You see them on 30-second commercials and 30-minute infomercials. You flip past them in glossy magazines, supermarket tabloids and major newspapers. They’re used to promote diet pills, diet books, exercise equipment, gym memberships and fitness DVDs. Their message is as powerful as it is simple: In a short period of time, you can become a better you.
I’m talking about “before and after” photos, like the ones you see with this article. Photos like these often accompany unrealistic weight-loss claims such as, “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days on the new Hawaiian Milk Shake Diet!” And like the claims, the B&A photos themselves can’t be trusted.
Many such photos begin with the implicit misrepresentation that the person in the “before” photo could be you. In reality, successful “before” models are extremely healthy people who have gotten injured or temporarily let themselves go. The weight loss/muscle gain displayed in these models’ “after” shots merely showcases their bodies’ return to homeostasis.
Some bodybuilders pack on pounds of fat for the sole purpose of taking these dramatic photos. Maybe they’re in cahoots with the makers of the diet supplement or exercise machine they plan to promote, or maybe they’re hoping to win a B&A photo contest, such as the EAS Body-for-Life Challenge. Other bodybuilders take “after” shots during bodybuilding competitions, and then they go home and binge on pizza and beer for a couple of months, and then they take their “before” shots.
Of course, there are simpler ways to take effective/deceptive B&A photos. So if you’re looking to win a B&A photo contest (or looking to become the next Hawaiian Milk Shake Diet spokesperson), follow these guidelines:
Trick No. 1: Suck in your stomach
If you exhale and suck in your stomach, you’re going to look thinner. This is particularly true for men, who store a lot of their body fat around their bellies. Remember to inhale and push out your stomach when you take your “before” photo.
Trick No. 2: Flex your muscles
Take a page from the professional bodybuilders’ competition-pose playbook; you’ll look stronger and more muscular if you flex your muscles. Be careful not to flex your muscles in your “before” shot, though.
Trick No. 3: Pump it up
Lift some weights immediately before you snap your “after” photo. Like flexing, anaerobic exercise will temporarily increase the size of your muscles.
Trick No. 4: Fix your posture
If you stand up straight and roll back your shoulders, your chest will stick out more, and your waist will look smaller by comparison. So find a mirror, and align your ears, shoulders and hips.
Trick No. 5: Fix your face
A smile is your best bet. A smile won’t make you look thinner or more muscular, but it will imply that you’re enjoying your new healthy lifestyle (your Sunday afternoons playing flag football at the park, your six-pack-bearing weekends on exotic ports of call …). And don’t grimace in your “before” photo—that’d be too obvious. Instead, go for a blank expression or one indicating slight depression.
Trick No. 6: Shave and bronze
Removing your body hair and tanning will better showcase your muscle definition.
Trick No. 7: Get a mini-makeover
Put on some better-fitting clothes, fix your hair and slap on some foundation.
If you don’t believe that simple tricks like these can be used to simulate weight loss, take another look at the “before and after” photos on this page. They were taken just two hours apart, and they have not been digitally altered in any way.
Friday morning at 9 a.m., Las Vegas Weekly photographer Beverly Poppe photographed nutrition professional Kimberly Battistini and me at the Greenspun Media Group studio. At 9:30 a.m. I shaved my chest, and at 9:45 a.m., Battistini and I drove to Neon Sun Tanning Salon on Green Valley & Pebble (neonsunLV.com) to get spray tans. At 10:45 a.m., I did 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 100 bicep curls. And by 11 a.m., Battistini and I were back in the Greenspun studio taking our “after” shots.
After the photo shoot, Battistini and I got to talking about the diet pills that are typically advertised with B&A photos. “Most consumers,” said Battistini, “aren’t aware of what’s in those supplements because they’re not regulated by the FDA.” Battistini also told me, “The American Dietetic Association encourages people to lose one-and-a-half to two pounds per week. But with consultation of a physician it might be acceptable for obese individuals to lose more than the recommended amount, per week.”
Keep that in mind the next time you’re debating whether to spend $39.95 on another “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!” scheme advertised with B&A photos. And remember, you really can become a better you … but it might take some time and hard work.
The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The ADA is “committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.” ADA member Kimberly Battistini coaches individuals on how to obtain a healthy lifestyle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Writer Rick Lax can be found on ricklax.com and contacted at email@example.com.