A common practice in the fitness world is the progress photos showing how our bodies have changed as we continue to exercise and workout regularly. Many individuals think that sharing these “before and after” or “progress photos” is motivational and inspiring; however, in many cases, these photos can be triggering and harmful.
When working out, it is important to keep in mind that exercise is something we do for our bodies, not to our bodies. The main goal of regularly working out should not be to drastically change our bodies or lose weight, but instead, it should be to take care of ourselves mentally and physically.
The trend of sharing progress photos of weight loss on social media puts a large focus on weight loss. It also puts the message out there that the body in the first photo is “bad” and that it is something that should be changed, while the body in the after photo is “good,” or more desirable.
Progress photos also can create an unhealthy comparison and can make fitness feel like a competition of who can change their body the most. Working out should not be a competition between individuals, it should be an activity we do to support ourselves mentally and physically. Everyone’s relationship with fitness is unique and moves at their own pace.
The comparison that is created by sharing progress photos on social media can be harmful. Everyone is unique, and even if we all eat the same and complete the same workouts our bodies will still be different from one another.
Another issue with progress photos is that they only show the physical changes, not how a person is feeling mentally. We don’t know the story behind the photos, for example, outsiders who are viewing the progress photos shared on social media are unaware of why or how this individual is losing weight.
A person sharing their before and after photos may have drastically transformed their body, but we never know how a person’s mental health is. Pictures shared on social media only show a small highlight reel of someone’s life, when in reality they may be struggling, and the body transformation shown on social media might not have been done in a healthy way.
Photos showing weight loss can also be triggering and hard to see for those who struggle with eating disorders. On social media, we never know who will come across the photos we share and how many individuals will see them. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 9% of the population worldwide struggles with eating disorders. We never know who might be struggling.
Focusing on the physical change that exercise brings can begin to cause stress for individuals as their body fluctuates and changes over time. Instead of focusing solely on the physical change, it's important to take the time to think about our mental well-being. Ask yourself questions such as:
How do I feel when I exercise?
Has exercise improved my mental well-being?
Has exercise brought more joy into my life?
Progress photos put too much focus on appearance and weight loss. Working out should be an activity we do to take care of ourselves both mentally and physically, not just something we do to lose weight and change our bodies. We are more than just an “after” photo shared on social media.
By Julianna Michell Strano