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The beginning of before and after photos
There’s probably no easily identified source of the before and after photo as we know it today. But the first time I remember seeing before and after physique photos was in muscle-building and fat loss supplement advertisements in the late 1980s.
Image from Quasi-Interesting Paraphernalia Inc
As these advertisements appeared in trade magazines and sports nutrition retailers, their reach was limited.
However, Bill Phillips took the transformation photo to a new level in the 90s with his EAS Spokesperson Challenges and the publication of Body For Life.
Phillips changed fitness when he popularized before/after photos for the masses.
Phillips’ work featured hundreds of side-by-side photos showing weight loss and muscle gain over a 12-week timeframe. These images reached millions of people and, suddenly, folks previously not interested in physique transformation began using Phillips’ workout, nutrition, and supplement ideas to change their own bodies.
While this might seem common practice nowadays, Phillips’ innovation was that he coupled evidence (photos of peoples’ bodies actually changing) with incentives (prize money, free cars, etc. for top performers) and made it all palatable for the masses (by showing a wide range of “average” bodies instead of just bodybuilders or fitness competitors).
Seeing his success, many professionals began using the same ideas.
Eventually nearly everyone started using them
These days, side-by-side, underwear- or swimsuit-clad images are normal.
Your old high school physics lab partner is posting his 12-week transformation on Facebook, touting the cleanse that helped him lose 25 pounds.
Your sister-in-law is showing off the transformation photos she created (using a free app) on Instagram, documenting her 6-month, 40 pound weight loss.
No longer being used just to sell products, diets, or coaching services, the before and after photo has become a culturally accepted way to celebrate, even show off, body changes.
Yet it’s important to consider what’s being communicated with these images, and how they’re being received.
On the one hand, if your goal is to lose weight or gain muscle — to change your body — body change photos can be motivational. They can inspire you to get started, or keep going.
On the other hand, if you aren’t interested in either goal and/or have a history of disordered eating, trauma, or body images issues—they can be uninteresting, off putting, or downright triggering.
Now we arrive at the heart of the debate.
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It’s not hard to stick out your belly to look heavier for a before photo, but Enache had a few other things to watch for:
- Holding your arm/hand close to your body will make it look [bigger] and with no contoured muscles.
- Using a direct camera flash will diminish much the relief (3D look) in an image.
- Dressing in white or pale colors, wearing very tight underwear to let some of the muscles or body fat squeeze through and over the elastic.
- Keeping the legs close (similar to the arms).
- Hunching the back and letting the shoulders drop.
And, as anyone who’s ever tried to find the most flattering angle for a photo (yes, I’m raising my hand, too) can attest, there are ways to make the subject look even thinner for the after picture as well. Enache suggests keeping an eye out for the following in comparison to the before photo:
- The use of tanning lotion and a little oil.
- Keeping the back straight and shoulders rolled back.
- Standing a bit turned to one side and not facing straight to the camera.
- Keeping arms on the waist and the core tight.
- Light coming from a side — this way the shapes on the body will be more visible. This can make a huge difference.
- Dressing in black, fitted clothes (not too tight, though).
- Keeping the legs a bit spread so the muscles won’t be squeezed with no form.
If nothing else, always use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, chances are good that it is. And, even if that’s not the case, don’t ever determine your self worth by someone else’s photos. When it comes right down to it, whether someone else’s photographic evidence of weight loss is real or not shouldn’t impact you. If it inspires you to stay committed to eating well and being active, that’s awesome! But it doesn’t mean you aren’t already fantastic exactly as you are.
Were any of these tips surprising to you? —Kristen