I was in middle school when I attended my first Weight Watchers meeting. At the tender age of 11, I had already attended kids’ weight loss programs and fat day camps as well as kept food diaries and counted calories. I had honed my skill at eyeballing portions of food, readily spotting the difference between a one-third cup and a one-half cup of blueberries.

But despite my best efforts, my stubborn body clung to its fat. So I was at Weight Watchers.

I descended the steps of a neighborhood community center, entering a shadowy basement with low ceiling tiles and long fluorescent lights. I stood in line while a “Success Story” weighed each attendee individually, marking our weekly weight in a ledger before ushering us into the meeting room.

I was an outlier — a chubby, pink-cheeked preteen in a room full of fortysomething women. I paid close attention as they spoke, listening not only for their successes and failures but for how adult women talked about their lives. This was a coming-of-age moment. I was being ushered into womanhood through one of its most enduring aspects: the unending, thankless quest to lose weight.

I listened keenly as the world of womanhood unfolded in front of me, women sharing their near-uniform stories of failure or partial success (also experienced as failure). Some wept as they spoke of their lack of willpower and the ways they knew their lives would transform if and when they lost weight. Marriages would rekindle, careers would flourish, lives would blossom into glorious futures. These women, brimming with grief, spoke of the lives that lay ahead of them, gleaming and pristine. If they could just beat their bodies into submission, their lives would change and problems would melt away. This had been promised: The thinner, the winner. Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

As a fat kid, Weight Watchers was my only nutrition education, and it was by way of points calculation. I learned to search food labels for calories, fat, and fiber, foregoing vitamins, minerals, sugar content, and more. A dog-eared points slider lived in my Jansport backpack. I memorized a list of “free” foods, reminding myself in my deepest moments of body shame that I could eat as much celery and egg whites as I wanted.

Weight Watchers is a wolf donning sheep’s clothing, suddenly changing its tune after decades of public weigh-ins, endless shaming, and pulling many participants — largely women — into a lifelong cycle of dieting.

The company ushered in a new era in my life just in time for adolescence: one of endless yo-yo dieting, flirting with eating disorders, and a seemingly never-ending war with the body I had always had and the food I always needed. Little did I know, those endless diets would later be shown to cause permanent damage to my metabolism, ensuring a lifetime as a fat person whose efforts to lose weight would prove increasingly futile over time.

Weight Watchers was also my introduction to diet culture. It taught me that fat people were incomplete, that food was to be feared and mistrusted, that my body was a failure, and that a life in a body like mine was no life at all. At 11, I clung desperately to the idea that my body could and would change — that, somehow, I would become thin. Then and only then could my real life begin.

I stayed in Weight Watchers off and on through high school and college. My body never changed. And my life — real or otherwise — proceeded without me.


Weight Watchers has a long and storied history as an engine in the perpetual-motion machine of body insecurity — especially for fat people but also for women of all sizes.

In recent years, the company has dressed itself up as some kind of liberation or actualization. In 2013, Jennifer Hudson repurposed “Feeling Good” — known as a “booming song of emancipation” popularized by the great Nina Simone — as the soundtrack for a Weight Watchers ad campaign, making the iconic song less about liberation from racial and gendered oppression and more about fitting into societal beauty ideals. In 2015, Oprah Winfrey told prospective Weight Watchers members that the program could help them realize their full potential as a thin person: “Inside every overweight woman is the woman she knows she can become.”

Recently, Weight Watchers took the next natural step in its increasingly elaborate disguise, rebranding itself simply as WW. The rebrand announced the company’s partial departure from the out-of-vogue diet industry and its arrival as a brand offering “wellness that works.”

Among fat people and body positive activists, this rebranding has been much derided. For many of us, Weight Watchers is a wolf donning sheep’s clothing, suddenly changing its tune after decades of public weigh-ins, endless shaming, and pulling many participants — largely women — into a lifelong cycle of dieting. As Rebecca Stritchfield succinctly put it in the Washington Post, despite removing “weight” from its name, “it does not appear to represent a reduced emphasis on weight at all.”

I’m angry with body positivity — a more mainstream, defanged, and diluted version of fat activism — for moving the goalposts of acceptability from “beauty” to “health.”

I can understand my fellow fat people’s hurt and outrage at this decision. But try as I might, I can’t muster anger or surprise at Weight Watchers’ rebrand. In recent years, stories trickled out about the company’s decline in membership and how it was increasingly out of step with a population more concerned with holistic health than the reductive single measure of weight. This summer, they even began offering free memberships to teens as young as 13 — a strategy that they openly discussed as an opportunity to recruit new lifelong members.

Weight Watchers is a for-profit company doing what companies do. The market has changed. Their product is no longer desirable. So they changed their product and its marketing. It’s a tale as old as capitalism.

I’m not angry with Weight Watchers. But I am angry.

I’m angry with myself for quietly accepting Weight Watchers as a part of my landscape for so many years. As if it were somehow organic, somehow natural to convene rooms full of fat people to self-flagellate over the simple fact of our bodies. As if abusing fat people and teaching fat people to abuse themselves is somehow de rigueur, an ordinary aspect of life in a society that so deeply fears fatness and so deeply hates fat people.

I’m angry that I have passively accepted a company whose existence is predicated on ending mine. Weight Watchers didn’t care about my “holistic wellness” when I was 11 or 13 or 19. Even with this rebrand, WW is an integral part of the diet industry, an industry whose success and profit margins depend on its participants’ failure.

I’m angry with body positivity — a more mainstream, defanged, and diluted version of fat activism — for moving the goalposts of acceptability from “beauty” to “health.” I’m angry with a body positivity movement that has largely confronted an unforgiving and monolithic beauty standard with a “search and replace” strategy and substituted beauty for an equally fleeting and unattainable standard of health. Like beauty, health will slip away from nearly all of us in time, when we get sick or injured, become disabled, or face the organic erosion that comes with aging. I’m angry with my participation in that myopia.

The problem with Weight Watchers’ rebrand isn’t Weight Watchers, at least not entirely. It’s our desire to avoid the uncomfortable truth of confronting our own biases.

I’m frustrated that as body positive activists and influencers, we have created a space in which corporations like WW can simply change its clothing, wear some shoddy disguise, and repackage the same old diets as some kind of new, holistic wellness program. And I’m frustrated that we’ve bypassed so many opportunities to find our way to a meatier, more meaningful, more challenging analysis of companies like them.

For years, body positive activists have had the opportunity to tackle a complex, challenging, and essential conversation about the roots of body shame — many of which spring from the fertile soil of our cultural fear and hatred of fatness. A real conversation about the nuanced and conflicting science about fat. About the damning data about the depth of our biases against fat people — our increased likelihood to convict fat women of a crime, our inability to believe that fat people are worth employing, the widespread damage caused by ubiquitous medical discrimination. It is and has been a chance to trace our way back to the roots of these troubling, deep-seated societal biases.

And when faced with that real opportunity, too many of us have responded by turning to a much easier conversation about self-love, leaving the topsoil undisturbed and allowing those roots of fat hate to continue to grow, blossom, thrive, and, like some invasive species, overtake us.

The problem with Weight Watchers’ rebrand isn’t Weight Watchers, at least not entirely. It’s our desire to avoid the uncomfortable truth of confronting our own biases. It’s our deep drive to claim the enlightenment of body positivity while clinging to our own insecurities about our bodies and our weight. It’s our fear of interrogating our deepest beliefs about our bodies and the bodies of those around us.

Until then, we will keep cutting back the same weed without pulling its roots, without turning the soil, without making room for new crops. We will continue to harvest what we sow: our own impossible standards, albeit by another name.