Monday, June 24, 2024
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Can we watch something else now?

By Rachel SunterHealth Columnist

When I was grocery shopping last week, the number of Weight Watchers products in the aisles struck me. Recession or not, this is one company that is expanding, however insidiously.
Rather than be restricted to a weight-loss section, Weight Watchers’ trademark labels rest innocently beside plumper packages in most departments: from dairy and breads to snack foods and desserts.
It bothers me how accessible and sneaky the diet industry has become. When I first heard of Weight Watchers, it was a diet program available to those who sought its help. But with its products lining shelves throughout major grocery stores, Weight Watchers is leaping from exclusive program to alternative lifestyle.
“Stop dieting. Start living,” preach its advertisers.
When a massive company claims to know how to live better than you do, it’s time to start asking questions.
The company’s name is key to its motives. Weight Losers, for example, would be a much less intrusive name. By contrast, Weight Watchers doesn’t want you to lose weight so much as it wants you to watch your weight. This is something markedly different.
I won’t comment on Weight Watchers as a successful or sustainable weight-loss program.
My qualms are with its advertising – something that since its grocery store invasion, I can no longer ignore. This company explicitly associates weight watching with freedom, sensibility, intelligence and, most of all, with controlling your life. Weight Watchers goes beyond competing within the diet industry, enticing people to use food as a means to exert control in their lives.
The Weight Watchers catchphrase, “Discover weight-loss freedom”, is painfully ironic. Encouraging women (and men) to watch their weight is, if anything, a sure way to take their attention off worthier subjects, such as their careers, their spirituality and their active enjoyment of life itself.
Gym time, scales, mirror sessions, clothing shopping and time spent researching weight-loss tricks adds up to a whole lot of hours of not doing anything else. There is no freedom in the act of watching your weight, and tallying your food with numbers in an attempt to signify some kind of self-discipline for the greater good. No freedom at all.
According to advertising, Weight Watchers’ Chocolate Brownies are “as sensible as they are scrumptious.” What does that even mean? Since when were machine-made chocolate patties stuffed with preservatives more sensible choices than homemade brownies? Using local and whole ingredients, I’d say hearty homemade brownies are more sensible in every sense.
Other lines make further inference to our deductive powers: “Intelligent snacking never tasted so good!”
This kind of advertising encourages people to think about how their food choices relate to their intelligence, but in all the wrong ways. Healthy fatty acids have been proven to improve brain, heart and immune function. Sugar gives energy to all cells in your body, supporting all kinds of cervical processes. Opting for Weight Watchers’ Soft Cookies doesn’t make you smart.
Weight Watchers’ emphasis on restraint and control, however, is by far the most disturbing part of this company. Their marketing strategy around control issues is plainly revealed in the following March 2009 press release.
“Consumers have a strong desire to feel more in control of their lives during times when finances feel out of control … While many aspects of life are difficult to control during these uncertain times, there are things consumers can manage – such as investing in their health and well-being.”
Or investing in Weight Watchers International.
The release goes on to say that in response, Weight Watchers is “expanding their portion and calorie-controlled food options.”
This is sick and sad. Trust our consumerist society to bear us into a financial system we cannot control, and then to reap the benefits of our resulting psychological state. A company like Weight Watchers feeds off social repression. The less in-control people are feeling, the more likely they are to buy into something that feels like control.
Instead of teaching women (and men) to feel comfortable in their bodies, to be assertive at work and at home, and become more mindful of their emotions and practice self-care, we have a company diving in to make money off our insecurity.
This kind of business-consumer relationship perpetuates the actual control issues happening in our society. If one woman can go to bed feeling proud, satisfied and in control, because she had a child-size machine-made control-portion cup of pseudo ice cream for dessert tonight, that’s one less woman to worry about for those at the top of this financial food chain.
I watch clouds when there’s a storm coming. I watch the leaves flutter like babies’ hands in the tickling evening wind. I watch my cat sleeping at the foot of my bed, stretching his limbs like a drunken ballerina. I watch good friends exit and enter my life, and grow around me. I am a people watcher, a world watcher, a life watcher. Though diets and body-image issues have certainly touched my life, I am determined to overcome them. I refuse to be a weight watcher.


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