Angry Bird

Fat Acceptance Advocates Are Unhappy with Weight Watchers

Social media gives power to intense emotions. And if you want to sample intense emotions, tune into a conversation between fat acceptance advocates and Weight Watchers. Well, calling it a conversation is probably inaccurate. It’s more of a one-sided torrent of anger. And it’s all about outreach to teens.

Sparked by a Press Release

Last Wednesday, Weight Watchers issued a press release about its “Strategic Vision to Make Wellness Accessible to All, Inspiring Healthy Habits for Real Life.” Typical corporate jargon. The company wants to increase its revenue and help ten million people adopt healthy habits. Plus, it’s planning to offer free memberships to teens:

Weight Watchers intends to be a powerful partner for families in establishing healthy habits. During the summer of 2018, Weight Watchers will offer free memberships to teenagers aged 13 to 17, helping the development of healthy habits at a critical life stage.

No doubt that sounded good to the folks at Weight Watchers.

A Rallying Cry for Fat Activists

However, it lit a fire under fat activists at the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). In their worldview, Weight Watchers equals dieting. Dieting equals fat shaming. “I am appalled,” wrote ASDAH Treasurer Rebecca Scritchfield in the Washington Post. A hashtag was born – #WakeUpWeightWatchers.

Right now that hashtag is hot on Twitter. Body positivity is very popular on social media, even if people have mixed feelings about some of the tenets of fat acceptance. Anger about fat shaming – for good reasons – is intense. And that anger winds up mangling the truth, as one writer remarked in response to Scritchfield’s commentary:

Obviously the person writing this has never been to Weight Watchers. #1 ABSOLUTELY no body shaming #2 just a healthy eating plan. This article is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Angry hashtags and tweets will not be enough to solve two vexing problems for the health of young people. Fat shaming and weight bias are evil. Pure and simple. They fuel eating disorders and destroy lives. But at the same time, obesity is doing great harm to the health of young people. Approximately five million children and teens in America have severe obesity.

Both of these problems deserve attention.

Promoting body positivity will help. It’s not enough, though. Shaming people who want to find healthier patterns for their lives – perhaps with the help of Weight Watchers – doesn’t solve problems. It just stirs anger.

Click here for Scritchfield’s commentary in the Washington Post and here for a deeper reflection on Weight Watchers in an age of body positivity from the New York Times.

Angry Bird, photograph © Doug Greenberg / flickr

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February 11, 2018

4 Responses to “Fat Acceptance Advocates Are Unhappy with Weight Watchers”

  1. February 11, 2018 at 6:16 pm, Dana Schuster said:

    As a fitness instructor, High School Wellness advocate, past Weight Watchers member, and long-time Health At Every SizeⓇ practitioner, I can unequivocally support people finding “healthier patterns” for their lives AND simultaneously strongly condemn Weight Watchers for setting their sights on teens. The research is clear that restricted eating – and make no mistake, this is exactly what WW promotes – is harmful to the mental and physical health of youth and teens (not to mention adults). Facilitating affordable access to size-inclusive non-judgmental health care, helping people find social and emotional support systems, sharing information about nutritious eating, and supporting all to engage in fun, safe, and sustainable physical activity is what deserves our energy and attention.

    • February 12, 2018 at 2:58 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing your feelings about this, Dana. I certainly agree that harsh judgements and disrespect are problematic when conversations turn to this subject.

  2. February 15, 2018 at 1:54 pm, Dr. Jon said:

    Well, know everyone knows what I know Ted – given the dismal results of WW for adults (no better than any other weight loss program) spreading their web of failure over our children is so despicable it is hard to imagine that any intelligent, science savvy person (like yourself) would fall for it – but evidently you have – Even if obesity is the scourge you claim it is enlarging the group of people who are eligible to participate in a program with the dismal record this one has is simply unethical – shame on you! – Dr. Jon

    • February 15, 2018 at 4:36 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Jon, for sharing your feelings about Weight Watchers. I disagree with the shame you are doling out.

      Weight Watchers is helpful to some people. They’ve studied their programs and published outcomes. One size does not fit all. Nobody, including folks who are selling the HAES® concept, has any miracles to offer.