An open letter to Weight Watchers, in light of offering free memberships to teenagers
Dear Weight Watchers,
Your program is a rite of passage. Both my mother and grandma were on Weight Watchers in the 90s, at a time where cigarettes and Slimfast were also popular diet aids. They used to attend meetings together, and who can’t get behind female solidarity? Women coming together to talk about their struggles, finding strength in the collective?! I should really get myself to the nearest Weight Watchers meeting if the whole premise didn’t reek of bullshit.
No matter how you dress this up as “wellness” or “health”, your program is only one thing: A brilliant and manipulative business plan.
As the popular flavour of the day changes, (Cindy’s legs, Britney’s abs, Kim’s gravity defiance) the world tells women we are not quite good enough. But fear not! We can be the “best versions of themselves” by simply ignoring our body’s signals and hunger cues and obsessively tracking calories. Sorry, not calories…Points. And it will work! At first…
A hopeful woman will look at the Before and After photos and be inspired, take out her credit card, drink the sugar-free Koolaid, and agree to beat her body into taking up less space. And she will lose weight, because calories-in and calories-out is simple math. But the best part? The minute she stops tracking every morsel, loosens the reigns…She’ll be back. The revolving door of yoyo dieting all but guarantees you have a customer for life, as long as you keep telling women there is something wrong with their bodies. Like I said, brilliant business plan.
But why bring the children into it?
Teenagers, children, who are supposed to be absorbing the world and trying things, making connections, learning how to talk to people, and discovering who they are and what they stand for – Why the fuck should a kid know how many Points a bagel is? Where are the points for intelligence? Kindness? Creativity? Where does your program nourish those parts of their beings?
Growing brains and bodies are trying to figure out how to navigate this world, so I guess my question is, why are you distracting and limiting the children by suggesting they need to count and measure, pinch and resist?
The world will inevitably convince them that they aren’t meeting expectations, that there is always something to improve. Why are you throwing children into the hellscape of diet culture before the brain knows which way is up?
You’ll be happy to know that I went on my first diet when I was 6-years old, after a little girl in my class told me my thighs looked big in my bicycle shorts. Most years, I blew out the candles on my birthday cake with an earnest wish to be skinny. Thankfully, and hilariously, my wish was often followed by digging into a sweet slice. But there have been too many times where I’ve vowed to be “good” and deprived myself of experiences that threatened to break my diet. I’ve avoided swimming lessons, shorts in the summer, spaghetti straps, all while I followed the rules of dieting and waited for my better (ie: smaller) body.
Once, while on a similar diet (what I came to know as an eating disorder) I reached my goal weight! I had starved and crunched and punished my body into the number in my head that I had been told was “right”. And guess what? I maintained my goal weight for 12 whole hours. After eating my breakfast of apple, the ounces on the scale crept up and I was failing once more.
I did just as you asked, Weight Watchers, engaged in discussion about “temptations” and labelled food as “good” and “bad”, ate the pre-portioned snacks promising to “stave off hunger”. I counted and tallied, and juggled and budgeted my precious Points so I could have a slice of pizza with my girlfriends.
Just like my mother, and her mother before her, I paid good money and followed the rules, waiting for the day I would be good enough so I wouldn’t have to count anymore. That day never came. But you already knew that.
Aiming diet culture at children is heartless and greedy, no matter how it’s branded. Whatever it is you’re doing, do not try to sell it to children as “health”.