You Don’t Have to Diet Until You Die (or, Some Thoughts on Weight Watchers)
Weight Watchers recently acquired the telehealth company Sequence, allowing them effectively to prescribe weight-loss drugs like Ozempic to their members. Talk about being on the wrong side of history — body liberation is the future.
I suppose there’s something refreshing about the acquisition, though it will cause incalculable harm. It means they’ve given up the charade, or are at least allowing us to see the stage makeup and costuming. In 2018, Weight Watchers rebranded as “WW,” declaring themselves a “lifestyle” instead of a diet. They crowed about their “new purpose.” The emphasis was off weight, they said, and it was all about “wellness” instead. Every dieter I know (most of whom are former chronic dieters) saw right through that cynical, corporate switcheroo; it was as transparent as Kentucky Fried Chicken becoming KFC. It’s still fried chicken. It’s still a diet. A rose by any other name, you know?
Weight Watchers is a business, and the business is repeat customers engaged in the endless, and typically hopeless, project of reshaping and controlling their bodies in service of our culture’s distinctive, unnatural, and highly-political fixation on (mostly female) thinness. I’ve said a lot about why I describe dieting and diet culture in such convicting terms and don’t need to rehash it here.
Instead, what interests me is the meta-ness of it all, how we’re seeing not only that dieting is seductive and repetitive for people, but that dieting is seductive and repetitive for institutions. The logic of dieting sticks with any person who tries it for more than two seconds — it’s been decades since I was a Weight Watchers member but I can still tell you the point values of nearly every food in the grocery store. It’s not so easy to unlearn a language in which you are fluent. It’s not so easy for a person to liberate herself from the sneaky insidiousness of dieting and diet culture; like all activities fundamentally rooted in discrimination, dieting is a shape-shifter, calling itself many things and plotting its way back into our lives even when we think we’ve outrun it, even when we think we’ve “moved on” to concepts like wellness. It burrows so deep in our minds that, at some point, it no longer seems like a system of oppression — it’s just what…