An Open Letter To Oprah: Why Your Investment In Weight Watcher’s Is Bad News For Women

SummerBinge Eating, Body Image, Dieting, Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating, Health At Every Size, Self-Love

Dear Oprah,

I grew up religiously attending your daily 4pm sermons and you were someone who I admired as a young girl with big dreams. You are one of the people who ignited my feminist fire and introduced me to the idea of self-love as a teenager. My initial interest in self-love was born out of a particular episode where you said “You cannot love anyone else, until you love yourself.”

You are someone that many women look up to as a role model for female empowerment. So it’s no surprise that when yesterday’s news hit that you had bought 10% of Weight Watchers, I was sorely disappointed.

Outside of the fact that long-term weight loss happens in only a small minority of people and that “weight and BMI are poor predictors of disease and longevity“, your investment is bad news for women everywhere.

Anything that promotes biases around body types (ahem…Weight Watchers) – the belief that thin is good and fat is bad – keeps our culture focused on weight as a measure of moral superiority. This feeds the stigma associated with fatness, which is a problem considering one study showed 54% of women aged 18-25 would rather be hit by a truck than be fat (Reflections Body Image Program) and eating disorders are on the rise.

Frankly, I’d rather have a young woman be afraid to grow up in a culture that discriminates based on appearance, than one that promotes fear of bigness. Aren’t you sick of seeing women’s talents being overshadowed by the stereotypes associated with her weight and appearance?

Weight Watcher’s advertising feeds on women’s insecurities and promotes this illusion that you’ll be happier and more confident by losing weight. It’s a shame-based system that makes us believe that if we don’t look or eat a certain way, there is something wrong with us. Diet culture uses fear of shame (a.k.a. fear of being fat) as their primary motivating factor which perpetuates a belief that we are not enough as we are and that our life’s abundance is contingent on being ‘thin’. Hey Oprah, why not invest in something that’s going to help women cultivate a sense of worth outside of the number on the scale?

Weight Watcher’s entire business is built on people buying in to the idea that thin is preferred and controlling your food makes you a better person. It perpetuates this idea that self-worth is derived from obtaining compliance and achievement as it relates to weight and food. This only makes women believe that they need to control their body to feel exceptional and worthy. It keeps the focus on weight and food instead of the actual issues that are preventing women from living the life they want.

You say that food is your ‘drug of choice’, however if someone is using food to numb emotions, focusing on weight as a measure of success is not going to help the situation since we know weight loss is only something that a small fraction of people actually experience. Why not invest in something that promotes mental health regardless of weight?

You are the definition of a career dieter – someone who has been ‘struggling’ to lose weight for most of their life and is constantly ‘on or off’ diets. At 61 years old, don’t you think it’s time you stopped blaming yourself for all your attempts at ‘staying on the wagon’ and thought that perhaps it’s the system that’s broken?

If we really want female empowerment, we need to change the cultures and systems that are disempowering to women and put our investment dollars elsewhere.

I’d love to see you invest in a company that promotes all bodies as good bodies and empowers women to focus on education, leadership and equality. With all the different organizations that you could have invested in that would actually make a difference in women’s lives, this is one of the worst.