inner transformation.
We need to be working on our inner transformations just as much as we work on our physical bodies. Every night, write down what you ate, how it made you feel, how your workout felt, and how you feel about your day in general. Over time you'll be able to go back and read how far you've come, and see the internal progress that's hidden by pictures!

Put your blinders on and focus on YOUR journey.
We are all so different! Use before/after pictures if they keep you motivated, but catch yourself if you start to feel negative feelings or start to compare yourself to others!

Let’s lay off the pressure!
If you’re trying your best to treat yourself right and be the best version of yourself every single day, that’s good enough. YOU are good enough. Be proud of yourself for the small victories every day. Did you order a small ice cream instead of a large? WIN! Did you fit into a dress you haven't worn in months? VICTORY! Did you feel yourself getting stronger in your workouts? MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENT! Don't wait to be proud of yourself. 

Before and after pictures can be motivating, inspiring, frustrating, discouraging, positive, and negative. I guess they hold whatever power we are willing to give to them, and ultimately how you feel about yourself is completely in your control.

Let’s empower each other to celebrate our inner AND outer transformations, no matter how big or small. If you’re trying your best to make positive changes in your life, that’s all you have to do.

I'd love to hear your thoughts--are you inspired or turned off by seeing before and after pictures? How do you feel about taking your own?

xo Anna