What Does A Success Story Look Like To You?

What Does A Success Story Look Like To You?

An OBVIOUS product of the photoshop diet. Do not be fooled!

I keep on looking at the fitness-related commercials, and I pay close attention to the “before” and “after” shots. Those are usually the most telling in regards to who they’re trying to target as well as what they want their target market to believe their product can create.

For example – the “before” and “after” shots for “a successful nutrition program that you have to purchase over the phone” might look like “a frumpy middle-aged woman” as the before, and a bikini competition model as the after. Like, it’s clearly a body that I can personally see came from extremely hard work. Do they really expect me to believe that all those muscles came from “a properly balanced diet” that, more often than not, consists of extremely processed foods? Please.

Or… let’s talk about the time frames on those photos. “I lost 20lbs in 6 weeks!” which, to me, more often looks like “I lost 50lbs on The Photoshop Diet!” because those photos were a product of some very creative airbrushing, not very hard work. And sure, they’ll have the disclaimer of “Results were a product of proper exercise and nutrition… plus our product!” Well, get outta town. Really?! I wouldn’t have guessed.

…and about those disclaimers. Regardless of whether or not they say “results may vary” or “results created with proper exercise and diet” or even “results are a product of fat-sucking aliens and drinking cyanide,” it doesn’t ever matter.. does it? All we see is “OMG LOOK AT WHAT SHE DID AND SHE USED THIS PRODUCT? OMG MUST HAVE!”

My questions, really, are about how we perceive the marketing meant to show us what “successful weight loss” looks like. I have my theories, but I’m much more interested in what you have to say. Is a successful weight loss story a matter of “appearance?” Does a success story have a certain look? Is it a mental thing that can’t be seen (and if so, why is that never in the marketing?) Is there a time frame applied – as in, they have to have kept the weight off for x amount of days/weeks/months/years – before we can consider someone a success story? Do we only consider it a success story if they achieved the weight loss through certain means (or rather, do we adequately consider how they might’ve truly lost the weight?)

P.S.: I’m talking about the success stories that we see on TV – commercials, infomercials, and even weight loss TV shows. Not blogs or bloggers – that means not me, either! 🙂

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By | 2017-06-10T11:20:43+00:00 February 13th, 2015|The Op-Eds|22 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. tdixonspeaks December 28, 2010 at 1:45 PM - Reply

    Luckily I’ve never fallen victim to buying weight loss products in attempt to drop weight “easily.” I’ve always known weight loss = diet and excersize. #easymath

    However, success stories do have a look. Everything is about selling a story. Years ago, I’d joined yet another gym and gotten a “free” session with a personal trainer. Pretty much, I got whoever I was assigned. The trainer seemed cool enough-kind of a military approach-just what I needed to tackle this weight once and for all.

    So we go for lunch after the 2nd session (after I’d paid for 6 sessions) to discuss goals, history w/ weight loss, etc. The trainer (mid 20s, female) said “ill be honest, most of my clients I train in weight training, not necessarily weight loss. This will be a challenge.”

    Ok, I think. Makes sense-those are different goals. THEN she starts crunching numbers and saying “well, if we can get you down to X lbs in Y days… Yeah… This will be great. You could be my success story!”

    I knew it was a wrap then. She tried to recoil by explaining how I’d be an inspiration and that the results would be night and day, etc. I just couldn’t get with the idea that the success that could come couldn’t be just my own. It would be her success too, in her pockets.

  2. Curlstar December 28, 2010 at 1:49 PM - Reply

    GETOUTTA HERE ERIKA! You are a success story – go ahead, toot your horn because you did it the RIGHT way.

    My definition of a success story is someone that has lost it in a sensible way and kept off about 60% of what they lost. I have that definition because of my sister. She did one of those well-advertised programs and she lost over 80lbs. She followed the program strictly and exercised religiously, sometimes 2 times a day. That was about 3 years ago. She still follows the program, just not as to-the-letter as she did previously. She gained back the weight and I think it was about 1/2 of what she lost. Personally, I don’t agree with the program that she used since it offers acceptable use of products that have those ever so pleasant chemicals in them that we cannot pronounce, as long as it falls within the “points” for the day. (OOPS! Did I just give the program away? My bad!)

    I don’t consider the program my sister’s on as a success, but knowing what she has gone through to get there and what she’s STILL DOING, I do consider her a success story.

    (btw, I’m trying to get her to come with me to my pole aerobics class for a little -ahem- boost to her program) 😀

  3. Halona Black December 28, 2010 at 2:20 PM - Reply

    The “success stories” they sell us on TV are often extreme stories of people who lost weight quick, fast, and in a hurry. You will also often see the disclaimer at the bottom of the screen saying that these results are not typical. They do sell the emotional side of weight loss as well. You’ll often see a woman break down into tears about how much her life has changed for her and her children (cut away to the kids playing soccer in the backyard…). They sell the weight loss to us as a lifestyle package now — very few ads (at least the ones I pay attention to…) use a quick fix pill or shake.

  4. Angela December 28, 2010 at 4:21 PM - Reply

    Hello Erika, I stumbled across your blog a few days ago and even respectfully borrowed your comment disclaimer for my own (stating its original owner…you)
    Any who as a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer I have come to realize that many success stories are not visual. I have clients who don’t drop a pound but gain strength, confidence and smaller dress sizes. I think we get caught up in the before and after wow-factor, we loose site of the in between. That is what matters because it is HOW you got there that is going to keep you there and if you smart stop you from going back to the before!
    I do applaud your accomplishment and I really enjoy your blog!

  5. asada December 28, 2010 at 5:50 PM - Reply

    To be blunt
    If I looked like ANY of the girls in the before and after photos, I would be much better off. MUCH.

    But I cant take them seriously. I am over the idea that weight will come off easily. It can’t.

  6. lvpthemvp December 28, 2010 at 6:01 PM - Reply

    I think it is a combo of marketing pics and what we believe for ourselves to be true about ourselves. Cause I can see any number of commercials any number of times and it not affect me. But then I could see it once and the timing line up with what is going on in my life and BAM the commercial and the girl in it works and suddenly I think it is a cure all. For me measuring success is in the person who understands that you must change your eating habits and cure yourself of yo yo dieting. Losing xx lbs every xx months to me is not a success but a step in a better direction. Success to me is understand your body, what you put in your body AND making the commitment to be healthy. Healthy in that you have your own before and afters you are working towards not those of the photo shop diet.

  7. Rita December 29, 2010 at 8:37 AM - Reply

    The first time I ever considered the B&A shots to be real was reading your blog and others on the net. I’ve never been swayed by the commercials and infomercials. I often find myself getting upset at friends & family that fall prey to those ads.

  8. Daphne December 29, 2010 at 10:56 AM - Reply

    I don’t know about the rest of the Western world, but in the United States, successful weight loss is ALWAYS a matter of appearance. Not HOW the weight came off, not how HEALTHY you are, not how LONG you have MAINTAINED the weight loss. There is also subtext with one being “a better person” by losing weight, since as we all know, being overweight makes you “less than,” and thus subject to dismissal and/or disrespect. (/sarcasm). It’s really kind of insidious.

    I also agree with Halona in that success stories are usually packaged in the “improved quality of life” package. And I’m not disputing that aspect of it, as that’s certainly part of the list of goals I made when I evaluated what I hoped to achieve with healthier eating habits and exercise. But because most success stories intentionally leave out the specifics, the details, people don’t know they could be sacrificing their health just to look a certain way. Poor health usually means a lower quality of life, no matter your age, size, economic status, or social class. But that’s not what sells, of course.

  9. EmpressTaTa December 29, 2010 at 2:20 PM - Reply

    Without reading any other postings….thought you guys would find it interesting that along with photoshop, they cast for people of a number of different backgrounds and “skin complexions” to pose for photos. I used to receive them when I was in my “modeling” days aka super skinny days. I never actually casted, but I do remember getting the notifications. And they pay pretty decent too!

  10. Amber June 11, 2011 at 1:00 PM - Reply

    I consider myself a success story. Considering when I started working out in December I could barely run a quarter of a LAP without feeling heavy tired and the urge to quit. But I mentally and physically pushed through it and now I can run 3 miles non stop and catch my breath within a minute of stopping. And I do that twice a day! And I love running now, I feel so strong and “heart healthy” Oh yeah I’m also a success story because I’ve lost 75lbs since December too 😀

    • Donna July 21, 2011 at 3:03 PM - Reply

      Kudos to you!. Running is one of my long term goals. You just inspired me to keep pressing through it. It seems like I’ll never get to running a full mile. Let alone 3! How long did it take you to get there?

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