Home The Op-Eds What Does A Success Story Look Like To You?

What Does A Success Story Look Like To You?

by Erika Nicole Kendall


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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tdixonspeaks December 28, 2010 - 1:45 PM

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.

Curlstar December 28, 2010 - 1:49 PM

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) 😀

Halona Black December 28, 2010 - 2:20 PM

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.

Angela December 28, 2010 - 4:21 PM

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!

asada December 28, 2010 - 5:50 PM

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.

lvpthemvp December 28, 2010 - 6:01 PM

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.

Rita December 29, 2010 - 8:37 AM

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.

Daphne December 29, 2010 - 10:56 AM

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.

EmpressTaTa December 29, 2010 - 2:20 PM

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!

Amber June 11, 2011 - 1:00 PM

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 - 3:03 PM

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?

Donna July 21, 2011 - 3:02 PM

This is going to be long…sorry in advance! But…YOU ASKED…LOL.

I’ll say it like this. You have to have common sense when it comes to these things. That means you have to be thinking with a clear mind and clearer understanding on the subject. When one is emotional and looking for a quick fix to years of abuse to their bodies those infomercials, advertisements, etc look like a god-send and exercise and changing one’s diet looks like a walk through hell.

However when you detatch yourself emotionally and tell you, “ok me listen, this is about me and my wellness, not just looking, but BEING well” then you are better able to process what comes across your televisions/computers/newspapers/magazines.

So for me, I don’t buy the hype. My first perception is that the individuals who are advertised aren’t really the after shot. My best guess is they either air brushed them…or body doubled the person. I never read the fine print or the claims of success. I take them with a grain of salt because I know its all puffery in the end. I put my logic to work.

Logic says this to me. “Hey you, loosing weight takes less time than gaining. I mean think about it, doing it in a healthy way you can drop 1-2lbs weekly. Sometimes it takes you a year to gain 10lbs, that means you’re putting it on at a much slower rate than it would take you to loose it. Successfully, you could loose anywhere from 52-104lbs in a year with hard work and dedication. Yes, it requires you mentally tuning in and physically moving your body. But isn’t the pay off better than the expense of bad health and long term illness?”

Then when my eyes see those advertisements, because I know what it really takes to loose weight, I laugh at them. They are like modern day versions of the elixar advertisements from the 20s and 30s. One elixar that can fix everything. But the last time I checked, such a scam lead to the entire country being cocaine addicts :-). So…I’ll take my chances in nature.

So in a nutshell, they add up to me to a laughable animation of reality. And one I won’t be buying anytime soon.

I cannot say I believe there is a time frame. I call all my real life associates success stories whether they stay there or not. Just because you win a race only once in life time doesn’t make a none successful runner. I consider an addict who gets clean successful and if they go back I refer to that as a relaspe. Its success to me because they got somewhere they probably never thought they could. From obesity to wellness.

In terms of the look. Yes, it has a certain look to me. When your skin shines and your eyes light from the joy of you conquering something that had you, that’s a look of success to me. But I’m sure that’s not what you meant. I think ideally its not based on a size, but in reality let’s be honest, that’s how we measure it. I’m not saying everyone has to be the SAME size. But size is the meter by which we tend to measure weight loss success. I mean I really wouldn’t believe J Hud or Jill Scott were dieting and exercising were they still the same size they were when they started. However, I still consider Jill as successful and J Hud. She got down to a more slender, and thereby less heavy and healthier her.

Do we consider the measures by which people got to where they are? No. Our minds and thoughts are often in the wrong place. Its usually about obtaining a look that will take us out of society’s negative view. The smaller we are the more visible we become as humans rather than just walking blobs. More of the opposite sex takes notice of us, more of our friends say (in my sister girl tone) “ggguuurrlll, look at chu, you look bbbuuuutyful, you look smaller”, etc. And that is the end some of us are aimimg for. Outside approval and notice. And we’ll get it by any means necessary.

That’s why so many gimmicks are available to loose weight, so many workout systems are on the market. We see the Shawn T’s, Billy Blanks’ and Denise Austins of the world and say if I buy it I’ll look like it. We never consider their lifestyles and the fact that their product is a marketing element of their own hard work and success.

Until we change our thinking, the mental element and small victory side of becoming more fit and well will never be a part of marketing. Selling is about making it look effortless and painless. Not about the truth. And as long as we remain willing sheep, swallowing whatever we’re fed by media outlets rather than having a REAL conversation about wellness with ourselves, we’ll never stop buying the hype!

But then that’s the thing. We’re not interested in wellness. We’re interested in quick results. Wellness is the byproduct of our weight loss efforts. And only in some cases when we do it right. I admit, until I really began to read blogs/sources of information like this, I didn’t hone in on wellness. Just weight loss. And I wanted it by “any means necessary”- except surgery because I’m not undergoing unecessary surgery for anyone.

Donna July 21, 2011 - 3:09 PM

Correction: I wouldn’t belive JHud and Jill Scot were exercising and living well (if they indeed are) if they were the same size as when they began their journey. I also don’t believe JHud lost hers through weight watchers! That’s laughable to say the least! I know what she did! Hired a trainer and hit the treadmill! I wish advertising mediums would tell the truth but I know they won’t!

Catherine August 17, 2011 - 1:25 PM

I watch infomercials that inspire me to do something better. Take care of my skin, hair, exercise, etc. I won’t believe a commercial even if I wanted to. They are there to catch your attention from your insecurities and get paid to make you “feel better”.

I believe that you first have to love yourself from within and then try to help yourself. Then you won’t be misguided. Everyone doesn’t always have the best guide in mind for you. That’s why you have to do the work, research, and make a positive change yourself. There are those out there that can help you but it’s your journey to look for what work for you.

Tyj247 April 19, 2012 - 1:19 PM

I obviously found this blog post by some twist of fate because recently I have finally gotten over this nagging feeling that I wasn’t truly making progress because I didn’t look like some SI swimsuit model. When I first started my get fit/weight loss journey, my only goal was to get a flat belly. Seriously. When that didn’t happen after months of hitting up the gym, I was becoming crazed. I felt like I was failing, big time. Another setback was I did my 4th 5K on Saturday and after running 2.5 miles in a 5K a month before, I “lost my run” before I hit the mile marker. I was all but devastated.

Then something remarkable happened. The Monday after my 5K, I hopped on the treadmill and after doing a 5-minute walk to warm up, I decided to up my run speed (something I never did before) from 4.5mph to 5mph. I figured I’d last about 5 minutes before I got tired, then go back to running at my old pace. Do you know I ran for 34 minutes at the faster pace? And was able to run 3 miles in under 40 minutes (a goal I had set for my 5K that Saturday). I was beyond ecstatic! The next day, I ran again at the same pace, without needing the walking warm up. I’ve also been feeling my abs muscles even when stationary (and without my trying to engage them). Add that to the compliments I’ve received from coworkers, and I feel like I am a success story in the making! I feel accomplished, healthy and like I can take on the world! That’s my success story.

*Sorry for the length, but I got so excited when I realized how much I’ve progressed since beginning my journey

Sam September 25, 2012 - 12:18 PM

To me success is not something you can see on the outside. I have done Jenny Craig type programs. Even though I lost weight I was still craving brownies, potato chips, and soda constantly. I didn’t enjoy working out and I never felt good about my health. In the end I gained all the weight back plus another 17lbs. The change of heart and mind I’ve had since starting to eat clean is the real success. I enjoy working out and am constantly setting fitness goals for myself. I don’t crave sugar and nutrient lacking junk. I am not a slave to my cravings. I feel healthy and energetic. The weight is coming off slowly but that is okay because I enjoy the way I am living. If it takes me 3 years to reach my goals that is okay because I won’t be spending them wishing I could dive into a gallon of ice cream while melting into the sofa.

lynne February 3, 2013 - 11:09 PM

If I keep going down is pants sizes. That is it.

christine November 7, 2013 - 1:36 PM

After losing my sister in April I still managed to make it to the gym, I would go to the gym in the morning, come home take a shower and go straight to the ICU. After she died I still kept going, I think that was a major success for me. In the past I would’ve crawled into a bottle of wine and a pizza box. When that wave of sadness and depression hits me I take it out on the treadmill

Megan November 8, 2013 - 10:32 AM

Obviously tv commercials and our culture demands that “success” be defined by the way people LOOK after the product. But what amazes me from my own journey is that no amount of compliments on my appearance can compare to how much better I feel physically and emotionally. To be able to go grocery shopping without stopping for breaks or go up a set of stairs without feeling like I’m going to die. You just can’t put that in a 30 second spot, but I think it’s the very heart of a successful transition to better health.

Jennifer November 23, 2013 - 12:09 PM

What a great discussion! I still struggle with the idea of being a success story. I have kept off 100 pounds for 12 years, but I am still a size 14. I worked hard to become the average-sized American woman 🙂 I feel success is too often viewed visually, but most of us feel successful in our improved quality of life. Especially being able to wear cuter clothes 😉

Valerie July 23, 2014 - 3:04 PM

Regarding these “success” stories,I once read an article that completely blew the lid off those crazy before and after photos. The after photos were actually taken first, becuse the person really looks like that. Then the models get themselves really bloated and fat looking in about 2 hours, they way they do this is crazy, and then they take the before pic. Talk about a marketing scam.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 25, 2014 - 2:46 PM

Yuuup, covered that.

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