Is there anything more insecurity-inducing than those ubiquitous "Before" and "After" photos gracing fashion blogs and fitness magazines? Traditionally, these spreads show a horrifying beast of a woman, looking sullen in no makeup with frizzy hair ("Before"), followed by a hot skinny stunner in heavy makeup and a skimpy two-piece ("After")....all thanks to [enter weight-loss "miracle" product here]!
Well, we're here to tell you that these "After" photos are processed in a dark room of smoke and mirrors. Because believe it or not, real people—even after losing weight—still look like real people.
The poster child for this shouldn't-be-startling truth is Brooke Birmingham. The bad-ass 28-year-old behind the website "Brooke: Not on a Diet" hit all the marks for a "Before" and "After" success story, losing 170 pounds over the course of four years. But when Shape asked her for "After" shots, and she dutifully sent in a pic of herself in a two-piece per Shape's normal MO . . . she was asked to resubmit a covered-up version of herself in a T-shirt.
Why? Because, seeing as how Birmingham lost 170 pounds, the bikini picture showed some residual fat rolls on her rockin' new bod. And that reality, it seems, was a little too real for Shape.
The magazine's reaction belies a sad truth about the weight-loss industrial complex: it actively sells an ideal of beauty that simply doesn't exist. One doesn't stride into a magical weight-loss machine and come out looking like a runway-ready supermodel (nor for that matter, do supermodels look like "supermodels"). Yet, whether through the trickery of Photoshop or more low-fi solutions like asking someone to put on a T-shirt, this is the promise that's peddled to us.
For those selling weight-loss goods, there's an upside to this lie. If perfection is the dream, and we can never achieve it, we'll keep buying the next weight-loss drug, treadmill system or, for that matter, issue of Shape.
Instead of listening to people selling us a lie, let's heed the words of Birmingham instead. Here's what she had to say about the photo scandal:
It all boils down to, I want people to know they shouldn’t feel ashamed of how they look. They should love their body no matter what. I wear a bikini because it makes me feel good. Just because you don’t have what the media portrays as the ideal body, you’re still beautiful.
The best part about this ideology? You don't have to buy anything to love your body no matter what...
Faux "After" photos be damned.