Before and After: Celebs
I imagine at some point you’ve seen these cringy titles or headlines for videos or articles like, “Celebrities: Then and Now!” like a Before and After type of clickbait. I’m not proud to say it, but I’ve clicked on them myself. The images you see show two pictures of the same person next to each other, meant to contrast how they used to be and how they are now. The tone of the article or video often pits the two images against each other, like “She used to be like THIS, what happened to her?” framing her current appearance in either a positive or negative way.
They either take aim at the After picture, as if she shouldn’t have changed, grown, evolved, or aged; that she ought to always be a freeze frame of herself at her “peak” no matter what. OR they aim at the Before picture, like what she used to be was undesirable and unacceptable, BUT because she changed her looks/size/shape/weight, she is now deemed acceptable and is celebrated and welcomed back with open arms! I’m not sure why critical celebrity gossip seems so intriguing to us.
This common practice of taking cheap shots at how people look doesn’t just affect the celebrities in the pictures though. When we see this type of media, we internalize messages about how we should or shouldn’t look, that looking a certain way is wrong or right, that we must fit in this rigid box or else we ourselves will be excluded and rejected. As we judge others using ludicrous standards modeled for us, we in-turn become self-conscious thinking we’re surrounded by people who are critiquing our appearance.
Before and After: Ads
Another example: ads where companies use Before and After images for their product. The Before girl is shown in the worst possible way: bad light, unflattering angles, over exaggerations, and she just seems unhappy with herself. But the After girl, as-in, what supposedly happens to her after using their product, her life looks amazing, a night and day difference, unbelievable results, she finally loves herself now! This perceived transformation is the selling point, like you can’t NOT get the product now that you’ve seen what it can do, or at least says it can do.
The Fine Print
What baffles me is the fine print, the smaller text that appears for just a moment or is buried way down where you likely won’t see it. “Results may vary.” “Results not typical.” “Actor portrayal.” “Along with ___ (diet and exercise).” “Side effects include …” But as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that speaks louder than any fine print does. The company hopes that you identify with the Before image, that you see yourself in the Before girl in the worst possible way, undesirable, unacceptable, struggling with yourself. So you get sold by the After image girl, the transformation, the difference, the results!
And that’s what they were counting on–to make you feel so bad about yourself that you buy their product thinking it will change your life. That you’ll finally be happy with yourself when this product supposedly transforms you into the After girl. Do you see what’s happening here? Using a Before and After comparison helps brands make money off exploiting your insecurities so you feel self-conscious about yourself.
Before and After: Us
It’s not just tabloid media or companies selling things that use Before and Afters, though. We do it, too. We compare ourselves to our own selves. Sometimes we mean well, sharing our experience with a challenge or goal. But more often it is to shame our before and celebrate our after. Social media is littered with glow ups using an eye-catching transition and trendy music in a Reel or TikTok. As creators, we post these comparisons because we want attention and praise, we crave validation from our need to feel accepted! And we usually get it! As consumers, we eat up these transformations, can’t believe our eyes, in absolute awe at what people can do with products and makeup (and usually filters, too).
This is Ridiculous
A few years ago I posted my own side-by-side Before and After pictures showing who I used to be and who I became. Regardless of my intentions, I’m not proud I posted it and I’ve since deleted the pic. Maybe that sounds ridiculous but that’s because this all IS ridiculous. Perpetuating the belief that we should look a certain way to qualify our existence is absurd. Demonizing either who we are now or who we used to be, that she should be rejected, shunned, and fixed, is absolutely false. We can’t keep pitting ourselves against ourselves, constantly battling who we are now, on a never-ending quest to find happiness from sources other than self-acceptance.
More Than A Body
In their book, “More Than a Body,” Drs. Lindsay and Lexie Kite of Beauty Redefined shared, “Before-and-after photos tend to reinforce the assumption that you can measure lots of things about your life based on how your body looks, whether it’s your health, happiness, desirability, or self-confidence.” They continue, “You are not a before or an after … What if instead of thinking of yourself in static, reductive terms of “before” or “after,” you thought of yourself as in between those two points: during. Any photo you take of yourself right now is just a “during” shot, captured as you experience your ever-evolving, ever-learning existence.”
Not Before or After; Now
What would happen if you thought of yourself as a During or Now, not some-thing that needs to be changed but someone who is always growing, trying new things, having gains and setbacks (because that’s life), setting goals and reaching them, developing herself, surprising herself, and accepting herself not because of how she looks but for who she is as a whole person. Not waiting for an After to love herself, doing it now.
This is a huge mindshift, but I know that applying it will be life-changing, and I make that promise without any gimmicks or fine print.
Not Before or After Poster Printable
So to help you remember all of this, I created a “Not Before or After” poster for you to draw or add a picture of yourself, then print out and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
More on body positivity and neutrality:
You may also want to check out:
Her Body Can, by Katie Crenshaw and Ady Meschke
Love Your Body, by Jessica Sanders
All Bodies are Good Bodies, by Margaret Samora
The Body Image Book For Girls, by Dr. Charlotte N. Markey
More than a Body, by Dr. Lindsay Kite and Dr. Lexie Kite
Reclaim the Rebel, by Lizzy Cangro
You Are Not A Before Picture, by Alex Light
Embrace Kids, by Taryn Brumfitt
Reflect, Disney short
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