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Weight Watchers-Oppressive or Empowering?


To The Women I Love Who Love Weight Watchers

I have to begin with a disclaimer, which is that I have never been to Weight Watchers. However, many of my friends do or have. Most women and girls are obsessed with weight and size. And as a woman, I can speak from experience about the struggle women have to develop self-worth, self-esteem and self-love in a misogynist society. The racist American standard of beauty for women includes an unrealistic and unhealthy, ideal of thin. This cultural drive to diminish the very existence of women is difficult to ignore.

Eating disorders are rampant in this country. The most pervasive eating disorder is chronic dieting, which makes us miserable and doesn’t work. Furthermore, I believe one of the most successful tools of patriarchy, unfortunately perpetuated by women, is the obsession with women’s appearance, including weight. The amount of time, thought, energy, money and other resources we women spend on “beauty” and fashion, might be enough to change the world should we spend it more wisely.

That being said, Americans are the fattest people on the planet, despite our addiction to dieting. There are many good, health-related reasons for truly overweight women to lose weight. Obesity raises many risks of disease including heart disease, cardiovascular problems, several forms of cancer, strokes, diabetes, and knee arthritis. I also think the obesity epidemic is rooted in economics. Fast foods and convenience foods, (fattening and nutrient-poor,) are the cheapest and often only food choices in low-income communities. But it is not only the poor who eat highly processed foods. We have developed a culture of fast foods at all levels of society. Then we have the conspiracy of corn, the insidious infusion of high fructose corn syrup into nearly every processed food, which jacks up the empty calories and increases addiction to sweets.

So what’s wrong with Weight Watchers? I want women to be healthy, and I want women to love and accept ourselves as we are. I don’t want to judge ourselves by numbers on a scale, or what size jeans we can fit into. When I moved to California, I found myself in the self-help capitol of the world. While I find the desire to better oneself admirable if the path is truly spiritual, I believe the great revelation is that we are already perfect. I want women to be healthy in body, mind and soul. This also means that women must love and value ourselves enough to make our health a priority. Do women find this at Weight Watchers? If so, fantastic. But why measure success on a scale? Why set goals by the pound? Why the monetary punishment (and self-repudiation) for gaining back a few pounds?

What if there was a program whose goal was overall health and not just weight loss? What would that look like? Certainly a foundation of nutrition and healthy eating is a must. As Michael Pollan writes, “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” Eat organic whole foods in season, locally grown whenever possible. Avoid processed foods. Reduce portion sizes. Eat fewer animal products, more as a side or a condiment than a main course. Enjoy food! Share meals with people that you love.

Instead of keeping records of what we’ve eaten, what if we kept records of other things: How many times did we exercise? Did we make time to do something that brings us joy? Did we spend time in nature? Did we have any time for self-reflection, meditation or yoga? Did we connect with friends or family? Did we do anything in service to others, to improve someone’s life or make the world a better place?

Instead of measuring our progress by pounds lost, what if we looked at other indicators: How well are we sleeping? Are we getting enough sleep? How do we feel about ourselves? What kind of moods are we in? What is our heart rate? Blood pressure? Lung capacity? Muscle strength? How do we rate our energy levels?

For some women, Weight Watchers might be a valuable means towards creating health. For others it might be a step deeper into the self-loathing cycle of weight loss and weight gain. Reaching some “ideal” weight might win some degree of social acceptance, but it does not guarantee self-acceptance or even happiness. My hope is that by cultivating true self-love, we will feel better, live better, experience more joy and create greater personal and planetary health.

posted under Musings, Politics
4 Comments to

“Weight Watchers-Oppressive or Empowering?”

  1. On November 23rd, 2008 at 8:06 pm Ulan Says:

    “I believe the great revelation is that we are already perfect.”

    And with that you have begun a revolution! We were made perfect at birth. Our goal in life is to learn to recognize it. To become better we must learn to live within our skin. And that… is no easy task =)

  2. On November 23rd, 2008 at 10:58 pm Deena Says:

    I agree that women (young girls starting in middle school) must be taught to accept there bodies. I’ve never had a weight problem but that doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with the subject. Being tall and thin wasn’t my ideal. I always wanted more curves, so it’s not always a overweight issue. I think we have to start with our youth so this problem can curve over the next few generations.

  3. On December 10th, 2008 at 3:38 pm kris white Says:

    I’ve read the Pollan book too. It’s amazing. It’s hard though here in Maine now that the farmers markets are all closed. Great writing, Sheri!


  4. On March 9th, 2009 at 10:10 am Erin Albert Says:

    I love your alternative idea to WW, the counting of points for exercise, being in nature, doing something that brings you joy or helps others. As someone addicted to self-improvement — reading books how to clean my house faster, get more done in a day, organize our stuff better — I might just create a point system to make sure the good and enriching stuff gets done.

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