Why I Don’t Like Before and After Pictures: Cultural Ideals vs God’s Perspective on Your Body
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
The culture we live in today is pretty crazy when it comes to the human body. Women are obsessed with thinness; men are obsessed with muscle. People with “ideal bodies” are put on platforms. Someone posts a picture of their body before and after some type of diet or exercise program, and the Internet sings their praises.
I understand why someone would want to post these pictures. It feels like a big accomplishment, and the encouragement and praise that come afterward feel good. In fact, I have felt within myself the desire to go on a journey that would give me pictures like these to post — which inevitably brings with it insecurity and shame about how my body currently is.
But I’m not here to ask for positive feedback about my body. I’m here to change the conversation — to tap into an identity that runs so much deeper than the physical human body.
Here’s why I don’t like before and after pictures.
1. These pictures give the impression that the “before” body was less valuable than the “after” body.
I am convinced that the enemy has told a huge lie to our culture, and a lot of us (myself included) have at some point bought in. The lie is that the way your body looks is an indication of your value. I could rail against the beauty and fitness industries or the models in magazines or the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, but none of these are actually the problem. Our enemy is very real, and he is currently using all of these means and more to prevent us from seeing where our true value lies.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
I’m angry at the enemy for lying to us. A change in your body doesn’t mean a change in your heart, and it definitely doesn’t mean a change in your value. So if you’re struggling with a recent change in your body that wouldn’t get likes on social media, know that you’re not alone, and it’s okay. You are worth so much more than your physical appearance, no matter how it has changed.
2. There is no way of knowing how that person caused the change in the after picture.
Eating disorders affect up to 24 million people of all ages and genders in the United States and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. One sign of an eating disorder is significant weight fluctuations/changes in body composition. The person in the picture may be severely restricting their food intake, compulsively exercising, purging (making themselves vomit after eating), or abusing laxatives. If you or someone you know has struggled with any of these behaviors, know that help is available (see my contact information at the bottom).
We should be looking into the mental health as well as physical health of our friends and family. I know that I personally struggled with several disordered behaviors that appeared perfectly healthy on the outside but on the inside were truly damaging. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; you could be the one to bring light into a dark situation and give your friend hope for the future!
3. God doesn’t look at how your body is changing; he looks at how your heart is changing.
“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance; the Lord looks at the heart.” (2 Samuel 16:7)
A healthy-looking person with an unhealthy mind is an unhealthy person. It is completely possible to change your body in a way that society would deem “good” while your heart is going into a deep place of darkness. I don’t really think God cares how much fat is on our bodies or how much muscle we have. He cares about what our hearts most desire. He cares about how we are loving others around us. He cares about what we are doing to share the Gospel with the whole world. You can do all of these things out of any body, but you can’t do them out of just any heart.
I don’t really think God cares how much fat is on our bodies or how much muscle we have. He cares about what our hearts most desire.
It’s harder to portray changes that are happening in your heart and your character versus your physical body on social media. That’s why it’s so important to be part of a community where people are able to see and celebrate the development of your character. (Here’s my shameless plug to get involved in your local church — if you live in Houston, you can come to mine!)
4. Our bodies don’t exist in before and after.
You can post a picture of two points in time where your body looks different, but the truth is that time goes on. Your body is likely to change again. Many factors that are out of your control will cause adaptations in your body — aging, pregnancy, sickness, schedule changes, etc. And eventually when your life comes to an end, your body will be buried in the ground. I am always struck by the reminders the Bible gives us about the fleeting nature of our bodies and our lives in comparison to the everlasting nature of God:
“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
(1 Peter 1:24–25)
Thinking in the “before and after” mindset causes us to compare ourselves with others or what we think we should be. But as Theodore Roosevelt reminds us, comparison is the thief of joy. When we are caught up in not feeling good enough, we are forgetting this one important truth:
Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, you are enough.
There doesn’t need to be any more self-improvement or self-adjustment to make you presentable enough to be loved, accepted, or free. If you trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord, there is nothing left for you to achieve. He already did it all (Hebrews 10:4), and he gladly welcomes you into his family as a daughter or a son.
“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:4)
I hope this truth brings you peace today. You don’t need to change your body to be valuable; Jesus already declared definitively that you are valuable — so valuable that he gave his life to allow you access into his Kingdom. And his death and resurrection are the only before and after that can define you now.
How can I connect with you?
Because finding freedom in body image and food is such a big part of my own story, I’m dedicated to helping others find it too. If anything in this post really struck you or you’d like to talk more about finding identity outside of body image, I’d love to chat with you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.