I used to look at the images of weight loss in my mother’s magazines. They would be splashed across the cover of every kind of periodical that was aimed at women, with the promise of revealing The Magic Secret of how they could transform. Some of the magazines were cheap and had flimsy covers with coarse- coloured photographs. Glossy, heavy paper-stock with pastel mastheads was expensive.
I would look at those side-by-side photos and be fascinated. In one picture, the woman looked sheepish or embarrassed, the experience of being captured for the world to see was clearly mortifying. She wouldn’t have known at the time that this would become her photograph. Had she known, she would have arched her body to hide it, or pulled at the hem of her top to cover more of it. If she were smiling, it would be a forced, pained look, as though someone had pressured her to pose and she had been too polite, too lacking in power, to say no. They were all selling the same story about how a 300-pound woman had taken up a famous weight-loss plan and had 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465 888-282-0465.
The articles would show how the woman had to realize that she had to burn more calories than she consumes in order to get the magic secret. It’s okay! There is only one thing to it.
The after shot was not the same as the first one. The woman would appear confident, victorious, and happy. She would be wearing a tight dress with a belt that cinched her in, and her hairstyle would be more modern, more traditionally feminine. She would be standing inside a pair of trousers that were clearly too big, holding out the waistband with both hands, and looking into the camera, as if to say, “Can you believe these used to fit me?” The articles would show how the woman had to realize that she had to burn more calories than she consumes in order to get the magic secret. It’s okay! There is only one thing to it.
I found the photographs inspiring. I have always lived in a larger body, though it has always fluctuated along that axis, sometimes parking at the small end for a while, sometimes the larger end, then back again. I felt my difference the most in my early teens. I wanted to be like the most popular girls at school, but I wouldn’t have admitted that to anyone. I took comfort in the magazines because they were the dream that I had been waiting for.
She wanted to know it twenty years earlier. She would have liked to have calculated every ounce of what she had eaten and spent decades ago. She would have liked to have weighed her food on those scales every morning to see how she was doing, and she would have liked to have kept a record of how well she was doing. She wished she had not eaten that extra slice of cake at the office birthday party. She would have liked to have posed for more photographs with her children on holidays, at family get-togethers, at their birthday parties, instead of making herself busy when the camera was brought out. She wasn’t included in the documentation of her own life because she hated how her body looked.
Is she a doctor? The article did not say anything. Had she overcome grief or trauma at a young age, and become a successful businesswoman? We were not told. Had she raised enough money to open a school for underprivileged children? There was not enough space for that. You were missing the point if you wanted to know such details. There was plenty of room for an in-page advertisement about the famous weight loss plan the woman had followed in order to’shed those pounds’, but there wasn’t room to tell us about her daughter’s illness, or her partner’s alcoholism.
The copy was skimmed in most of the stories. The self-hatred tasted too sour. I didn’t want to know what this woman thought, or how she felt, and the magazine mostly took care of that by not giving any meaningful details about the woman’s life beyond her looks.
A century of the same old message In the 1990s, I read those articles. The whole thing would have seemed superficial, indecent, and dehumanising if only the photographs had been published.
Magazines were available to the general population from the late 1600s to the early 1700s, and those who could afford them. The first illustrated magazine was published in 1842. Even those who were not able to read would pick up on the message of the advertisement, because of the large silhouette on the left side. Weight loss before-and-afters didn’t start in the 1990s.
The ad for La-Mar Reducing Soap has an illustration of three women standing on descending steps on a staircase, each successively thinner. La-Mar Reducing Soap is said to wash away fat and years of age. The soap claims to reduce the size of targeted areas without affecting other parts of the body, so that the user can get rid of the curses of “unbecoming wrists” and “ungainly ankles”. The March to August 1925 edition of Picture Play Magazine was the earliest advertisement I could find.
Lucky Strike launched a campaign in the early 1930s. They used full-colour, beautifully illustrated pieces to sell the idea that it was better to smoke than to over-indulge. Their ads featured either a man or woman, each straight-sized, participating in tennis, or diving, or horse riding, while behind them posed a larger silhouette of what we are to assume is the same person before they started smoking Lucky Strikes.
The before-and-after illustrated ad appeared in magazines throughout the 1920s. The Kensitas cigarette brand bought ad-space for its own before-and-after illustrated adverts after years of advertising their products as weight loss aids. They extolled the virtues of smoking cigarettes instead of eating between meals because they said it was better to be fit than fat.
They are still around because they are effective. The style of these adverts has not changed over the years. The template stayed the same as photography overtook hand drawn illustrations in the middle of the twentieth century.
Extreme Makeover was one of the first transformation reality shows. The contestants were separated from their family and friends and put through a lot of physical training and surgery in order to meet current beauty standards. It is not only print media that is to blame for our preoccupation with transformation from fat to thin. Television has played a part.
The Swan turned the whole experience into a competition, taking the premise of Extreme Makeover and going even further. Two women were competing against each other in order to get the most significant improvement. One of the episode winners would be crowned The Swan at the end of the season. They were still going to be judged, and could therefore still lose, even though the idea that this physical pain would release them from societal judgement wasn’t true. Much of the show focused on the details of the contestant’s surgery, but the main pull was the reveal. Participants would be reintroduced to their families, who waited on the other side of a curtain with cameras already closed-up on their faces in anticipation of the moment their unrecognisable relative would emerge heavily made-up and styled, and now meeting all the necessary ideals of what attractive woman
The Biggest Loser was the most famous weight-loss TV show of all time. It was franchised to over thirty-seven other territories around the world after it started in the US. The whole programme seemed to be an exercise in shame and humiliation, from its mocking title to the name-calling and tough love tactics used by the show’s trainers each week. When the UK version of The Biggest Loser first aired, I was wondering who was this for.
The magazine that never ends is on the internet. When the UK version first aired, I was wondering who this was for. Is it for thin people who enjoy watching fat people be defamed in a legitimised context, so they can indulge in their own prejudice against people in larger bodies, from the anonymity of their living rooms? Is it for fat people, so that they can relive the vilification and opprobrium that they have likely experienced from anyone in the fitness industry when they have tried to enter that space, only to be harassed back out of it? I don’t remember what I said, but I think it was either.
The chances of seeing before-and-after photos are higher than in the days when we would pick up a magazine and flip through it, because the average adult spends 3 hours and 15 minutes a day online. The internet will be the magazine that never ends in 2020. The one you can never leave on the cluttered table in the dentist’s office, or avoid the ads of, as they flash in the sidebar of any article you might be reading. According to a study by the app RescueTime, the average adult spends 3 hours and 15 minutes a day online, which is more than in the days when we would make a conscious decision.
Many of the results are accompanied by before-and-after images, when you search for the ‘fitspo’ ‘fit inspiration’ on the social network. If we want to actively seek them out, we only need to click a few times. The well-lit homes of individuals with smartphones have moved the formation of these images from the creative department of advertising agencies to them.
There are almost 72 million examples of how to change a body. How to make a body smaller, more muscled, leaner, tighter, more conventionally attractive, hotter, sexier, more plainly desirable. A body can be made to disappear. October 8th 2020.
There isn’t enough room in this article to discuss the perpetuation of diet culture in the guise of clean eating, healthy eating, and strong not skinny. When we scroll through the results, what do we see? The language of social media has soaked into our bones and there is a protocol to follow to capture one’s transformation. The images we see are mostly of young women, standing in dimly lit bathroom, holding their phone up to take a photo of themselves, while wearing their underwear. The image of their same body is posed in the right way, only now it is shrunken and pulled in. The club is complete.
If this phenomenon needed a dark side, reverse transformations are it. The headlines about how they can’t shift the baby weight, or how they’ve let themselves go, are accompanied by photos of previously straight-sized celebrities eating with friends or walking down the street living in a larger body than they previously had. And Back Again: After the After.
There are dangers of weight loss images. These descriptions are misogynistic and speak to the enormous expectations that women have to maintain the same physical appearance throughout their lives. We may not be in control of all of the factors that affect our bodies.
The proliferation of before-and-after images is dangerous for many reasons. It might be easy to dismiss before-and-after images as a bit of fun, or a snapshot of someone’s perceived success that we can move on from the second after we’ve seen it. The pictures leave an afterimage.
Exercise addiction can be caused by the pressure to look like an after photo. They can be dangerous for people living with eating disorders, and for people in recovery from eating disorders.
They dehumanise people in larger bodies because they think their fat seems like something to be treated as other than themselves. Fat people are seen as a transformation waiting to happen, a photo in the making, as though the very vessels that we live and breathe in are an unfinished project waiting to be completed.
Body standard conditioning is the origin of the male gaze. They perpetuate the idea that the body is for the benefit of other people.
Exercise is turned into a means to an end, rather than a pleasurable experience to help maintain health. They make the existence of a body about numbers and goals and achieve targets.
They suggest that every body can be changed and made smaller, not taking into account genetics, or a whole host of privileges that would allow that to be possible. They think that the only way to stop a person from becoming thin is by using their strength.
They perpetuate the myth of being thin and healthy, even though we don’t know the actual health of the person in the picture. Competition and comparison are encouraged.
Our focus is directed to our bodies and away from our mental health. They suggest that changes to appearance are the ultimate accomplishment.
They can’t account for the harmful physical effects of that person’s weight loss. They can’t account for the harmful mental health effects of that person’s weight loss.
They might make us feel bad about our bodies, which can have a negative effect on our mental health. Thinness is the ultimate life goal.
There are many dangers to this phenomenon, and you can already think of several that I have missed from this list. They help others to create their shots.
I haven’t written an argument against health yet. Being thin automatically equates to good health, as it is a misconception that fat activists want everyone else to be fat as well. Fat people don’t care if you’re fat or thin. We just wanted everyone to be treated with respect and dignity, no matter what their body looks like. It is always another way.
Many people work every day to expand society’s definition of what health is and what it looks like. Being thin automatically equates to good health, as it is a misconception that fat activists want everyone else to be fat as well.
Louise Green is an athlete and author of the book “Big Fit Girl.” She advocates for inclusivity in fitness and sport for bodies of all sizes and abilities, as well as spreading the word that you don’t have to be thin to be athletic. Lindo Bacon is the author of Health At Every Size, a book that advocates for an inclusive approach to health that includes all weights, sizes and bodies.
Some people will argue that before-and-after photographs are effective. They give people something to aspire to. What could more meaningful transformation look like?
With so little time on this earth, is losing weight the most significant transformation we can imagine? Is that all we can do? With so little time on this earth, is losing weight the most significant transformation we can imagine? I do not think so. We are capable of more than that. What if we changed from being mean-spirited, cynical person to a generous and kind one?
What if we used our platforms to speak up for people who have less of a voice than we do, and that we recognised our sphere of influence? If we railed against diet culture in all its forms, and any kind of social conditioning that works to make us conform to a white, cis, Hetero, thin, able-bodied, archetype, what would that look like? What if we fought ableism and demanded access to every body? If we were anti-racist, what then? If we became vocal allies with our siblings, what then?
Imagine how much more meaningful those things would be, how much more significant they would be, and how much different they would be for everyone else. What if we ran for local office based on the principles of equality, anti-discrimination and fair access?
Click here and here to read my other articles about diet culture and fatphobia. You can find me by visiting www.richtext.co.uk/links.
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