Consider this how infomericals work, part II. If you missed part I, click here, then come back.
When infomercials sell products, the director’s goal is to make the thing look bigger, stronger, brighter, or otherwise more appealing than it really is. When they sell programs, like weight loss or strengthening techniques, directors make them look more effective, and most important, easier and faster than they really are. They do this with “before and after” shots. You know them well. A middle-aged, dumpy man becomes a super-stud; a overweight woman becomes rail-thin. In just 45 days!
Well, what about 1 hour?
I had read about fitness models who gain weight on purpose in order to look thin in their “after” pictures…which proved only that they could gain weight, not that their diet/weight loss program actually worked.
But two recent demonstrations that have made the rounds online are striking examples of just how easy it is to deceive with photography; and how much you should try to ignore those before and after pictures when you see them.
In the first, personal trainer Andrew Dixon wrote a piece for the Huffington Post showing what posture, a shaved chest, and some pushups could do for his picture.
Inspired by that, an Australian fitness trainer named Mel (she conceals her last name) repeated the experiment with perhaps even more dramatic results. Dixon took an hour; Mel used lighting, makeup, hair extensions, and a come hither pose to dramatically change her look. While it’s important to point out that neigh Dixon nor Mel look unhealthy (or unattractive) in their “before” photos, the evidence they produce is undeniable: Photos lie. What’s worse, they make us feel bad.
I had long suspected that merely sucking your gut in or out could make a big difference in these promotional pictures, as could a well-placed shadow. Anyone who’s ever been caught in an unfortunate pose with a camera knows this. But I’m thrilled folks are actually proving it, and I hope it impacts you.
“We all spend too much time sucking in our guts, trying to look the way we think society thinks we should. Don’t waste any more energy trying to compete with everyone else,” writes Dixon in his excellent post. “It’s all smoke and mirrors.”
Here’s a few points I’d like to make:
1) We explored weight loss issues in The Plateau Effect, which indicates that everything you do to try to lose weight will stop working at some point, and you will probably feel despair. Please don’t. Getting stuck actually means you are onto something good.
2) Most every weight loss program works; just like every self-help book works. The problem is usually not the program, but the participant. Do anything to exercise more or pay better attention to what you eat, and you will become healthier (as long as you don’t overdo it, or take on something pretty wacky). Don’t give up when it seems to stop working. But do start; and do give it a real chance. Most people start one program or purchase one piece of equipment, then get lured by something else, and something else, and so on. Sticking with something is the hardest part, but the only way that anything ever really works. Visions in your head of quick results makes this stick-to-it-when-you-are-stuck phase even harder. That’s why de-fanging before and after pictures is so important.
I know people often start these things Jan. 1, but Dec. 1 might be even better, given the eating and exercise disaster than is the holidays mixed with cold weather.
3) I think these pictures prove this: Whether you look (and feel) fat or healthy often depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for fat, you will find it. Stand in front of a mirror with harsh lighting, stick your gut out, and you will look fat. Assume a good posture and a smile, and you’ll look thinner. One key to happiness: spend more time looking in the mirror for the attractive person you are than the unhealthy person you are.
4) Back to my real soap box. Images associated with diet and weight loss programs on TV, in books, and online are artistic creations. They attack your subconscious with a relentless force. Even if you know this on a conscious level, they can still influence your thoughts, your self-image, and ultimately your purchase decisions. Understand the impact they have on you, and you’re less likely to get ripped off.
Have you ever purchased a piece of exercise equipment, or a program, based on pictures, only to be disappointed?