Melanie Acevedo on shooting Weight Watchers’ second annual Body Issue, which celebrates beauty in all its forms

“I always wanted to blend in—to be just like everyone else. But I couldn’t. I was born with syndactyly on my right hand: It has only two fingers. The kids in junior high picked on that,” Samantha Rayburn tells Weight Watchers senior editor Katerina Gkionis. Photo by Melanie Acevedo for Weight Watchers, May/June 2017 issue.

 

For its second-annual Body Issue, Weight Watchers magazine wanted to examine beauty in a new way. “So we decided to discuss what members talk about quite often: visibility,” explains senior editor Katerina Gkionis.

The resulting cover story, “See Me Now,” features fresh, breezy portraits and upbeat profiles of a wide range of Weight Watchers members, from a 24-year-old woman who changed her eating habits after suffering from a rare form of pancreatic cancer that left her body scarred from multiple surgeries, to 38-year-old Justin Brown, who notes that men suffer from the same body issues as women, to millennial Samantha Rayburn, who was born with only two fingers on her right hand.

“We found the members through our own social media tool on the Weight Watchers app called Connect,” says Gikonis. “There, members share their successes, their triumphs, their feelings. Through Connect, we were able to find inspiring members to represent this story.”

An assignment like this calls for a photographer who can make regular people—meaning those who are not accustomed to photo shoots—feel comfortable and get great images in the process. It also calls for sensitivity. The magazine chose Melanie Acevedo for the job.

“I’ve ALWAYS loved Melanie’s work, so I was thrilled to get to work with her,” says photo director Marybeth Dulany. “I was inspired by the shoot she did for Darling magazine, and I wanted that same kind of feeling and emotion to come through in our story. Melanie has the ability to capture the beauty and joy in each one of her subjects. You feel like you ‘know’ each one of them.”

For Melanie, the shoot was an opportunity to contribute to a visual narrative that is close to her heart. “I’m so moved and so proud of Weight Watchers for celebrating these extraordinary women,” she says. “We are surrounded by images of the ideal woman,’ and it is so disheartening for all of us mere mortals to be told to look toward this ideal.

“Now more than ever,” she continues, “it is time to celebrate the AUTHENTIC in each and every one of us. The more the media gets on board with this idea, the better off we will all be. We are paving the way for the next generation of women to expect to see variety and uniqueness everywhere, not just once in while when some magazine wants to be edgy or hip to show a plus-size girl or an older woman.”

Rayburn, whose portrait appears on the magazine’s cover, is so thrilled with her photos that she sent us a selfie posing proudly at a local newsstand where Weight Watchers is on sale. “Hands down, the shoot was the best day of my life!” she says. “It was beyond a pleasure working with Melanie. It made me want a career as a model, and then I remembered how much I like pizza and burgers and I retracted that thought!”

“I find these women way more inspiring than any 20-something fashion model, and much more compelling to look at,” notes Melanie. “It was amazing to see these people, who have overcome so much, be so confident and secure in who they are. They have accepted themselves—that’s real love, for sure. What an example they are to us. Bravo, Weight Watchers, bravo!!!!!”

 

“Now, at 36 years old, I finally feel adequate,” says Whitney Miner, 36, who lost 27 pounds. “You walk through life feeling like you could be more, that you could do more, but I’ve learned to accept who I am. I walk in my own light, and I think that makes anyone more beautiful than ever. I’m glowing now, and everyone is taking notice.” Photo by Melanie Acevedo for Weight Watchers. Caption courtesy Weight Watchers.

“At 24 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer. At age 24! Once I received the diagnosis, life moved quickly. I had parts of my pancreas removed; I had my spleen removed. The surgeries, the recoveries, the hospital stays—they were all so tough to handle…,” says Kimberly Ruth Wahlstrom, age 29. “Life is about spending time with your family and your friends, doing the things you love, listening to music, enjoying it all. There’s so much more to the world than picking yourself apart.” Photo by Melanie Acevedo for Weight Watchers. Caption courtesy Weight Watchers.

“One day four years ago, I woke up in the hospital with a buzz cut. I looked in the mirror and all I saw was Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. Then my family pieced together the past year for me: I had been in a severe car accident; I was in a coma for a little more than two months; the doctors had given me a 2 percent chance of living; I’d had approximately 15 surgeries. And I would have to learn how to walk all over again,” recalls Sarah Martin, 33. “Now I put in an average 12-hour shift as a floor nurse, and I have no issues. Some days, when I come home after a long day and I look in the mirror, I say to myself, ‘I look pretty good.’ And those are the moments when I feel most beautiful, when I don’t have makeup on, when I’m tired, when I’m worn out. Yesterday, I survived. Today, I am thriving.” Photo by Melanie Acevedo for Weight Watchers. Caption courtesy Weight Watchers.

Samantha Rayburn poses in front of a local newsstand where she is featured on the cover of Weight Watchers. Photo courtesy Samantha Rayburn.

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