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Goodbye to ‘before and after’ photos – Weight Watchers is right to ditch them

Before and after photos of Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watcher, c1965.
Before and after photos of Jean Nidetch, the founder of Weight Watcher, c1965. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Anyone who has tried to lose weight will tell you that results matter. Otherwise, none of us would bother trying. So the news that Weight Watchers is ditching its long-held tradition of “before and after” photographs is somewhat perplexing.

Dieters the world over know the power of the “transformation” photo: the left-hand image shows the subject at their podgiest, around the time of that watershed moment when, perhaps after a particularly heavy Wotsits binge, the overweight person decides that enough is enough. It’s time to cut the calories. Meanwhile, the right-hand photograph shows the subject weeks or months later, wherein they have emerged like a phoenix from the BBQ ashes: slender, glamorous, slinky, smiling – and telling us: “If I can do it, so can you.”

Such images have been part of the Weight Watchers story since it was founded by Jean Nidetch in the early 1960s. Look up Nidetch online and you will be confronted with a plethora of before and after shots. She used to be fat, and then she wasn’t – and that’s why you should try her diet, naturally. These days, there are whole websites dedicated to before and after pictures, with thousands of dieters relying on them for motivation. Studies have even found that taking a weekly photograph of your body can make dieters more likely to achieve their target weight.

Nonetheless, Weight Watchers now argues that transformation photos promote the idea of a short-term diet with an end date. Really, we should be aiming for a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. “We want to promote a journey of health, with no beginning, middle or end,” a spokesperson has said.

And in this, the company may have a point – though perhaps not quite in the way that it intended. Because even if you succeed in losing weight, chances are you’ll put it all back on again. In other words, the “after” is never really the “after”. Besides, in the age of Facetune and other digital retouching apps that allow you to drop three dress sizes with the jab of a forefinger, who can really trust what they’re seeing anyway?

This article titled "Goodbye to ‘before and after’ photos – Weight Watchers is right to ditch them" was written by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14 February 2018 04.36pm

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