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The tricks and traps behind #TransformationTuesday

Some things you may not know about the always-trending hashtag.


Social media for the health and fitness industry is currently undergoing an epidemic of transformations, often hashtagged #TransformationTuesday. While celebrating change for the better is a wonderful thing, there is such a possibility as too much of a good thing — in particular when the truth can be bent or stretched in the attempt to sell a product or service.

What you see on Instagram very rarely captures the complete reality of a situation. You never know what has happened behind the scenes and how an original image has been enhanced or altered. There is an extra layer of complexity once you start looking at transformations. You have two images: the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ — or at least that is what you are led to believe.

Once you have two images to compare, there are so many additional tweaks that can be applied to make the two photos look as dissimilar as possible. Here are some of the common tricks that are used in many #TransformationTuesday shots. Be aware of these before you either use these shots to set your expectations for your progress or before you allow them to make you feel demoralised about how you look. 

Trick #1 – Photo editing

There is always a risk that someone who is savvy with Photoshop will tuck and tighten here and there. Lately, though, this is an option available to anyone who wants to use one of the many apps developed to tweak physiques. These make body alterations extremely fast and easy-to-do. This will result in an image that does not look like the model and can easily enhance the difference between the before and after shots. To the untrained eye, this will go undetected and will create an unrealistic expectation of how much change actually took place.

Trick #2 – Clever photography techniques

Lighting and camera angles can play a dramatic role in the effect of the change, which you may not spot unless you really look for it. Overexposing an image or applying light to a part of the body can smooth the contours in a body out, while adequate shadows in a shot will enhance the lines in a physique. There are some angles that will make anyone and everyone look like they have three chins, yet others will elongate and flatter the body. Unless both photos are shot under the same lighting from the same angle, then you are already being misinformed.

Trick #3 – Time between photos

How much time has passed between the photos can’t be known, unless they actually say. Even where the shot may be advertising a 12-week challenge, this does not guarantee that those photos were actually taken that amount of time apart. Inaccurate reporting is not a new concept to media, and unless the model speaks up, you will never really know how far apart in time those photos were taken. A six-month change in a physique can be advertised as having taken place across a shorter time span.

Trick #4 – Temporary tweaks to tighten the body

Alternatively, there are changes that can occur almost instantly. You may have seen the videos or shots demonstrating the effects of changing posture or pushing out or holding in the stomach, for example, on the illusion of a dramatic physique transformation. Posing and posture dramatically alter how a body looks. Slouching and pushing the stomach out can make you look several kilos heavier than you are through the midsection. Similarly, twisting through your midsection, standing diagonally toward the camera, standing tall and flexing can all make you look leaner and smaller than you really are. There are also short-term dietary changes that can manipulate a physique temporarily. A model who typically eats a large amount of carbs and drinks several litres of water a day but temporarily cuts carbs and water can tighten their physique significantly for a photograph.

Trick #5 – The real reason behind the change

Sometimes the advertised product or program has nothing to do with the changes seen in the model. A transformation shot may claim that a certain food plan, detox or supplement has led to this change, but this may be a lie. Even if the model did make use of the advertised product or service, how do you know if the change seen is due to its effect alone or whether any of the above tricks may have enhanced the look? It is very easy to lie on the Internet and get away with it, so always take these claims with a grain of salt — remember that there are no magic solutions to having the perfect body, because otherwise everybody would find out about it very quickly.

Trick #6 – (the really cheeky one) Not the same person!

This is not as common as the other tricks mentioned above, but in some extreme cases, it is not even the same person in the two photos! It’s pretty easy to demonstrate a physique change when the two shots are of two different people. This one can be easier to spot than the others, but if done carefully can sometimes pass undetected. 

There are many health concerns that arise from being bombarded with these transformations on a daily basis. The extreme changes that are often presented in these images can encourage unrealistic and unhealthy weight-loss strategies, such as crash diets or excessive exercise, in the attempt to emulate the transformations seen in the photos.

The underlying encouragement to create drastic change in the body can be psychologically damaging. Considering that many of these shots are inaccurate, an attempt to successfully undergo a similar transformation for real is unsustainable and can bring health risks, sometimes with long-term consequences.

These transformation shots are so popular that they are beginning to have an effect similar to that of fashion media through pure saturation — creating a subtle, underlying push toward how your body ‘should’ look. Whether the ‘after’ shot promotes being very skinny or very lean and muscular, there are many cases where the model in the ‘before’ photo is perfectly healthy and has a great goal body. This can have serious consequences for women who look similar to the model in the ‘before’ photo but who are gradually convinced that this is not a good enough body to have.

Allow yourself to be inspired, with a positive emphasis on pushing yourself to be your very best. If you feel that you are saddened or demoralised or are starting to consider extreme measures to obtain a certain look, then pay attention to the media you are consuming. You may want to decrease your time spent looking at #TransformationTuesday shots or begin critiquing these and other fitness shots more thoroughly to look for any of the tricks mentioned here before you let these get you down. 

Susy is a Sydney-based performance coach, wellness writer and personal trainer. She has a background in psychology, and addresses health issues using an integrated approach that encapsulates body and mind. She works with anyone who wishes to reinvent themselves — from personal goals right through to competing athletes across multiple sports. She defines health as optimised movement, nutrition and mindset for an individual, and works with her clients to help them achieve this. To sign up to her newsletter and connect to her social media please go to www.susynatal.com


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