Here's the creepy truth about the photos you're viewing and posting. {Images via Instagram}
Here’s the creepy truth about the photos you’re viewing and posting. {Images via Instagram}
My personal love-hate relationship with progress photos, and the behind-the-scene freakiness that goes on with our images.

We all know that things aren’t always quite as they seem…this is especially true when it comes to body transformation photos. They’re interesting. They’re inspirational. And sometimes, they’re edited. Before and after pictures that are shown in magazines or used to sell products are often heavily faked and manipulated. It isn’t at all uncommon for professional photos to be enhanced with great lighting, makeup, and retouching, or for photographers to use super-fit models who take “after” photos first thing in the morning at their most pumped, lean, and aesthetically pleasing, then shoot their supposed “befores” a few hours later after a liter of soda and a family-sized bag of Cheetoz. Tricks of the trade. Unfortunately, though, the same thing is now happening to non-professional images that appear online: girls are using photo editing apps to not only even their skin tone and whiten teeth, but to shave off inches, nip in their waists, and give themselves impossibly long legs. Throw a filter on top of all of that and you have muscles that pop and definition for days. These photos look awesome!


It’s almost more damaging and dangerous, in my opinion, for real girls–AKA “normies”–to be posting these doctored photos on their own accord than it is to see photoshopped images in the media. When you look at a magazine, you know that the images it contains have been altered. That there was a team in place to make each and every subject look their very best, and that there was another team to edit the best looking captures from each shoot. Aside from that, the individuals on the pages are generally models, actors, or celebrities–people who have jobs that place a great deal of importance on their physical being. The vast majority of readers know that the final images they see–the ones that appear in the magazines–are highly inaccurate in nature. Beautiful, yes. Genuine, hardly.

When you see another girl’s photo on Instagram, though, it isn’t generally your first impulse to assume that the image has been altered. Everyone uses filters, of course {since duh, that’s the point of the app,} but it’s way weird to think that a given photo has been slimmed, blurred, or contoured into oblivion, rendering it’s subject almost unrecognizable. But it happens! And the more you are exposed to those types of images, the more you begin compare yourself to them. It’s an impossible standard. A standard that is made to LOOK possible by normal, real girls like you. Disproportionate bodies with giant heads, blurry edges, and warped, stretched, or especially pixelated images all reveal the truth, of course, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for in terms of editing fails, you may find yourself pining over “progress” photos of people with proportions that don’t actually exist in real life. Bad stuff.

Then, there’s the stealing.

While a Catfish-picture-sniping scenario is always possible whenever you post photos online, something even more sinister is regularly happening to those who have posted before and after shots to Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter. Public before and after photos being stolen by companies, and used to promote diet pills, plans, teas, and workout programs all over the Internet without the owner’s consent {and without payment}. How? You! Us! Social media is a never-ending resource. Shady businesses can simply track popular weight loss, work out, and body transformation hashtags–things like #bbg #progress #transformationtuesday #tiutransformation #bbgprogress–to find appealing, aspirational images…images that they then {secretly} use to promote their own products. More bad stuff.

Even worse? It doesn’t matter who you are. 

I’ve seen at least three bloggers who have MASSIVE followings have their images stolen and splashed across phony websites, used in marketing, or included in before-and-after weight loss galleries, and I’ve heard of girls with under 1000 Instagram followers having their pictures randomly pop up in ads in their own Twitter feeds. They check their “Photos” tab on Instagram and see photos of themselves linked to pages that they don’t follow–pages dedicated to “fitspo”, detox programs, or skinny wraps–all without any alert or credit. When the girls attempt to have their images removed, they typically either receive no response or are instantly blocked by the companies in question. But it gets even WORSE–since some of the aforementioned picture-stealing outfits are operating from abroad, their country’s laws actually protect and favor THEM and not the content creator, making what they’re doing–in their eyes, at least–perfectly legal. This is all happening without consent. You’re now helping to promote something that you could be totally against your beliefs, without your will, without payment. And it sucks. If you post a before and after image of yourself to your public Instagram account, you’re officially fair game. I’m all about taking progress photos, but perhaps not as much about actually POSTING those photos.

If you still feel the need to post progress or before and after pics, there are a two ways to do so a bit more safely…

  1. Protect your profile. Lock your photos. Make them private, and manually approve your followers.
  2. Add a watermark to your images. Be smart about it and make it hard to crop out. While this may make your photo slightly less attractive, it also makes it less attractive to companies who would like to use it in their advertising. Similarly, if your image goes viral, the watermark may even help you to gain new followers as the image recirculates.

Here are my personal rules when it comes to before and after/progress photos: Look closely at  and critically to the things you view. Consider the source. Realize that any image may be edited or enhanced. Try not to compare. Be careful with what you share. Want to guarantee 100% that your progress photo won’t be stolen and used without your consent? Don’t post it.

What are your thoughts on progress pictures? Do you post them? Would you?



2 comments on “The Secret Life of Before & After Photos”

  1. Thank you for this post! I often struggle with before and after photos for so many of the reasons you mentioned…when I see people’s pics on IG they can make me feel worse about myself and I need to remember those pics can go through just as much editing as a magazine!

    • Aww, Julie, thanks so much for reading and for your sweet comment! I’m glad you enjoyed and can relate–before and after pictures are a tricky thing. xo

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