‘I stopped trying to be skinny – and life is so much richer for it’

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As a marketing tactic aimed at those who are seduced by the idea of losing a bit of weight, it is hard to resist. So-called transformational photos – the “before and after” shots of people as they lose weight – are used widely by many fitness influencers, personal trainers and gyms to get new followers or customers. The hashtags #beforeandafter and #beforeandafterweightloss lead to more than 25 million posts on Instagram alone, while the habit of posting such pictures on #TransformationTuesday has garnered another 16 million posts.

They might be compulsive, but viewing pictures like these can make us unhappy. A 2015 study from Australia found that looking at ‘fitspiration’ posts on Instagram led to worse mood, body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem in the women who viewed them.

“When we look at a before and after comparison, we are being given messages about acceptable and unacceptable bodies,” Dr Jenny Cole, senior lecturer in psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, explains. “The ‘before’ is the ‘wrong’ body and the ‘after’ is the ‘fixed’ body. Social comparison is an automatic process, so it’s not something we can easily control.” 

But times are changing. Now, a new breed of fitness fanatics – including some reformed “before and after” snappers – are reversing the trend. Personal trainers such as Alice Liveing, who has nearly 700,000 followers, have eased up on their regimes and are posting before/ after shots to show they’re happier and healthier now that they are slightly heavier than they were in their super-slim days. 

In the United States, beauty blogger Taylor Rain posted before and after pictures of herself on Twitter after she put on weight due to taking mental health medication. In a post that has been liked more than 170,000 times, she says: “I posted this because I struggled with confidence when I gained weight.” Thousands of women replied to the thread with pictures of their own. 

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