Images and Self-Image

Big Butts

Every day, knowingly or not, we meet up with people who used to carry around excessive weight, and who somehow figured out how to get rid of it. More importantly, they figured out how to make it stay gone. We meet them online too, in discussion groups and in the comment sections attached to articles. Very often, formerly obese people express a sentiment that is some variation of these words:

I look at old photos, and can’t believe how fat I was, and I never knew.

That seems like it should be an enormous clue. People don’t realize how big they are, not even when they see themselves reflected in a mirror. Sometimes a photo helps, not only in retrospect but in present time. To see a picture of oneself from the back can be a serious shock, because the mirror doesn’t show that part.

Another factor is that the world has changed so much over a short period. Many people reading this grew up in a time when pictures were taken twice a year, during summer vacation and the winter holidays. Then, because developing was expensive, the roll of film might be left in the camera for six months. When they were eventually printed, the photos were stuck into album page, and life went on.

On the other hand, others who read this page grew up with the technology that enabled them to constantly pose for pictures and to find their images captured, sometimes dozens of time per day, in candid shots.

In relation to self-awareness of being overweight, either scenario can be a problem. When photos were a relatively rare commodity, the information might just never “land” for a person. Conversely, it is also possible that over-familiarity with one’s own image, no matter how obviously obese, can have a dulling effect. Or perhaps some kind of magical thinking comes into play—“Sure, I was fat in that picture taken yesterday, but I’m a lot thinner now.”

Finding a Goal for Weight Loss

Photos can be problematic in other ways. A Reddit contributor expressed her concern with not knowing what goal weight to aim for, because she has never looked good at any stage of her life. Other women have reference points, like “I want to look like my prom photos,” or “I want to get back to how I was the first year in California.” Someone who has always been obese has no such golden-haloed landmarks.

Whether influenced by photos or not, people go through different stages of preparedness for weight loss. Another Reddit participant wrote:

While I have not really started my weight loss journey yet (I’ll be honest, I’m procrastinating big time on top of work and school), I have at least reached a point mentally where I’ve mostly stopped beating myself up for being fat.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “I’m a pe teacher who needs advice about a morbidly obese student,”, 01/28/14
Source: “Hello! HamPlanet Boogie2988 here,”, 10/28/13
Image by R4vi

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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