There Is No Such Thing as Happily Ever “After-Photo”

The internet is chock full of sexy “progress pics.” There is no shortage of shocking before-and-after photos to show off peoples’ astonishing fat loss and drastic body transformations, usually with a sad “before” and a happy “after.” I personally use progress pics and before-and-after photos to track and share my clients’ results, because they’re a valuable tool and I like how they take the emphasis off the number on the scale.

That said, I think these photos can be dangerous.

Forgetting for a second how incredibly easy it is to fake a nice little before-and-after (as this trainer shows us!), I think the problem is in the message that the photos send in terms of goal-setting. They somehow give off the impression that there is can be a Happy Ending to your fitness journey. They seem to say “Hey-  if you work hard and get in amazing shape, then you can live Happily Ever “After-Photo” too.

But here’s the problem with that: there is no end to your fitness journey. (Not to mention- making the assumption that people who reach “after-photo” status are actually happy is devastatingly false, as Neghar Fanooni from Eat, Lift, and Be Happy shows us with her story!) 

Many of you have probably heard me wax poetic about achieving “substainable results.” I talk about putting into place healthy habits and practices that you can maintain as a baseline over a lifetime. When a person is committed to living an active, healthy, vibrant life, and they put these practices into place, then no matter what life throws at them they will be able to always hover around a “fit and healthy” set point. But do not misunderstand me: THERE IS NO END. Your body is endlessly changing. Your metabolism is constantly reacting to what you throw at it, you are constantly aging, your cells are constantly overturning, and your priorities will constantly be shifting, even if it’s just a teeny bit at a time.

Contrary to a lot of people in my industry, I do NOT believe fitness should be your #1 priority. Not for very long anyway. In my ideal world, everyone makes it their priority for just long enough to kickstart a nice easy (sustainable!) fitness habit that suits them until they need to check-in again and make adjustments.

But that’s not what people want. People want results with a fairytale ending. Imagine the bride whose goal is be in the best shape of her life for her wedding day. She wants a photo that will make her husband swoon, her friends jealous, and her grandkids dumbstruck. She want to “have it all.”

But I’ve trained a ton of brides, and I have a secret: not a single one of them was able to maintain wedding-day shape for very long after her wedding. Getting into crazy shape using unsustainable habits (like strict caloric restriction and tons of workouts) always leads to unsustainable results.

There’s a big difference between goals that are attainable, and those that are sustainable. In other words: just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Granted, sometimes it requires getting into crazy drastic “after-photo” goal shape, in order to finally let go of the whole notion that “after-photo” shape will make you happy. Because it won’t. In your perfect “after-photo” shape, you are still just a perfectly imperfect human. (Even fitness models on the morning of a photo-shoot are often just cranky, dehydrated, imperfect humans.) Photos don’t jiggle, don’t dimple, and don’t bloat. Photos don’t get a post-workout muscle pump, don’t swell or puff up in response to carbs/salt/water, and don’t fluctuate with their monthly cycles. 

But we do.

Now, I’m gonna throw myself under the bus for this post, because I can only really use myself to make this point. I’m pretty lean, but my life is such lately that I get an extremely inconsistent amount of sleep, recovery, hydration, and nutrition. Depending on these factors, some days I look lean and defined, and some days I look puffy and washed out. Often this is the result of my carb and salt intake (I’m looking at you, Pho), my ability to properly hydrate, and my sleep and workout schedule.

But my point here is this: my body fluctuates every day. So does yours. If it was my priority to keep myself looking a certain way consistently, I would get more sleep, turn down weeknight drinks with friends, and definitely stop eating things like Vietnamese noodle soup. But alas- it’s been the best summer of my life and I couldn’t care less.

So why does this matter? Because with Instagram culture, people see photos of me and think I walk around in perfect photo-ready shape all the time, and women often tell me that their goal is to “have my abs” or whatever. I want to show you that the Happy Ending you’re setting out for doesn’t exist. Yeah I’m fit, I feel great, and I love my body. But day-to-day, sometimes even hour-to-hour, that shit changes. And just because I post one photo of myself from one moment in my day (usually on Instagram with a nice flattering filter) doesn’t mean I was in “after-photo” shape the rest of my day.

Below are some before/afters that I took a few days ago. The ones on the left were taken right after I ate, and in probably the worst overhead lighting ever. The photos on the right we’re taken just a few hours later, in great lighting, on an empty stomach, and right after I worked out. I was not pushing my belly out or sucking it in for either photo, though I was flexing my abs a bit in the second ones.

photo-11

Both are me. Both were a part of my day.

There is no end point, we are constantly in flux. I think the way we currently view goal-setting and progress is problematic because it resists the flux. Resisting what is leads to disappointment and resentment. We must embrace the process, in order to find peace and satisfaction- not just the process of getting in shape (see my Greatist Article about that here), but the process of being a person.

So how about we stop aiming for a rockin “after-photo” as a goal, or for any photo of any sort for that matter? What if we made the goals: put sustainable healthy habits into place, stay open to adjusting them as necessary, and let go of the outcome? We are going to fluctuate and change moment-to-moment forever. It’s all you, and it’s always changing, and that’s perfect.


I’m passionate about helping women learn to love their bodies no matter what they look like. If you’re new here, I want to offer you a gift to get you started– a *free* copy of my new ebook! 

Body Image Alchemy:
Why You’re Still Failing to Love Yourself,
and 6 Ways to Level Up. 

Just enter your email address HERE to download your copy, plus I’ll be sending you some insider tips, exclusive content, and other self-love goodies!

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