How To Read A Selfie - by David Johnston

Online prep coaches, gurus, and those looking to build physique teams, beware. We live in a dangerous new era. I’m not talking about the era of “metabolic damage”, or even the era of the spoiled brat competitor-to-be who hasn’t even started working out yet but is already asking you to help them pick their first show. No. This is not of what I speak. I’m talking, rather, about the era of the selfie. Ah, the selfie—the greatest modern way to lie to the world and buttress a false sense of self-esteem. For most, the selfie is a fairly harmless endeavor that simply takes up news feed space and populates the interwebz with just a bit more bullshit than normal. For some of us in the coaching industry, however, the selfie can be a professional hazard. Thus, it is imperative that one know how to properly “read” the selfie. This handy dandy guide can protect you on your journey.

  • The dressed-up selfie: If you are sending a potential physique coach a picture of yourself wearing something akin to a prom dress, a wedding dress, or with professionally-done makeup—you know, a picture that is a mere two shades of blush away from a Glamour Shot taken at the mall—this is a surefire sign that the selfie was taken at a different point in time, and likely stands out in your mind as “the best you ever looked”. You can’t accurately assess somebody’s physique in this type of selfie, in large part because they are covered up, but even more importantly, because it is not recent. Inquiring clients always send this one along with their batch of “current and horrible pictures”, in order to impress the coach with the “potential” that their physique yields—you know, when they were young, and didn’t devote their entire existence to eating Cheetos and hanging out at the local bar. You can automatically assume that the physique of this individual is at least 50% worse than what they are showing in this picture. Best to just delete it completely.
  • The sideways selfie: If a female sends you a picture of herself standing completely profile in the mirror, at least you can sleep MASCOTwell knowing how much her abdomen protrudes, and how flat her ass is. However, while the belly might not be beastly and the ass might be a pancake, there is another danger to watch out for: the hips. A completely-sideways selfie is a good indicator that this woman has the proportions of the Phillies Phanatic:

Some will confuse this with an “hourglass figure”. No—your just look like a straw stuck into a block of cheddar, with two smaller straws protruding from the bottom of the cheese. If you had an hourglass figure, you would have proudly taken your picture from the front, and you likely wouldn’t be contacting a prep coach to fix your physique.

  • The top-half only selfie: If you receive a selfie of a woman in a sports bra or bikini top, and she’s wearing full-length stretch pants, you can guarantee her body, in real life, looks like a Photoshop disaster: nice, lean, shapely upper body, and a lower body riddled with enough cellulite and cottage cheese to feed a small African village. (And if it’s drought season, you might even be able to feed a mid-sized village. It’s all relative.)
  • The top-half only selfie, v2.0: The Dude: And then of course we have the male version of the top-half selfie. At least now they have invented an entire physique competition division just for these guys—you know, where they judge the physique, but only selectively, and only the parts of the body that are actually fun to train. (Nothing like taking the biggest gym cliché of all time, and actually honoring it and recognizing it as a legitimate way to “compete”.) The top-half-only selfie, dude version, guarantees that this man-child was the paradigm they had in mind when they created skinny jeans. He is God of the squat-rack curl. And when they finally introduce the “I want to look like a lightbulb” division, he will be leading the charge—on two very small, very skinny little legs.
  • The bottom-up selfie: If your selfie was shot from the floor up and looks like it was taken by a Pygmy with a camera, it’s a surefire sign that the subject of the selfie is an Oompah Loompah fighting borderline midget proportions. Taking the selfie from the ground up makes the body look longer and taller, adding the illusion of height to this obviously vertically-challenged individual.
  • The fluorescent light selfie: Everybody bodybuilder worth their salt is aware that posing under fluorescent lights adds 10lbs of lean muscle to one’s frame. Initial reports indicate that fluorescent-light selfies are more efficient at adding mass than Celucor and Gakic combined. If you receive selfies from a potential client who has clearly gone out of his way to add shadows, texture, and dramatic lighting to their selfie, rest assured, they look at least 30% worse than the pictures would indicate.
  • The “I’m not even going to brush my hair selfie”: In a sense, this is a valuable commodity—it indicates that the taker of said selfie truly did absolutely nothing whatsoever to improve their appearance for the picture. The potential risk: here is an individual who did absolutely nothing whatsoever to improve their appearance, before snapping a picture and sending it to a complete stranger. How well do you think they are going to fare on stage by the end of prep? “What do you mean I have to shave my armpits? I ain’t no pretty boy!” Run screaming from this one.
  • The “This isn’t even a picture of me” selfie: Technically, this one should probably be called an “otherie”, because, well, it’s not even a picture of the person themselves. Yes, coaches and gurus, this is the most dangerous “selfie” of all—when the potential client or competitor sends over a picture of what they ideally would like to look like, rather than a picture of what they actually look like. If you receive an email with a request for contest prep, open it up, and there sits a picture of Dana Lynn Bailey—don’t even bother reading the email. Straight to the circular file. Why? Because the picture of DLB is a guarantee that this person is so incredibly out of shape that she didn’t even bother attaching a picture of herself; she just went right for the “ideal after shot”, showed you Dana Lynn (because Lord knows you can transform her into Ms Physique Olympia with some very simple diet advice sent over email), and you are dealing with a completely lost cause. “I want to look like this. Is that possible in the next three months?” No, sweetie, it’s not. Not in three months, probably not in three years, probably not in three lifetimes. There’s this unfortunate little thing called “genetics” that might just rear its ugly head and stop you a few feet shy of reaching the DLB destination.

So there you have it, people. The most common pitfalls in reading and interpreting a selfie. I hope this guide helps save you some time from taking on the junkers. Always remember the 80/20 rule of business—we tend to spend 80% of our time fixing the problems that only contribute to 20% of our success or income. And as prep coaches, we often get sucked into spending 80% of our time helping those who have only put 20% of their potential effort into this project. We would be better served to ditch that 20%, and focus our efforts on the 80-percenters. So get to reading your pictures! -David A. Johnston


David Johnston - TEAM Warrior WithinDavid Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within.  You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.

David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.