If you’ve spotted the hashtag #wakeupweightwatchers floating around on twitter, you might be wondering what the heck is going on.
Well the slogan is in response to the diet brands announcement that this summer for six weeks, they plan to give free access and membership to American teens ages 13-17 to their programs.
The brand seem excited about the potential opportunity for an entirely new market for their diets, meanwhile the rest of society is horrified by the attempt of such a powerhouse to roll out their message to a bunch of young and impressionable teenagers. And of course the theory would suggest if it works in the US, how long before the brand roll it out worldwide?
Some might say, what’s the problem, we have an obesity crisis and if research is true, 20% of 14 year olds in the UK are deemed obese shouldn’t we be doing something about this?
Yes and well no.
The issue isn’t losing weight per se, or dieting per se. It is diet culture and the idea of self worth related to scales that people have the issue with when it comes to the likes of weight watchers.
The terrible truth is, diet culture is set up to make you fail. That is why it is a billion dollar industry. If it was successful, then you’d only ever ‘do’ one diet and ta da. But the problem with dieting is that it starts you on a cycle that will for most, last a life time, setting a person up for a succession of failures and essentially feeling pretty terrible, why would we want to kick start this earlier?!
Diets do not work. Life changes can. But a teenage is not in a place to make those decisions, because a huge amount of home support is needed and I don’t know if you’ve met a teen recently but boy are they stubborn, so if the pressure to join and commit to something like WW comes from a parent, then it will have the total opposite effect.
I have a weird relationship with WW – I’ve been there, done it and got the t-shirt, with a mixture of success and failure, I find it hard to fully condemn it, because I personally learnt so much on it. But it was entirely my decision and my commitment to it. But I also learnt dangerous ways to cheat the system. To eat the lowest number of points, rather than the recommended allowance and I’ll never forget the total feeling of shame, when you haven’t met that weeks target at a weigh in, or heaven forbid put weight on. I was in my late teens and even then it was a lot to handle at 13 it would have been a disaster!
The truth is we do have a problem. But it is the way we see health and worth that needs fixing first. The problem is, we still teach teenagers, especially young women, that their greatest gift to society is to be stereotypically beautiful. To be slim and made up for the male gaze is the ultimate goal. Even Oprah, undoubtably one of the most incredibly successful women, someone who has broken so many boundaries, still suggests to the world, that her worth is tied to the scale, as she fronts Weight Watchers campaigns. Even the TV shows we put on for teenagers on the likes of E4 and MTV with Ex on the Beach and Love Island, revolve purely around sexual attraction, where being slimmest and prettiest is the genuine prize goal. Until we teach young people that their mind is worth more than anything, we aren’t creating strong independent humans, just mere clones to indoctrinate into diet culture.
We have given the food industry too much power and not given health, fitness and mental health enough credit. We need to make healthy eating more accessible for all socio economic groups, but it also needs to take precedence in schools as part of a well rounded education system. We need to treat fitness as something that is healthy for our minds and soul not just for the perfect instagram #fitfam post. It isn’t all lycra and lunges you know.
But introducing diet culture to younger and younger age groups is not the answer. The answer lies in education about healthy eating and healthy living without guilt tripping and demeaning already hugely impressionable teenagers struggling to cope with a social media world that we didn’t have to contend with.
But most importantly we need to teach them that they are valuable beyond whatever number they rack up on the scale, because a selfie doesn’t define your self worth.