My Decision: My “Before and After” Photos

by Courtney on April 24, 2014

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When I posted my first blog two weeks ago, called “Should I Post My ‘Before and Afters’?” I knew that hearing from you would be helpful, but the entire topic allowed for a rich and powerful discussion on the bigger topics of body image, shame, achievement, and inspiration. And out of the dozens and dozens of comments and thoughts about it that I received, everyone was so loving towards me and towards each other on the various threads. I just love that.

So even though I’ll let you know what I’ve decided about my pictures, I hope to construct this blog post in a way that gets us all feeling about these bigger topics for ourselves. Who knew that the general idea of “before and afters” would bring up so much? The topic is a very powerful tool for reflection. I’ve decided to take some excerpts of comments and emails I received that I feel are either an interesting perspective, and/or were comments that many people voiced similarly.

Quite a few people wrote similar things to this comment from one of my Juice Cleansers, and this was the most common kind of response to my previous blog post:

I think you are are being considerate in your concerns about doing it, but from my perspective, I think that doing so gives those of us out there on the path of true health a chance to really “see” and relate to our leaders. Also, seeing that someone who has been successful actually struggled once is very motivating and helps to normalize the fact that there is struggle and it’s not always pretty, and yes, most of us start from a not-so-ideal starting point. I’ve often had the thought that I wish I could have met many of the people that I consider to be successful (in different areas) back when they were struggling. I think doing so would be so powerful in ‘seeing’ that if they made that much of a change, so can I.

On the other side of things, there were several comments agreeing with the stance I’d had up until the last post, expressing the problems with before-and-afters:lavenderinco

Just like the scale can take on demi-god qualities, so can dramatic before and after pictures of physical transformation. Having released over 160 pounds I am a dramatic case study! But the most important transformation is my growth emotionally and spiritually. I will always be a grateful work in progress when it comes to my compulsive food issues. Fellow travelers on this path seeking a solution from the ‘outside in’ may get sidetracked and lose focus on what makes us whole, healthy, loving beings.

There were also a few people who essentially voiced that perhaps before-and-afters are not a great idea for some dietary or health approaches (in my head personally I’m thinking things like diet pills), but that for something that is truly healthy, they are. Such as this comment:

So many times people’s before and afters seem so vanity-driven, but when it comes to this subject – what plant-based does consistently, and especially combined with juicing – they are inspiration.

And another great perspective about the potential downsides of before-and-afters:

Personally, I am glad that you have not posted Before/After photos. This was one of the reasons that I was comfortable contacting you to inquire about Juice Feasting. Instead of promoting health and wellness as a finite journey with a beginning and an end, you approach Juice Feasting as contributing to wellness…. Before/After photos often contribute to Fat Shaming even when the people posting are unaware of this, and these people do not mean harm. Before/After photos often suggest that the “after” image is a “better” and that there is something wrong with the “Before.” To provide such a visual can often narrow down the wonderful aspects of a challenging and fruitful journey into a single statement.

From the perspective of a client, I also think it’s encouraging to know that my Juice Feasting Coach does not define her journey as having a “Before” and an “After.” It helps to know that the person who will be coaching me is focused on Juice Feasting, not focused on how much weight can or cannot be lost. Because you have not posted photos, you are not encouraging people to compare themselves to you and your journey. Another wonderful quality of a good coach.

I can understand why some people would like to see Before/After photos, but I believe that your refusal to contribute to the “thin is better” paradigm that these kinds of photos perpetuate is honourable.”

waterfallccSome of you felt before pictures would be helpful primarily because a lot of the coaches/authors in the natural health movement didn’t have compulsive eating issues, or if they did, they weren’t as severe as some of us struggle with:

We as readers know who you are by your heart felt writings. So many who are into health coaching have never been through what others have experienced. They have perfect bodies from the start or maybe an extra few pounds they have to release. Showing your pictures along with your experience will give more hope to those who have real issues with eating behaviors.

This comment about how we each have our own emotional filter to the topic of beauty and health was also very interesting:

Before/after pictures are powerful and can inspire – and I understand your reluctance. Weight or physical appearance can take a higher value than excellent health. It is also good for us to recognize this – and to take the judgement out of our joyous response to beauty as well as our response of sadness or desiring to help someone who expresses as unhealthy – be it in personality or in physical body. So, from a compassionate perspective of loving all expressions of humanity, while being attracted to a bright personality and inner beauty, we need to also give ourselves permission to appreciate outer beauty and to understand our desire to help others change – if that is what they want. If you post earlier pictures of yourself – as an indication of how far someone can go toward excellent health and to inspire someone who may be overwhelmed at their current state of health – that may be a useful goal.

One aspect of this that had never occurred to me was the possibility that I could be sending a message by not posting before photos, and so these comments have given me great food for feeling (rather than food for thought – wink):

I think it might motivate people who need that extra boost as well. As long as your message doesn’t change then I think you can still reach and help people who struggle with self-shame and are uncomfortable sharing pictures.

And also:

I truly understand the concerns you have about posting one, but it could also send a message of shame by not posting even one photo.

Another good point came from someone describing how pictures can convey emotions:31521_511969234264_3402889_n

It does help to see the transformation of a person physically, because we cannot see the transformation that occurred emotionally. I believe that it may help others to see the physical journey you went through, and possibly even see the difference in your entire well being as pictures often show what we’re hiding inside.

Interestingly, most of my “before” photos that I do have are of me making crazy faces. Essentially, even though I was miserable and suffering and depressed on the inside, for photos, I always tried to put a facade in my facial expression.

I also felt the following comment about our societal conditioning and the arbitrary nature of before and afters was fantastic:

Really great post, Courtney! I think this is really thoughtful and insightful. It’s really great that you think about this and consider impact. My gut feeling is that those types of photo juxtapositions communicate that there is a clear end point to our journey, one of weight loss, and that if we don’t look a certain way after getting healthier we’ve somehow failed. A very healthy person’s “after” picture may look a lot like someone else’s “before”, so the pictures kind of don’t actually mean a lot.

Pictures can show vitality and happiness, definitely. So that is helpful. I just feel like we are so trained to scrutinize photos in terms of weight, especially photos of women, that before and after pics tend to communicate that really strongly, due to context and conditioning. I honestly think that whatever you do, coming from the heart, is the right thing. If you feel good sharing, then it’s right.

I received a message from one of my clients who expressed the main thing I’d been concerned about by not posting before pictures. I didn’t know this had been her experience until she contacted me after I wrote the last blog:

One of the things that made it difficult for me to make the move to contact you at first was that all your photos were healthy and beautiful. Not having met you, there was a fear of judgement. I probably wouldn’t have had that fear if I had seen a before and after photo with a post similar to the one you just put up. You put me at ease right away, but it’s intimidating to be at an unhealthy low and be contacting someone who glows and looks like they’ve always had it all together. It’s clear from what you are saying above that you are not making weight loss a focus, it is a product of living your happy life. I think before and after photos can be really inspirational. I’ve never seen a before and after of a person I know or have worked with. I think it would be a positive thing.
Thanks to everyone who shared. Now, here are my feelings. First of all, some of you were sweet enough to encourage me not to be embarrassed about my before photos, but the truth is, I’m really not. It wasn’t shame of myself that has kept me from putting them up. I am just so passionate about the truth that we all – no matter who we are, how long we’ve struggled with food, or how bad it seems to be – can heal our compulsive eating. I know the incredible suffering and pain that can consume our lives and keep us from living fully, passionately, and freely. And I want to help. So I have no preference as to putting before photos up or not. I just want to help and I want to help in the best way I can. And I don’t believe many of the things that many people who put before photos up believe – that fat shaming will get you to act, that looking like a model is better, that all you have to do is willpower your way into motivation. And because my approach has always been different than many people’s approaches, I’m totally ok with not following the grain in that way.

I like math, so I actually kept track of how many people were saying “yes do it” and how many were saying “I support not”, and the census is that about 80% of people said yes and 20% said no. And since my mission is really to help people first and foremost, here’s what I’ve decided:

Before and afters will never be what I lead with. They’ll never be on a book cover, they’ll never be the first page on my website. I’ll never fat shame. I’ll never say that a certain body shape is better (including any of my shapes throughout the years). I’ll never claim that weight loss is the most important thing.

But, since the majority of you have said that you would be helped by having them up, I’ve decided to create a page with my Before and After pictures — including lots of explanation for them. For those who don’t feel it would be helpful to see them, no worries! Just don’t click over, and as I said, they’ll never be my front page, so you probably won’t see them unless you’d like to.

If you haven’t been following along with the discussion, please do read the text I’ve written on the next page, and without further ado, here they are: http://www.courtneypool.com/my-before-and-after-photos

Love, Courtney

top photo by Philip Madeley

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess April 25, 2014 at 8:05 am

What a wonderful, thoughtful, and well-rounded response! I am so delighted that you found a way to offer photos to those who find them empowering and helpful, but that you also found a way to disconnect the photos from the discussion. You respect all the many and diverse sides of the argument while making your own point clearly and articulately. Giving people the choice to click or not – essential a very clear “trigger warning” – you found a way to be true to yourself, your clients, your blog audience, and to keep us all as emotional safe as you possibly can. I also appreciate that you have stated future intentions. This blog in itself is an incredible “After’ portrait of an important discussion. Very grateful for this post!!

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Courtney April 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Thanks for the feedback, Jess! It’s good to hear from someone on the side of not wanting/needing to see before and afters. And thank you also for sharing your feelings on the first post! :)

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Mallory April 25, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Wow, what an amazing blog Courtney!! You are such an inspiration!

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Courtney April 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Thanks darling!

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Debbie April 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I love you Courtney, and your kind and honest consideration. I too have been a compulsive eater (food addict) for most of my life. Might swings from one end of the spectrum to the next. I have been following you a very long time, and am so proud of you and your growth. Both this article, and your before and after page brought tears to my eyes – in a good way. Bless you and your commitment. Love you! <3

Peace. :) Debbie

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Courtney April 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Why thanks, Debbie. :) You are so kind. I believe in you!

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