Proof that social media can be used in a *very* positive way.

By Faith Brar
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Photo: sangriana / Shutterstock

It's no secret that social media can be a tool for weight loss when it's used in the right way. Now, thanks to a new survey by Slimming World (a U.K.-based weight-loss organization that's also available in the U.S.), we know just how motivational it can be.

Slimming World surveyed 2,000 women trying to lose weight and found that 70 percent believed that social media inspired them on their journey-whether it was through watching workout videos, seeing other people who've transformed their bodies, or following fitness influencers who share motivational and inspirational tips every day. (Related: The Best Way to Use Social Media for Weight Loss)

The number-one source of inspiration for these women, however, was before-andafter or transformation photos: 91 percent of the women surveyed said transformation photos helped them realize it is possible to reach their goals, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.

The biggest fitness trends in social media only confirm the finding. Take Kayla Itsines' Bikini Body Guide program for instance: The now-world-famous workout phenomenon basically went viral thanks to transformation photos from its followers.

"People love transformations," Itsines previously told us in "Kayla Itsines Shares the #1 Thing People Get Wrong About Transformation Photos." "I think everyone does-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 ... It makes you have so much respect and compassion."

But as it goes with all things on social media, before-and-after images should be taken with a grain of salt. Not everything you see is 100 percent real, which is why a slew of women have been using their social media influence to prove how deceptive photos can be. More likely than not, the dramatic images are a result of perfect lighting, posture, and at times, photoshop. To anyone absentmindedly scrolling by, though, they can seem like reality. While those images can still inspire and motivate, they can also present and encourage unrealistic expectations.

That's why body-positive influencers are sharing more "real" photos on Instagram. Take trainer Anna Victoria, for example, who shared photos of her two-minute transformation from standing to stomach rolls or this woman who showed how you can transform your abs in 30 seconds. Other women are posting unconventional transformation photos to show how they've actually gained weight and become healthier, whether it's from gaining muscle or overcoming an eating disorder. (Including Iskra Lawrence, who joined the #boycottthebefore movement to discourage people from letting before-and-afters become competitive.)

While before-and-after photos aren't always what they seem, the Slimming World survey found another indisputable perk of social media for people on a weight-loss journey: the positive community. In fact, 87 percent of the women surveyed said that being part of a group of women going through the same journey helped them stay accountable while sticking to their weight-loss goals, proving that a strong support system can go a long way. (Need more proof? Just look at our Goal Crushers Facebook page, a community of members with health, diet, and wellness goals who lift each other up while working toward their individual goals.)

So, yes, while social media does have the potential to lead to an unhealthy body image, this data proves that it can also inspire, be a positive influence, and bring people together. It just depends on how you're willing to use it.

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