It’s safe to say that we at Shape (and the rest of the internet) are fascinated with the Instagram fitness phenomenon of ‘before and after’ or ‘transformation’ photos and their many iterations—like the 2-second transformation photos, and the transformation ‘roll’ photos. (Seriously, it feels like a new version pops up every day.)
Few people understand them better than Australian trainer and Insta star Kayla Itsines, who basically started the trend with the transformation photos from followers of her Bikini Body Guide workout program. That's exactly why we picked her brain about the pros and cons of the trend as it exists now, plus how you can best use progress photos to your advantage. (Speaking of, you need to try her arms and abs BBG workout.)
Why the internet is so addicted.
"People love transformations. I think everyone is—whether it’s a good makeup transformation or a fashion transformation, or a fitness one. The reason people upload a transformation, whether it’s about weight loss, weight gain, drug addiction to sober, it’s to tell a story, to show their story to hope that someone somewhere will relate to them. I love reading the journey. I always make sure I read the stories that go with the transformation. It makes you have so much respect and compassion.
…But they’re not ‘after’ photos.
“Before and ‘after’ is the wrong way to think about it. If you say ‘after,’ you put a lot of pressure on yourself or someone else because it means ‘end.’ Once someone feels the pressure of, ‘Oh I need to stay the way I am and the way I ended and this is how everyone sees me,’ it can make them feel judged if they don’t stay exactly the same. I always say ‘progress’ because it’s not linear. You’ll see with my [BBG] girls, they’ll write, ‘Oh this week was a bad week. This is what happened to me. I’m feeling super bloated and I had my period and I’ve gained this much weight.’ And it’s so much more relatable.” (On the other hand, one plus-size model is boycotting 'before' photos.)
The caption is just as important as the photo.
“For someone who feels like they’re in a workout rut, the biggest thing I recommend is the progress photo. Take a photo and then don’t just leave it there on your phone, but actually write down in a caption how you feel about yourself at the current time. Even if you don’t want to upload it to social media, I think checking in with yourself is very important. Write down some points of how you feel about yourself. Then, whenever you take your next progress photo and how you feel then, you’ll see that big comparison and it’ll be super motivating.”
“The girls on my page might start the journey for some reason, like for weight loss or for weight gain, but even if your goal is weight-related, it should never be your only goal. Think about how you want to feel in the meantime. At the end of the journey, the [girls who have done my program] always talk about how they felt before and how they feel now. And it’s not until you read the caption that you really grasp their journey and what they’ve gone through.”
Take them frequently—not just after you’ve lost major weight.
“There’s no rule about how often you should take them—but it’s really helpful to set little goals for yourself. I recommend every four weeks, or whenever you feel like you have progress—and I’m not just talking about like, “Oh I’ve lost weight,” but things like ‘I don’t think that I’m unfit anymore’ or, ‘I can do more pushups’—to stop and take a progress photo and write down how you feel.”
Her take on the ‘you looked better before’ comment
“It’s an uneducated thing to say, ‘You look better before.’ It’s a very vain thing. Because it doesn’t matter what they looked like before. My skin might have looked better last week, but I feel way better this week! Someone recently said to my sister, 'you look better before.' She used to get so caught up on the number on the scale and now she couldn’t care less about it or if people think she looked better before. To say it doesn’t matter is very easy to say, but it really doesn’t.” (Just look at this model who proves that gaining weight can sometimes make you much happier.)