Before & after photos… inspiring or shaming?

“You need to lose a few pounds”

“You’ll never look like {insert any Instagram fitness “influencer”}

“This is how you should look”

“Run fat girl run”

That last one was actually a real quote.

Seriously, one of my former clients was under the “supervision” of a PT before she came to me and this particular PT used to tell her she was fat and actually used to stand behind her on the treadmill and shout “run fat girl run”

Honestly, I thought she was joking when she told me. But she swears it was the gods honest! … and I believe her.

Now this is body shaming. For me, someone like this shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near people never mind work with them.

But this brings me to before and after photos.

I came across an article the other day from identical twins who operate their very own training facility. In it they express their views on before and after photos and why they “banished” them to promote body acceptance.

“before and after photos play a part in reinforcing dangerous expectations around how we should look and what is considered desirable”

“It shouldn’t be unusual to be told that you’re good enough. That you don’t need to change or transform.

Whilst I agree body shaming is highly prevalent on social media and some trainers and fitness “influencers” exploit their marketing to generate sales, for me they miss a very important point… the clients themselves.

“Our customers allowed me to pursue a lifelong dream of running my own business, and are people to be celebrated, not humiliated by stripping them down to their underwear and judging them on their body shapes”

If someone came into my facility and I demand they strip to their tighty whities, take a photo in all their glory and humiliate them by parading them all over social media, then I really deserve to live on an island out of the way of humans… along with the sociopath PT that shouts “run fat girl run” to her clients.

If you were to look on my business page, {LIFT Fitness Evolution} you’ll find a selection of before and after photos. You’ll also see a selection of people training in the gym, achieving PB’s and quotes on what they’ve achieved.

You’ll also find a huge amount of valuable free content that I put out on a daily basis.

Whether a client hits a PB or achieves a body goal they never thought was achievable, I believe it should be then why can’t both be celebrated and used to inspire others?

Yes, I agree, getting down to your skimpies isn’t for everyone but for some people it creates a huge motivational push. It seriously puts them way out of their comfort zone and drives them on to achieve great things and develops huge confidence in their everyday life.

One of the twins, Rhiana goes on to explain,

“this kind of marketing is so harmful because it reduces success to the amount of fat burnt, weight loss or muscle built”

What she talks about here are metrics that can be used to measure progress.

It provides feedback to the trainer who is then able to adapt their nutrition, training or make lifestyle modifications based on what their results demonstrate.

Trainers, if given consent, may use these metrics in their marketing. And IMO should present their results, provided they have consent from their clients.

After all, if you are going to invest in anything, you’d want to know what to expect on your return of investment? And this is only demonstrated by presenting results.

Not one of my clients in the 10 years I’ve been a trainer has ever said “no” to using their results. Because they are damn proud of what they’ve achieved, and rightly so.

Whether that’s a photo in their underpants, a PB in the gym or a simple statement of gratitude for helping them change their life.

Imagine Barbra, who was 30lbs over weight, feeling really crappy about her life and had a few health issues, then started working with PT Sarah.

Sarah then helped her take control of her life, encouraged her to be more active and eat nutritious foods and in the process, loses 20lbs of body fat.

Is it then wrong for Sarah to use this metric of 20lbs loss to help promote her business, provided Barbra agrees?

Sarah has a business to run. Like most PT’s she’s probably struggling to get clients and needs to make herself visible in a saturated market. If she presents Barbra just eating veggies and telling people how good she feels, Sarah isn’t going to get noticed and won’t be in business for very long.

Sarah needs a strong measurable metric to gain attention.

Most people approach PT’s because they want to lose weight. Very few actually come just because they want to feel better. Of course the underlying factor is that they want to feel better but they also want want a result, something attainable, something they can be proud of and say,

“Hey, guess what?  I’ve lost 2lbs this week and that’s a total of 15lbs all together”

“In the process I’m also feeling the best I’ve ever felt in years and that back pain that hindered me for years? Gone!”

Barbra is happy for her to do this as she wants Sarah to succeed. She also wants more people to be helped by Sarah, because Sarah has literally just saved her life.

Sarah, like many other good PT’s writes regular blogs and articles, put’s out free daily content and sends weekly emails to help her clients in their everyday life, outside of the gym walls.

And maybe one day a potential client approaches Sarah, wanting to get in wicked shape.

Maybe she wants the photos and all the metrics and she’s happy for Sarah to use these in her marketing. Because the thought of being photographed in her skimpies terrifies the life out of her so much it gives her the fuel she needs to make sure she achieves her target.

There’s always two side to a debate and I agree that some trainers exploit their marketing and shame people into buying from them. But this can be said about any profession.

I’m not slamming what these two girls do, I think it’s great how they promote their business and I really respect their ethos. Many trainers could probably learn a thing or two from them.

At the same time, if someone wants to get down to their pants and take photos, good on them. They shouldn’t be concerned with upsetting other people.

The same if someone just wants to be a little stronger and have energy to keep up with the kids, kudos! Don’t be afraid to tell the world what you’ve achieved.

Most good trainers have depth.

Yes, they may use before and afters to showcase their results in a tasteful and non-disrespectful way but what else do they provide? Helpful nutrition tips, ideas to become more active, recipe books, blogs, articles… the list goes on!

Most people are inspired by other people’s achievements.

I did question at one time whether the use of before and afters in my own marketing was appropriate.

But then I realised what these images meant to my clients. They were proud of what they’d achieved and I’m only too honoured to celebrate and share their achievement with everyone else.

So, if you feel before and after photos are “reinforcing dangerous expectations” first think about why the imagery may have been used.

And instead of feeling threatened by it, see if you can be inspired by it.

Does this person have a story you can relate to? How did they do it? What obstacles did they overcome? What can you take away from it?… look for depth!

Just because someone else is in their underwear doesn’t mean you have to be… Unless of course, you’re stuck on an island with a crazy ass PT nut job shouting “run fat girl run” … then maybe being in your underwear is the last of your worries!

What’s your thoughts on before and after photos, do you think they create inspiration or shame?