How to Spot a Fake Before and After Image

I love seeing inspiring before and after photos of people who have embraced a healthy lifestyle. There’s nothing like real-life results, right?

Except, sometimes those “real-life results” are anything but real. Heck, a strategic pose and some lighting can drop plenty of pounds, and anyone with access to a computer can alter a photo to slenderize the subject. And while the legitimate photos are awesome and motivational, Photoshopped images are a serious let-down.

But how can you tell if a photo has been staged or edited to make someone appear slimmer or more fit than they actually are? We got a few pointers from Serban Enache, CEO of global stock photo agency Dreamstime, for picking out the fakes.

before and after

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

“Many of those models are not even the same person,” says Enache. “Although the main features might be the same (hair color and style, body stance), details might reveal that the models are different.” So, look closely before getting sucked in — people might look different after weight loss, but not that different.

Body Swap

It’s not hard to use a photo-editing program to take the face from a photo of the “after” subject and pop it onto a photo of the body of someone larger to create the “before” image, Enache says. “At web resolution, the traces left by the manipulation are rather hard to see. You just have to pay a close attention to the neck and face area.” There might be harsh color tone or texture changes, or a visible border.”

Also, look at the positioning. “The added-in Photoshop face will sometimes have an unnatural position, not being centered on the neck or being strangely tilted; or even more obvious will be a face looking to the side, placed over a head and body facing front. Beware of unnatural light and shadow angles as well,” says Enache.

Low-Tech Trickery

It’s not hard to stick out your belly to look heavier for a before photo, but Enache had a few other things to watch for:

  • Holding your arm/hand close to your body will make it look [bigger] and with no contoured muscles.
  • Using a direct camera flash will diminish much the relief (3D look) in an image.
  • Dressing in white or pale colors, wearing very tight underwear to let some of the muscles or body fat squeeze through and over the elastic.
  • Keeping the legs close (similar to the arms).
  • Hunching the back and letting the shoulders drop.

And, as anyone who’s ever tried to find the most flattering angle for a photo (yes, I’m raising my hand, too) can attest, there are ways to make the subject look even thinner for the after picture as well. Enache suggests keeping an eye out for the following in comparison to the before photo:

  • The use of tanning lotion and a little oil.
  • Keeping the back straight and shoulders rolled back.
  • Standing a bit turned to one side and not facing straight to the camera.
  • Keeping arms on the waist and the core tight.
  • Light coming from a side — this way the shapes on the body will be more visible. This can make a huge difference.
  • Dressing in black, fitted clothes (not too tight, though).
  • Keeping the legs a bit spread so the muscles won’t be squeezed with no form.

If nothing else, always use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, chances are good that it is. And, even if that’s not the case, don’t ever determine your self worth by someone else’s photos. When it comes right down to it, whether someone else’s photographic evidence of weight loss is real or not shouldn’t impact you. If it inspires you to stay committed to eating well and being active, that’s awesome! But it doesn’t mean you aren’t already fantastic exactly as you are.

Were any of these tips surprising to you? —Kristen

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  1. As a plastic surgeon, I have great interest in the topic of fake before and after photos. I even collect them and often blog about them.

    Much to my dismay, right next to your article is one of the most obvious fakes I have ever seen! The before and after photos under “Miracle Pill Burns Fat Fast” clearly, I mean really clearly, show a woman who has had a major abdominoplasty (also called tummy tuck). In addition to her great reduction in abdominal fat, her skin has been tightened and her belly button reshaped. Her undies cover her hip to hip scar.

    I’m adding this one to my collection!

    Come on! Fit Bottomed Girls should not do business with companies that use such deceptive advertising.

    Dr. Lisa Lynn Sowder, Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery

    1. Jenn says:

      Hi Dr. Lisa,

      We do not directly work with companies of the sort. However, we do run some very popular ad networks that change ads continuously based on the user’s experience. We have set up as many parameters as we can to limit exactly these type of ads, but unfortunately it’s just an extremely common type of ad you’ll see everywhere. Which is exactly why we write posts like this one, so that no one gets duped. We’re clearly NOT about fast fixes or diets in these parts! And we know our readers are smart enough not to click on shady stuff as it sneaks through from time to time. 🙂

      —FBG Jenn

  2. Shauna says:

    But…who cares? Are we REALLY that concerned with scrutinizing everyone else that we’re now going to eyeball every success story we see? Perhaps if we stopped the garbage like this and focused more on celebrating each other, we’d all be in a better place.

    It’s not enough that every picture we see of a beautiful woman we say “oh she’s just air brushed” that now we have to look at SUCCESS stories and say “well, im sure her underwear in the first picture was just 2 sizes too small!” Get a grip, y’all.

  3. Erin says:

    I don’t think this is about scrutinizing anyone’s picture. Fad diet sites everywhere post these pictures and people fall for their products because of them. Applauding others successes is great for motivation and for creating a positive environment. Getting fit and healthy is definitely a team effort!

  4. Tiffany says:

    Dr. Lisa,

    There are cookies on your computer that track the things you look at online. When you go to other web sites, you will see ads for the things you have looked at regardless of which web site you are on. Welcome to the wonderful world of online advertising!! If you visited the Burger King web site, guess which ads you would see when you visit a healthy eating blog? Yep, Burger King.