In February of 2018 I wrote a blog post titled “#wakeupweightwatchers. This post was about the anger and frustration I felt after learning that Weight Watchers (now called WW which still means the same thing…) was offering free memberships to teenagers for the summer. I was appalled at this company’s blatant attempt to get customers for life (sign a kid up at 15yrs old…average life span is 74yrs old…that is almost 60yrs of a paying customer. A lot of businesses would be ecstatic for that). Who knew that they would do something that would actually trump my frustration and anger with them (who will not be named for the remainder of this piece).
This past week the above mentioned company launched an app (which I do not want to give space to name either) targeted at children as young as 8 (yes…you read that correctly. Kids in grades 2 to 3 in Canada to put it in perspective for you). This app says it is to create an “increase healthy behaviours” yet it looks more like an app to assist in weight loss of growing children . The company will argue that the point is to not get kids to lose weight but to change how they eat and move. However, they have before and after pictures of kids showing weight loss on the app. No seriously. You read that correctly. They have before and after pictures of kids showing weight loss along with random captions saying things about “how much better their lives are now that they are smaller bodied”- along with captions of how much weight was lost (or how many points of the BMI scale they moved). Upon seeing this on social media I went down the proverbial rabbit hole to discover what the actual f was going on. The more I read, the angrier I got. I really wanted to articulate my thoughts on this matter but I was struggling to put together a piece that wouldn’t have so much swearing that it would get an “R” rating if it were a movie. Not only is this app terrible for kids and teens but all the press about it is triggering those who have lived through the very real experience of having an eating disorder after living through programs by this company and others. So, I was going to write about how stupid it is to have a traffic light system for foods and how it creates a binary thought process to food that will likely stick with them for life. (A side note- I can’t even beginning to understand the rational that they are using giving the foods the colour system they are using— What is the criteria?!?! hmmmm I wonder how it relates to the equally undesirable points system) Then I thought about writing how tracking exercise leads to painful relationships with movement that can stick with humans for life. Then I thought about writing about how much research we have that shows that dieting and trackers place individuals at much higher risk for eating disorders. So many topics! So much damage being done! There are amazing pieces that have been written on these already. There are some incredible superstars sharing- I will attempt to add links at the end of this post as they become available or you can google… Instead of all those incredibly important topics I have decided I want to write about how rampant fat phobia and weight stigma has gotten us to a place where an app like this would make it past various levels of marketing individuals, business people and likely others that I do not even know exist. How have we, as a society, gotten to a place that it is ok to commit this violence against bodies? Because this is what this is. Violence. Kids are being told that their bodies are not worthy of existing as is. They are being told that the foods that they enjoy or are provided to them by their families (I am not sure how many households have the purchasing of food and preparation of food being done by an 8 year old however this is an example of why I think we need to acknowledge the role that socio-economic status, family status and social factors play into how children are being fed) are not appropriate and that they need to change their eating to be worthy. I ask again…How is this even remotely ok??
The short answer is that it is not ok. The long answer is much more insidious. Society fears larger bodies. The majority have bought into the narrative that larger bodies are lazy, unhealthy, burdens, unlovable, undesirable (…and so much more), that kids need to be “protected” from this life. Families need “to fix” their kids or they will grow up to be fat adults and society fears fat adults. If a child grows up to be a fat adult it may expose parents biases towards bodies and I suspect they are very uncomfortable about this…let them be uncomfortable and learn what biases they have so that they can unlearn them…just my thoughts. This company is banking on the fears of society to make money. They are banking on people thinking “If we just get “ahold” of this now we can prevent…(fat phobic thought here) for our child” . Well this is where that logic goes all to hell. By telling your child that their body needs to change ( whether you are saying it out right or by “suggesting we all eat better to get healthier” you are telling these children that their bodies are not ok. They are not acceptable as they are. They are not allowed. Nobody is helping children by getting them to change their bodies you are only reinforcing the stigma that has become the norm in our society. Why are large corporations not working to fix that?? Why are we not putting truck loads of money into the development of apps to teach people about their fat phobia and ways to unlearn those thoughts? Instead of changing bodies we need to work towards changing peoples views towards bodies. We need to listen to the stories of those that have lived through this violence and we need to change the processes that are in place to allow these injustices to continue to happen. These are the things that need to be changed..not the bodies of kids…or teens…or adults…or ANY HUMAN! We need to unlearn the narratives that we have been told about bodies because if we do that-apps like this particular one -will not get created because people will see them for what they are .. money making schemes (this app is $69USD a month) built on the premise of hooking clients for life.
I have so many more thoughts on this…to be honest I am just not sure how to get it all out.
Ragan Chastain at danceswithfat.org has a great blog post on this. Rebecca Scritchfield of Body Kindness the book has been posting on facebook some great work. Josée Sovinsky has been on CBC Ottawa’s “All in a Day” radio program. Anna Sweeney @dietitiananna has been killing it with stats on twitter.
Check them out..while I continue to organize my angered thoughts for a possible part 2.
Until next time be Unapologetically you while I be Unapologetically Me….