My FAT to FIT fabrication.

This post was inspired by Mel’s 15 minute Before/After shoot.  Bcause I’m a misfit mine is more a 30 second Before/After snapshot.  You’ll have that…

If you read fitness blogs with any regularity then you’re familiar with Before & After photos.


Some display shocking weight-loss transformations.

Others are more subtle, yet no less amazing in the hard work required.

If you’ve never read a blog then you wouldn’t see this, but for sake of being hyperbolic you’d *still* be familiar with the concept as they’ve long been staples in the weight-loss industry.

Before and after photos are used to pitch everything from diet pills to exercise plans.

Photos of flabby, pale (and if you’re male uber-hairy) “befores” placed next to smiling, tanned, toned “afters.”

Having worked in the bodybuilding industry I’ve long known these advertisements were, for the most part, faked.

Same person.  Same day.  Adjustments in expression, posture, body hair, skin color and voila! An impressive “after photo” in moments.

No photo-shop required.

Recently bloggers & trainers have set out to debunk these fabricated images.

I had no plan to join in—-until an experience last week.

I climbed out of bed, yanked on my Athleta apparel, and readied myself for a Yoga Journal Conference hike.

Before heading out, I shot a quick, filter-free instagram photo.

No hair bushing, no face washing, simply an “I love this stuff! Thanks for sending!” shout-out to the brand.


I shared the image & turned to grab my stuff and go.

As I spun away from the mirror I laughed out loud at what caught my eye.

You see, it’s long been a running joke I lead with my belly.  I live *too* relaxed and let it all literally and figuratively hang out.

Gone were my abs and happily, hanging in the forefront was my r-e-l-a-x-e-d belly.

And an idea was born.

I pulled up my hair, slouched, ceased smiling, and snapped another swift shot:


In less than a minute I became my own Before and After! shot:


As I hiked I thought about my first photo.

I didn’t *intend* for it to be a “fabrication”—yet, in this instance, it felt as though my “truth” was what was caught by my peripheral vision as I grabbed my mat.

For that reason this is less a rant against the fitness industry/bashing of its tactics (that’s been done by more eloquent writers than I) and more a reminder.

A reminder to me—and by extension to you—at times I *do* unconsciously choose to put my best abs face forward and perhaps not display my complete truth.

A selfie picture is worth a thousand words…yet sometimes those words are NOT what we think we’re conveying.


  • What are your thoughts on ads using fabricated before/after photos?
  • Do you strive to always put your best self(ie) forward or do you let it all hang out?


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  1. says

    I see pictures of myself allllll the time, taken minutes apart, in own in toned and strong, in the next I look flabby and full of extra pounds. Obviously I only share the first pictures. I try to remind myself that every picture out there is the best picture that a person has to share. I don’t think there is anything wrong wtih putting your best face (abs, butt, legs, etc) forward, as long as it is understood that pictures do not tell the whole story. Especially with all the IG filters to make everyone instantly tan with awesome cheek bones.

  2. Michele says

    Why is there anything wrong with putting one’s best face forward? Standing up straight, engaging your abs, flossing your teeth, wearing well-kept clothes that fit correctly in colors/styles that flatter your shape and coloring, and, yes, making the effort to eat well and exercise to be fit is a simple matter of taking pride in oneself. Is the person who goes through life slouching and frowning in mismatched stained sweats somehow morally superior? I don’t think that your taking a photo where your posture is good and your smile is big and genuine is “misleading” — and if anyone at this point doesn’t know that before/after photos are faked and that all models are airbrushed and that no Hollywood celebrity actually “looks like that” up close in real life, it’s not because someone like you knows that putting your shoulders back and your chin up not only makes you look better but is actually important for health. Please don’t let the fit-shamers make you feel that you have to “tone it down” and self-deprecate for their sakes. You work hard for what you are, how you look, and how you feel, and presenting the best version of that in a photo is not wrong.

  3. says

    Girl, I can way make my 6pk stick out farther than yours — looks like I’m 5 months preggers. I’m proud, I call it extreme muscle control like belly dancing. I show it off, it’s a great source of (ahem) entertainment and realness. Who doesn’t want to look good, but I’m not afraid to let it all hang out literally and figuratively (double entendre intended).

  4. says

    I definitely suck it in for my plank poses, but that’s, uh, to engage my abs for proper form! Jennifer’s comment above reminds me of when my then-toddler son used to puff out his belly and proclaim that he was his “PawPaw” (grandfather). Luckily PawPaw had a good sense of humor. ;-0

  5. says

    Of course I always want to put my best self out there. But I’ve been known to put out a pre running or post workout shot with crazy hair and no make up. We all have different faces, so I think it’s ok to put them all out there on occasion.

  6. says

    I love that you lead with your stomach and that is where you have the star of David. It’s like you’re leading with your faith. <3

    Also, you still look ripped and awesome in that first photo!

  7. Runner Girl says

    It’s hard because I do want all my instagrams to look great in case anyone wants to hire me to work with them.

  8. Lita says

    I have seen the feminist selfie thing and to me it seems they are trying to look bad.
    It is a fine line between being real and trying to look bad.

    But thank you for letting us see you are real.
    You rock Athleta and are the reason I went there last weekend!!

  9. Healthy Mama says

    I do think it’s human nature to want to put our best self forward, but this is why I return to your blog over and over.
    You are raw and honest.
    I’d never have shared the “before” photo on the internet.

  10. says

    I will admit I try to put my best selfie forward most times…however some days (like post long run) there is no finding that! I do think though that having companies airbrush and alter photos makes it hard for us to see what regular people look like.

  11. says

    I don’t think i’ve ever taken a photo of myself with abs. Because i think i would try to fabricate it. But you know what I have noticed? When i smile, the focus is on the face and not the body. Which leads to less fabrication, yes? Either way, I think we need to escape the fabrication of things.. the question is how? Love your realness

  12. says

    interesting! i do try and put on my best face for any pictures i post on social media and that’s one of the beautiful things about social media… we’re allowed to do that :)

  13. Paula says

    Can we get Athleta to use real women like you in their advertising?
    I don’t know I could look like you ever LOL but at least I know you’re not a model and real.
    Have you approached them??

    • cherylann says

      Even Athleta doesn’t use “real” athletes in their advertising- they are fit women, but they are models. And where are the OLDer women? We are the ones with the money to spend. I would support and buy from a company that uses real OLDER (40+) women in their shiny brohures!

  14. says

    I try hard not to obsess over the pictures I take of myself, but the reality is I think we all worry that someone will see our ‘naked’ face. I am working hard to make sure I’m comfortable in my own skin… To hell with what everyone else thinks… *as I suck in, just a tiny but*

  15. cherylann says

    Because I am in the public eye with my job I strive to look professional at work (best face, etc. forward.) But don’t “do” selfies….don’t understand selfless….will never understand selfies…..and really, the mirror thing? Doesn’t the damn camera have a delay so you don’t have to do the mirror pix? C’mon smart phones at least be a little smart! (don’t have one of those either, ’cause all I see is people acting stooped while on them!)

  16. says

    absolutely. I try to put my best foot forward on most days because sometimes I seriously can’t see the change until I look at myself in a picture. (The mirror can be a mind screw and unforgiving at times!) I do know ALL the tricks to a good selfie though. haha.

  17. says

    I don’t mind people putting their best-looking selves forward on social media.

    I just wish they all felt the need to similarly put their best thinking and feeling selves on. …

  18. says

    What a great post! I honestly would never have thought that you could even do that with your bod – you amaze me again! :)

    I do think many of us try to put our best forward.. I know I do with my pics – even the ones I cut off my face. I know what angles are better for me… I do talk that I don’t always look like this but I don’t show the pics.. not even sure I would be brave enough…

    I do wish the media & all – as you know this – would stop all the photoshop & crap… it would help make people feel so much better but I am sure it all comes down to money & sales… the fabricated stuff is just making it hard for girls, boys, women, men to ever feel good about themselves & especially the young that grow up thinking they have to look like that.

  19. says

    I am pretty much over “before and after” photos in general. That said, my own B&A’s were an important part of my inner growth at one time…and I don’t regret them.

    As for the fabricated B&As in ads? I was on to that whole sham years ago.

    As for selfies? Sure, I aim to look as good as I can, but I’ve come a long way baby in terms of showing my real self :-)

  20. Carla says

    OH which all has me thinking the most powerful BEFORE! and AFTER!! would be my writing.
    A sample from 2 decades ago and one from now.

    #praysshesgrown :-)

  21. says

    I admire women who can let is all hang out on IG. :) I try to be as natural as possible… and if I have a passing of extra confidence, then I will post something that is really relaxed and “just me”…vs being more posed.

  22. says

    This is such a great reminder!

    I think often people don’t mean to deceive but by only showing the best pics, sharing the happy moments, etc., it’s so easy to fabricate a much nicer version of our lives.

  23. says

    I remember that photo from the other morning! I gave you heck for looking so great on a Saturday morning. :)

    I actually, LITERALLY JUST TODAY– put myself “out there” for the first time. It actually still has me frightened at this very moment. I contribute on Fit Mom Diet and did a post about transformations and how they aren’t always external. Part of it was putting a “before & after” out there– that really aren’t that different. And there’s no filtering, strategic posing, the lighting is horrible……………….. as I’m writing this I’m freaking out more. HA!

    Have a great day Carla!

  24. says

    I see nothing wrong with putting one’s best self(ie) forward. No shame in wanting to be one’s best. That said, I think perception is in the eye of the beholder. Many are all too quick to take others at face value (visually and by believing 110% what they say) when in fact there’s so much more going on beneath the surface.

  25. says

    I’ve always known those weight loss photos aren’t the real truth!

    I tend to put my best foot forward in all situations be it in my daily life or on my blog. That is just how I am wired and I make no apologies for it. It works for me.

  26. shan says

    Am I the only one who isn’t “tricked” by this? I mean your hair is up and you have a grumpy face on…all you did was push out your belly? even at that you can still see abs. meh…

  27. CARLA says

    Once I noticed that too the fat burner ads which were less than…authentic really stood out to me as well.
    The relaxed belly shot is all me. Who I am. Letting it all hang out :-)

  28. says

    Love it! I’ve definitely done the before after privately, without the photo taking, just to watch myself transform before my own eyes. You’re pretty ripped, so even your before looks super fit! But the point is made. I’m a huge fan of NOT putting on my best/most attractive face especially when I first meet people (potential romantic interests especially) because I am adamant about people not falling for an idea or me, but for ME in all my glory and in all my bloated days too. I’ll even wait to ever wear make up around a guy until it’s clear he’s into ME as I am in all my states.

  29. says

    I went to a party years ago with both a pro photographer roaming around and a photo booth. The “pro” shot me at an unflattering angle (cut off right below my bust, right head on or a little below me) and I looked about 200 lbs. The photo booth took the shot from above with a fisheye lens, and I looked about 125 lbs. Neither were reality. But… I totally put up the fisheye shot, and NOT the other one (except on my blog, as an object lesson).

    I think it’s fine to put our best food forward, as long as we don’t have adverse emotional reactions when a not-so-best foot is put forward for us. I had to work on that one…

  30. says

    There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward. There is definitely wrong with faking a weight loss in the hopes of conning someone into spending money on your so-called miracle treatment. Yes, buyers should be aware, but it is still not ethical.

  31. says

    I have never looked at like this before, but it’s true that if I don’t think I look good in the photo, I am not posting it or I am taking another one until I do look good. I feel we do this so much!! I always laugh at the weight loss ads, because I know they are unrealistic and they on purposely make the person look horrible in one photo, then all nice and pretty in the next. As if to say that when you are bigger you can’t be as attractive or nic elooking, you just let yourself go. But when you are skinnier you do your hair and makeup too. thanks for this post.

  32. says

    Since i’ve never done a selfie, i’m not sure what i would do — i tend to avoid having my picture taken anyway. Last time was when i was all dressed up for Grandpa’s big event.

  33. says

    Love that you are calling this out. Do the people who make these photos not realize that we recognize the messy hair and lack of makeup on the before photos compared to the fully done-up after picks? Come on!

  34. says

    Funny timing as I just yesterday posted a photo of myself and one of my kiddos “eating” breakfast. Hair is a bit askew and something is going on with the color of my face…but we looked like we were having fun, so I hit post anyway. SUPER liberating.

  35. says

    Ya know I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic and I think about it now each time I post. I do tend to put my best face forward and i dont even mean to, but it’s for 2 reasons I’ve come up with: 1) when I am having a notsofresh day or a particularly bad one, I tend to stay off social media and go away from people in general. my friends know something is up when i “drop off the face of the earth.” This is sort of how i operate and i come back shortly. 2) I don’t really think anyone wants to hear me whining, especially on social media. Lol! I am sooo not perfect but when I only post the good things I can see how someone might not think I have much bad, yet there is plenty of bad! Lots and lots actually. And thats sort of who I am. Someone who posts the good and goes away to deal with the bad on my own. A for the best photos, I spend so much time trying to take the exact photo I want that I do also totally try to post the best one of the lot. Social media is like a gallery to me. That being said, I did post a vine of me getting coffee where I look disgusting so it turns out that I don’t care tooth about my appearance in some cases! :)
    Ps. Your before pic still looks amazing 😉

  36. says

    Fun post, Carla! I love the Athleta top and your laughing belly button in the “after” photo. :-)

    I think I do usually put my best foot forward and it’s mostly unconscious. That is certainly why I use the same old profile photo though it doesn’t quite correspond to my current looks – I’m older and plumper. But sometimes I’m too busy to care.

    The interesting thing is that my body is very similar to my mother’s but it’s easier for me to accept her body than it is mine.

  37. says

    If I’m just “posing” for a picture I try to suck it in but sadly I tend to just let my abs be what they are most of the time and those pictures are the bulk of the ones on my site.

  38. says

    I like the idea of US defining what beauty is on social media. Curious if you saw this?

    When my daughter and I take crazy selfies using Photo Booth, I couldn’t care less what I look like – saggy skin, wrinkles, skin discoloration… hey I’m pushing 50 here! That said, Of COURSE I put my best self forward on social media. When I post a selfie it’s an expression of self-empowerment and love.

    Fitness modeling is about advertising – the good side… what’s possible. I’ve let go of my need to criticize it. It’s there and always will be. Our job as moms is to instill self-love in our daughters despite the messages out there.

    Love this dialogue!

  39. says

    I think everyone always puts their best forward on social media. That is why I always tell myself never to compare myself to others. I love this post though. Thank you for the reminder!

  40. says

    I always struggle with the other side of this. I basically have written my blog about losing the weight. I too have many before and afters. But because my weightloss is SO recent I am almost scared to get photos of myself not at my best for fear of falling off the wagon. And feeling like my hard work isn’t paying off in pictures the way it is in person. It’s immature I know that but I do struggle. Again I like this post for the fact it’s real and on any given day we can look like a million bucks or look a little less pleasing to the eye. Thanks for keeping it real, as always :)

  41. says

    I love how raw and real you are.

    I went into a store yesterday. I loved how each and every one of the photos in their ads noted ‘this image has not been touched up’. We need to embrace more of the real beauty that lies in and outside of us.

  42. says

    This is interesting – on one had the before/after that sell diet pills and work out programs are pretty frustrating because you can tell they aren’t really real. (Although still not as bad as hair loss b/a)… However I don’t think you’re faking anything with the first picture. You aren’t selling anything except healthy living. Sure we can all look worse when we relax, but if you are trying to share your fitness with the picture you took is the picture you’d share – and you still look pretty darn real to me!

  43. says

    I love this and your “before” picture makes me chuckle.. I’ve never seen you look so down haha! It’s so important to remember that what you see on instagram, in a blog post, etc. isn’t always the entire truth. I, of course, try to put my best self forward not just for those reading or looking at my pictures, but for myself as well. It makes me feel better to see a smiling face!

  44. says

    I am sorry but your BEFORE PHOTO looks like a lot of people’s AFTER photos! You’re a hottie, own it.

    I find those ads with before/after photos to be quite interesting. Since we live in the age of photoshop, how on earth can we believe them?!!?

  45. says

    Crazy, right? I always wonder about those photos that look like they are “too close” in terms of time frame. Example. You first before/after you can tell there are years between them. They second two, you are not able to gauge when they were taken, which can result in them being “mizleading.”

  46. says

    Hmmm….I don’t really do before or after pictures..

    I do think the whole fitness industry using the before and after are manipulative. What makes the difference what another person’s before or after looks like. Regardless of how you transform yourself…you will never look like those pictures…you will always just look like you.

    Unless you have extensive cosmetic surgery..then I think you can look like a cat if you want to.

  47. says

    I think it’s ok to adjust coloring, lighting…that sort of thing. It’s ok to hide a blemish or scar, but adding abs, muscle definition, or whittling a waistline is unfair.

  48. says

    Sadly, we all too often see that first photo and value ourselves accordingly. Having pushed out two big-headed boys, I can easily make myself look 5 month pregnant. But I won’t, as I’d see the pic and feel bad. Then I’d have to talk myself down.

  49. says

    Oh I love this. I have caught myself many times in the mirror with horrible posture, in my “comfort zone” and not really putting my best foot forward. I do agree with some of the other commenters that there’s nothing wrong with trying to put your best face/body forward in photos (I think we all do that, no?) but it’s a different story when photos are being manipulated for the purpose to mislead.

    But what really struck me was the quote at the end – “A picture is worth a thousand words…yet sometimes those words are NOT what we think we’re conveying.” <– That is what I've been thinking about a lot lately.

  50. says

    This is certainly a fitspiration for everyone who want to lose weight but sees no hope. It just a matter of patience and dedication if you really want something good for yourself.

  51. says

    Interesting food for thought and LOTS of great comments too! I think that, like others, there’s nothing wrong with putting the best pictures of yourself online…I think I portray myself authentically in my writing, but it simply doesn’t cross my mind to put pictures that don’t look great up along with that honest text. I don’t think it’s bad, but maybe just not the whole picture. I like videos b/c you see people as they are (less angles and light and such!) and think the occasional photo of me with candy or a big ice cream cone helps show some light. As for the fitness industry pics, I love seeing people debunk those before and afters!

  52. says

    Honestly I almost posted a “seflie” photo of me on Sunday morning with no makeup, pasty, still sleepy, but then decided against it. I admit it, I always try to make myself look “perfect” or “presentable” in my photos, but I think once in a while, I need to just let it all go. 😉

  53. says

    I feel like everyone fakes a little bit. All the photos we post on Instagram are always going to be our best pictures. I like to show “my best side” online, but in person, i do a little bit of both

  54. says

    I don’t have an issue with putting your best foot forward in a picture, but you’re absolutely right that a few posture changes can make a WORLD of difference. When I shared my before & after for my bikini comp, I tried to convey this same thing – a lot of how you look is how you present yourself. A different bikini can make you look like you’re so much more toned (or less toned). A little honesty is very good, but I don’t judge anyone for wanting to share photos of themselves on the internet that they look a little better.

    Now fabricated before & after to deceptively sell a product – that’s a VERY different story!

  55. Renee says

    Yes, Carla, THIS IS IT:

    “picture is worth a thousand words…yet sometimes those words are NOT what we think we’re conveying.”

    We women put too much pressure on each other to be picture perfect.
    I love your honesty.

  56. says

    Oh I effing love you for this post.
    I am an offender of making myself look awes-mazing.
    I can look through tons of shots of myself and only find one that is worthy of sharing :) And of course, that is the one I share.
    Sad truth is, people will still believe in the perfection, miracle pills, diets, etc.

  57. says

    When people have lost a huge amount of weight, the before and after photos can be quite spectacular. Of course I have a few but then I have the ‘afters’ of the ‘after’ which becomes another ‘before’… if that makes sense.

    It’s something I need to do a lot on but I wish I could accept that I can only be me in the ‘now’.

  58. says

    I’ve seen many workout programs use photos of people that look like they are in pretty decent shape in their before pics. However they usually are a little bit “puffy”. Usually they get “cut” in the after pics. I do think that posture, facial expression and stomach poking are used often to exaggerate.

  59. says

    I’m not so gullible that I’d believe all those before and after pics are real, but Andrew Dixon’s article really opened my eyes to see how easy it is to decive people with these images. But even more importantly, not even fit people look always fit. It’s just the media that gives us the illusion of always-perfect-body or hair or skin. Personally, I try to put my best forward. My god, I’ve been pulling in my stomach since 10! Now it’s turned into a habit and I can’t even relax my belly normally :)

  60. says

    I constantly strive for the perfect pic….in this digital age who isn’t. It’s so easy to snap and delete why shouldn’t we. Some of these before and after shots are hard to believe. I think that “before and after” shots should only be used for personal satisfaction and not branded over the internet for others to feel bad, or to see a specific product.

  61. says

    Ha, YOU. I think it makes sense that when we’re photographed (especially in today’s world, where that picture may end up who knows where), that we’d want to put our best self forward. And perhaps that’s true in life — people are more confident when they think they look good (Even if the difference is unnoticeable to others). Even standing up straight with shoulders back can improve confidence, leading to greater success or happiness. It changes how we interact with people.

    THat being said, I agree that when subtle differences are taken advantage of to falsify product effectiveness and sell lies, that’s not okay. And I do also think it’s great when people come clean and say “I’m not perfect” and “my abs don’t always show”, because that’s reality.

    I’m not really sure the point of my comment here but that’s my thoughts :)