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-Love32 Comments

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.

 

 

 

32 Comments on “An Open Letter To Oprah: Why Your Investment In Weight Watcher’s Is Bad News For Women”

  1. YES! Great post, as always. I have people close to me that are lifelong WW members. I can’t get behind an organization that rewards dieting by giving you a lifelong membership for hitting your “goal” weight. For someone of Oprah’s influence to support this is sad for me. Well said!

  2. Amen and AMEN! Thanks for writing this. It just goes to show what a disconnect we have in this culture when it comes to our relationship with our bodies. Someone like Oprah who works, grows, and shares a spiritual approach to life is STILL bound by the chains of body image and believing worth and success is tied to the way our body looks. You would think that being a powerful, beautiful, inspiring, successful woman would be more than enough in this world – but apparently obsession with losing weight is STILL “important”. Again, thanks so much for your beautiful words.

  3. True that! I remember weight watchers…how I thought eating zero fat frankenstein foods full of chemicals was a good idea seems crazy now. How much time I wasted counting points ugh!!

  4. I’m with you, sort of.

    What are your thoughts on how to help people with eating disorders like BED or people with food addictions? No matter my body size, I always feel trapped by my addiction to and preoccupation with food. While I believe that WW was only a temporary fix, I felt happily in control of my food intake when I was on m the program.

    1. Hey Christie! That’s such a big question and I really think that everyone’s situation is different. I have worked with many clients who have “food addiction” (and I put this in quotations because I don’t believe there is such a thing) and when we deal with the body image stuff and have them break free of the diet mentality and eat enough food, the “addiction” goes away. Getting help with the mental side of things is imperative…either though therapy or something else. That’s the problem with WW… you feel “in control” for a bit, but it doesn’t address the root issue and so YOU feel like a failure when the program is actually what’s failing you.

      I do think that WW has helped people and that’s great for them. The issue is what they stand for (thin = good / weight loss = accomplishment) and how this is a shame based system that feeds off women’s insecurities. If Oprah stands for empowerment, then she needs to put her dollars behind something that actually jives with those values.

      1. Hasn’t science proven that food addiction, particularly addiction to sugar and refined grains, is a real thing? The lab rats prefer sugar water to cocaine! http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/

        I hate that I sound like I’m dogging you because I absolutely love your message of body acceptance and have vastly changed my thoughts about dieting by reading your posts and listening to your podcasts.

        That said, I do think that in addition to encouraging body positivity, people need to make a serious stand on regulating sugar and processed food consumption. My daughter is five, and the amount of nutrient-deficient food she is offered by the world on a daily basis is disheartening, and not just because of the physical ramifications of a sugar-rich diet.

        I DO think that we should support programs that teach people how to eat to serve their bodies rather than feed their brain’s compulsion for overly sweet, easily found, cheap, low-quality food.

        1. Hey Christie,

          We have to be careful with the word addiction – I don’t see people losing their jobs and living on the streets to support a sugar addiction. The purpose of this post is not to get into the semantics of that… which would require many lengthy posts and I don’t feel I’m an expert in that area anyways.

          Yes, I do think we need to get behind programs that teach people how to serve their bodies well!!!!! I just think we need to take weight out of the equation and stop using shaming tactics to get people on board. Let’s shift the focus to healthy and healthy behaviours vs. restriction and weight loss.

          1. I think this is really very interesting.

            Out of curiosity, what organization would you recommend Oprah sponsor instead?

          2. I think there are so many (google women’s leadership, education, equality… or mental health, or things that support local food/health programs for kids that are not shame-based) and if I were her, I’d take a lot of time to research them and decide which one best matches up with my values.

  5. And one last thing! I haven’t been on WW since 2004, but I do know that they hav vastly changed their stance of processed foods, and highly promote a whole foods diet. And even though many people on the program use WW to get away with something like eating 12 low-fat twinkles for an entire day’s calories, Weight Watchers has always stressed the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. I remember having to check off those pesky boxes every day.

  6. I would love to see a reply from Oprah, I can’t possibly think what she could genuinely say to excuse her inappropriate behaviour. Is she poor all of a sudden and she needs the money? It just doesn’t make sense. Summer, you are someone who needs to be championing the rights of all women to be who they want to be, be respected, valued and loved, regardless of their size – across the world. Come and do a tour in the UK round schools and colleges, teach young people how to look after each other.

  7. Thank you for putting in to words how I feel about this. It feels like selling out for the all mighty dollar rather than inspiring or empowering women. Sad..

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  9. I couldn’t agree more, Summer!

    I do think that Oprah herself is still trapped in the WW mindset and the whole realm of thinking around it. She preaches self-love but I don’t think she realises that endorsing a company that is based on CONDITIONAL self-love is the opposite of what TRUE self-love and self-acceptance is.

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  11. On the one hand, I definitely think Oprah’s empire could be more body positive, as could Weight Watchers. On the other hand, my mom had to lose weight for medical reasons and her community weight watchers program has been incredibly helpful to her in giving her a support system to get what she wants. Weight watchers isn’t perfect or above criticism, and many doctors are definitely too quick to blame health problems on weight. But there are actually people who want to eat healthier and exercise more for valid medical reasons, and the reality is Weight Watchers is better at supporting that change than most of the other national dieting organizations out there. And while therapy/ help from a nutritionist are almost always better routes to go, they can be cost prohibitive for many women. I can see where your letter is coming from, but I think it might be more effective to try and change Weight Watchers itself than to lecture the people who support it.

  12. Unless the real issue is addressed; the foods that keep our brain is hard wired for sugar, HFC, processed foods in general. This kind of “messaging” will continue, in my opinion unless we deal with the issues of the mind as it relates to food and the body will follow.

  13. Oprah bought into WW same as any other person wanting to make money. Weight watchers doesn’t work. When Oprah bought into WW the stocks sky rocketed and will continue to do so for a while; therefore making Oparah a bundle. I had put her money to a greater worth for women or for even herself. So glad I stumbled across this website, Thank you Summer.

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