"Before and After" Photos Need A Serious Culture Makeover

Unless you’ve lived under a rock with no access to internet, television, or print media, you know about before and after photos.

On the left there’s a head-to-toe photo of a person who seems to be frowning with their entire body; on the right there’s a photo the same person, slimmer, beaming and possibly holding up an old pair of blue jeans.

These photos sell exercise equipment, workout dvds, weight loss programs, gym memberships, shakes and supplements. What they don’t do is sell us the truth—there’s no such thing as an “after” photo.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t set goals and track them, whether you want to crack that tough yoga headstand, run a marathon, or just feel hot in a pair of jeans. Goals are individual personal decisions for everyone to make for themselves.

If you find posting the photos empowering, good. If you find them inspiring, good! If you want to scrub them all off your timeline—that’s great too. You’re in charge and you know what’s best for you.

I’m saying we need to take a closer look at before and after photos and give them a makeover built on a foundation of realism. We should call them “accomplishment” photos instead.

Change the name, change the culture

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at this tiny suggested edit. Who cares what they’re called? What’s in a name?

To that I say: naw.

Words still matter. Words affect mindset. Mindset is everything.

“After” is to “before” what “finished” is to “started,” and anyone who has achieved a weight loss or fitness goal will tell you there’s no “finished.” The work of maintenance and healthy is never over. Take it from someone who lost 80 lbs, regained 50, and then dropped 30 again—change is constant.

Calling them “accomplishment photos” instead of “after photos” raises a couple of key points. The photo is a celebration of something you’ve achieved. It also emphasizes the fact that this photo is a moment in time, and after that moment is over, you’re going to go back to doing what you do best—kicking ass, putting in the work, taking care of yourself.

If we tailor the language and the way we think about comparison photos, we can build a more transparent health and fitness culture. We need this now more than ever, when resolution season is peaking and “bathing suit season” hysteria is just around the corner.

Setting Realistic Health and Fitness Goals

I’ll say it again: accomplishment photos. This word change transmits the idea that this is not a 30-day-diet change or a cleanse or a quick-fix. It embraces the idea of long-term commitment to yourself, your craft, and your journey. It encourages the idea of sustainable goals.

This time of year can be particularly tempting for those prone to the “all-or-nothing” mindset. They might be overpromising to workout 2 hours for 6 days a week and eat no carbs—they saw someone do this and get great results on Instagram. Fake news. Maybe if people saw less “after photos” and more "achievement photos” they wouldn’t be in such a rush to the next fad workout or diet. They would take time to find the exercise they actually enjoy.

Finding a sport or a workout routine you love and can maintain is more important than desperately chasing an “after” which doesn’t exist. The “achievement photo” swap opens up the dialogue about making a routine that lasts, instead of one where you burn out.

There’s no such thing as an after photo. There are moments when we have achieved, and moments we have yet to achieve.

Imagine an inclusive fitness culture, getting real about the sustained effort it takes to really look after yourself—I can just picture it now.