Why The Before and After Pictures Don’t Tell the Complete Story

before and after image of female sitting  on bed with hands on stomach and serious expression on her face

Scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds, I hope to see a few cute puppy pictures, some body positive inspiration, and updates on my friends and family. But in between the smiling faces and motivational quotes, the familiar “BEFORE” and “AFTER” pictures pop up like weeds growing between the cracks in a sidewalk.

Everywhere I turn, I see them. It has become a phenomenon really- this unapologetic plastering of “before” and “after” images on social media. Sometimes the pictures are of homes, of rooms, of hair, or of faces. But more often than not- the pictures are of bodies. And the purpose is to show how much one has transformed.

Success Stories?

They are touted as “success stories.”

As if by shrinking our outside appearance we somehow become more valuable, more lovable, and more desirable.

And as much progress as I have made in my recovery from an eating disorder, I am STILL triggered by these images. I feel a tugging in my stomach as I read about a friend and how much weight she has lost. A twinge of jealousy creeps in as I notice others are shrinking while I have been gaining. I feel my stomach pressing into the pants that used to be loose on me.

In a society that puts dieting and weight loss up on a pedestal, it is hard to remember that for many of us, gaining weight is actually the most healthy thing we can do.

Before and After Pictures in the Recovery World

And not all of these triggering images are about losing weight.  I follow many pro-recovery pages as well. I have noticed more and more posts by social influencers in the recovery world depicting their success with “Before” and “After” images. And while I hope their intent is to inspire recovery, it often falls flat in my opinion.

I wonder why they think it is necessary to post their emaciated “before” pictures. Perhaps they are truly proud of their gains. Maybe they feel these images give validity to their stories about struggles they have overcome. I wonder if they believe these images are inspiring?

The Truth

The truth is- to me they are triggering. Staring at emaciated bodies causes a reaction within me. There is still a part of me that wants desperately to be in a smaller body.

My wise self understands shrinking my body will never bring me happiness.

My rational self knows that at my smallest I was also my MOST miserable. But I would be lying if I said these before pictures didn’t pull at the disordered part of me that is still inside. Perhaps it is because comparison is one way the eating disorder festers and grows. Whatever the reason, these posts strike a nerve in me. And I know I am not alone.

Before and After Photos Have a Deeper Problem…

In addition to these posts triggering me, they also bother me on a deeper level.  Because they imply that our success can be seen and measured in an image. They feed into the false belief that you can tell if someone is recovering from an eating disorder based on their appearance. 

Anyone who has gone through recovery understands that gaining weight does NOT magically make the internal hell of an eating disorder just disappear.

And people with eating disorders come in ALL shapes and sizes.

I spent over 25 years struggling with an eating disorder. The way the disorder looked over time morphed and changed. But what remained constant was the horrible internal struggle and the feeling of never being good enough. 

True recovery from an eating disorder requires we separate our worth as a human being from our body shape and size. It requires learning to love and accept ourselves and move in this world courageously and authentically. This type of growth does not show up in a before and after photograph. It cannot be seen with the human eye.

Taking Action

So, I have started taking action when I come across before and after posts. I “hide” them on Facebook and “mute” them on Instagram.  And while part of me is still triggered by these images, I am empowered knowing I am setting a boundary. For me, these photos are not inspiring or helpful. And I consciously choose to surround myself with images, writings, and people who bring me up. I encourage you to do the same.

Following pro-recovery accounts on social media has been instrumental in my recovery from anorexia and bulimia. I believe there is so much power in sharing our experiences. And hope can be gained from seeing others ahead of us in the path to recovery

Following diverse accounts has been healing for me. I am inspired by the work of so many warriors. My goal with social media is to connect with others on the path of recovery. I hope to inspire and support other warriors on this journey and I believe this can be done without posting emaciated pictures of myself.  So you won’t ever see a “before” or “after” post on my feed. Follow me on social media- I’d love to follow you back.

And if you are someone who posts “before and after” pictures, I hope you do not feel attacked by my writing. I encourage you to look inward and explore the reasons you feel compelled to post pictures of yourself at your sickest. I am not alone in feeling triggered by the images. Also, please comment below- I would love to hear from you.

To read more from Lisette and learn about opportunities to work with her in private coaching please visit her website here, or follow her on instagram here.

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  1. says: Allie Jaffe

    I identify with all of this. Photos are very triggering to me; I am in a much larger body now than I have been for over a decade, and there is a lot of shame. Coming from a diet culture, fitness obsessed family, it is hard.

  2. Allie- Thank you for reading and for commenting. I am sorry you have also gone through this- I can relate to everything you commented. Learning to reject diet culture and all it stands for is especially hard when our families and almost everyone around us buys into it. But rejecting diet culture is key to healing and letting go of the shame. I believe we all have the courage to do so- keep fighting. I know it is worth it. ??

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