Everywhere you look, and this is especially prevalent in the wellness and recovery space, it seems like people are posting body shots on social media.
Whether the shots are taken month over month, before and after, or total transformation, people post to share changes, to showcase success. But what does this tell those of us who have a “before” body and thought it was perfectly fine? And can we even blame those women for posting if it’s something they’re proud of—then again, what’s their motive?
Please get your abs off my phone
Social media has a certain power over us in a way that other media doesn’t: we don’t always seek out what we end up with. Scrolling down to a photo of someone’s “before” that is your “now” practically invites us to throw ourselves down a rabbit hole of criticism and insecurity—or, it could have no effect on you whatsoever because you are confident and content enough to give someone a thumbs up or even a double tap and move on.
Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, an internationally acclaimed psychologist and therapist, told me, “For some people, seeing others in their veneer of perfection and success only serves to amplify their personal narrative of shame and feeling of ‘otherness.’ There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about how you look and wanting to share your success with the world, and positive feedback is delicious.”
However, he cautions, as the person posting, you also have to be prepared for feedback that’s more critical than complimentary.
“Remember that to compare is to despair. Anytime you compare your insides to someone’s social media enhanced outsides, you’re going to come up short.”
Process how you feel around these photos
Usually, when we feel someone has “made us feel bad about ourselves,” two things are actually happening.
First, we are afraid of their judgement and opinion even if we don’t actually have that belief about ourselves.
Or, they are triggering or waking up a feeling we’ve had about ourselves that is real, but that we are scared of or aren’t sure how to act on.
Johari Mayfield, CPT, suggests talking to different people in the health and wellness industry ranging from trainers, registered dietitians, massage therapists, physical therapists, etc. and asking any questions you have about your own body and how the human body actually works—“No such thing as spot reducing,” she said, will be on her gravestone.
“Go to events and fitness classes to see real humans doing things in real time. Go on a social media diet. Be mindful of how much time you spend online. Block people whose posts trigger you in a negative way,” she said. “And, understand that photo shop is real. My ex-boyfriend does it all the time to non-celebrities. He’s done it to me. Plus, the shots taken with an iPhone may have been taken multiple times to get that perfect shot. Someone’s ‘after’ may not be a real ‘after.’”
Time for a reality check
The best current example of before and after weight/loss body makeover being harmful, according to Mayfield, is Kylie Jenner posing in her underwear one month after giving birth.
“What are we saying to mothers here? Give birth, get a tummy tuck, hire a chef, personal trainer, a nanny, photographer, and makeup artist. Now pose. I’m not a mom, but I have clients who are. While they love the new role, they do struggle with work/life balance, relationships, childcare, etc. To get to a session with me requires a lot of planning,” she said.
Physically, she continues, some new moms now have diastasic recti, a condition where the ab wall separates during pregnancy in order to accommodate a growing baby.
“The exercises that help strengthen the abs/core are different because any forward bending makes the condition worse. While I know how to work clients with this condition, celebrity moms like Kylie Jenner make things harder, especially when delayed gratification is necessary in order to be healthy.”
Doing it better
Mayfield talked about her friend, Kristen Brown, who suffered a brain aneurysm after childbirth. While she’s getting back on track, she’s in a wheelchair.
“She’s also a single mom raising a family. Traditionally beautiful in her before, she looks different now. She regularly posts her workouts with physical therapists. She’s an advocate for differently abled people living full lives,” Mayfrield said.
Krista Suh, feminist, creator of The Pussyhat Project, and author of DIY Rules for a WTF World said that while before and after photos can be inspiring, they would be even more helpful if the person posting the photos was honest about what they loved about themselves in the “before” picture, not just the “after.”
“Posting about your journey is a really great way to get comfortable being vulnerable and discovering that you can feel happy and proud even when you are ‘exposed.’ It’s a reminder that having a body is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said—and that goes for any body type.
The most important thing to keep in mind is this: everyone has their own reason for achieving a ‘before’ and ‘after.’ If a before and after photo empowers you to change habits or make healthier choices, great.
If you only think that your “now’ needs to look like somebody’s “after” because their “after” is better, think again. Photos aren’t worth 1,000 words anymore, but actions are.
There’s undoubtedly something in your life that you’ve accomplished—something that goes beyond skin deep—that could inspire, motivate, or spark just a tiny hint of envy in that “after” poster’s eye.