False Advertising

[Content Note: Diet talk; disordered eating; hostility to consent.]

Most of us are probably aware, at least on some level, that the "before and after" pictures that accompany many weight loss products aren't legit. Some of them are obviously faked, either via evident Photoshop fuckery or visible attempts to present someone of the same size just dressed in different clothes and sucking in their guts. And some of them are just outright stolen images of people who lost weight:
One such ad, for Wu-Yi Source Tea, claimed to promote weight loss with glowing testimonials from customers. It said one user of the product lost "68 lbs." and offered her photos as proof.

TODAY spoke to Brook Shadwell, who was named and quoted in the ad as saying, "Wu-Yi Tea is the only one I would have used. I'm extremely happy with the results. Looks like I'll be drinking tea now." The ad is "completely false," according to Shadwell.

"I didn't even drink the tea," Shadwell said. "I haven't even tried the tea. I don't even know what this tea is!"

Shadwell, a California mother of two, really did lose the weight — not from any product, but from a year of hard dieting and exercise. Proud of herself, she posted before-and-after photos on her personal blog.

"They took my image from my blog and pulled it to promote their product," Shadwell told TODAY. "I was completely shocked; that's how I felt initially, very shocked."

...One woman's "shrinking" figure has appeared in many ads under many different names: "Jenny Conrad," "Nicole Stevenson," "Kathy Thompson." The truth is, she's a plus-size model from Germany whose image is for sale on stock photo sites. And the "after" shots of her are Photoshopped to make her look thinner.

...Personal trainer Andrew Dixon showed TODAY how easy it can be to go from fat to fit in a flash. "I just slouch down, let my gut hang out, and I haven't shaved yet, so I have no definition," he said, posing for the "before."

Then Dixon quickly shaved his face and chest to "give me some more definition"; slicked back his hair to make it appear time had passed between the photos; changed into slimmer shorts, and added some overhead lighting "which brings shadows below my pecs and in my abs, that sort of pops the muscles out more," he explained.

The "after" shot of the same body, taken just five minutes later, looked dramatically different. "That's why you should question all the before-and-after photos in fitness magazines and advertisements," Dixon said.
Well, it's one reason you should question them. Another reason is because increasing one's fitness doesn't necessarily mean losing weight.

Many people, of all sizes, have a weight "set point," which means, without any significant disordered eating, their body weight will vary somewhere between 10-20 pounds, irrespective of their fitness.

I have been about the same weight for almost two decades, and there have been years where I was chain-smoking and getting no exercise and eating nothing close to the healthiest foods for me, and there have been years where I was not smoking and getting lots of exercise every day and eating the healthiest foods for me, and my weight doesn't significantly vary, even though my fitness and general health do. I feel very different when I'm taking good care of myself, but I don't lose significant weight.

Before I'd encountered the Health at Every Size paradigm, that was very discouraging to me. Now, I just feel good that I feel good!

The thing is that there is a lot of discouragement from feeling good about taking care of oneself if one isn't losing weight. I still hear from my doctor every visit that I need to lose weight. "Portion control!" she chirps at me, after literally never having had a single conversation with me about what my portion sizes are.

And, in a piece for Bustle today, Amy McCarthy writes about being a fat woman with an (under)eating disorder. This line is so right on: "I learned quickly that doctors didn't give a shit how I was losing weight, so long as I was."

Years ago, I was terribly ill with a persistent case of bronchitis for months. I was utterly drained of energy and had completely lost my appetite. Not eating virtually anything at all but an occasional bowl of plain rice resulted in my losing weight. (And facilitated a cycle of having no energy. I was probably eating less than 500 calories a day for about a month.) My doctor was thrilled that I'd lost weight. But was less excited about my dangerously low iron levels. I was instructed to get those iron levels back up, but "try to do it without gaining any of the weight back."

That isn't healthcare.

Healthcare, for fat people, starts with believing truly that taking care of ourselves doesn't necessarily mean weight loss. That our bodies are worth taking care of even if they're fat and stay fat.

Even if our "before" and "after" pictures look exactly the same to a casual viewer.

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