Oprah Buying 10% of Weight Watchers — WTF?

CNN Money
CNN Money

By Virgie Tovar for Wear Your Voice Magazine, cross-posted with permission

Dear Virgie,

What hope do us women have when Oprah buys Weight Watchers stock?

Hey, frustrated friend,

This question is so special, I’ve decided to forego the bulleted advice points for today’s question and just go for a cross between a short memoir, Virgsplaining, and quippy pseudo-journalism.

So in case you have no idea what squirrelfriend is talking about, let me give you the deets. O bought 10% of Weight Watchers yesterday. Yeah. She now owns 6.4 million shares and is being awarded options to buy 3.5 million more. This, in turn, caused the stock to more than double to $13.92 a share.

That’s a lot of money for an industry that yields a 95ish% failure rate.

Weight Watchers was never my thing. Too number-y. Back when I was weight cycling, I was always more of a Richard Simmons girl. He wasn’t just exercising, he was exposing me — and the world — to queer performance art.

I and all the other sad, awkward dieting fat girls in the whole wide world felt like he was talking to us, holding our chubby little hands, and understanding our fear of a lifetime of loneliness. His shimmery hot pants were a metaphor for the shining beacon of our thin futures. Weight Watchers never held appeal for me, and it seems that before today, Weight Watchers was on its way out, with its stock prices at an all-time low.

And then Oprah showed up.

O, if you’re reading this, HOW can you be totally into Deepak spirituality and still be pro-dieting?! I mean, I’m sure that Deepak probably has some kind of deep-seeded fatphobia, but I just can’t imagine a world where meditation and diets peacefully co-exist. I mean, I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love. And it’s all about spiritually (and Deepak-ly) pursuing your dreams. And the first word in the title is EAT.

Now for those of us who grew up watching O wheel 67 pounds of fat in a little red wagon on TV, I’m sure that this new wrinkle in her portfolio is not super surprising. But it’s of course massively disappointing.


Because the sad, wretched, poopy truth here is that you cannot be actively investing in the diet industry and actively investing in the improvement of women’s lives. The diet industry profits from women’s low self-esteem, the perpetuation of body dysmorphia, and an increasingly impossible beauty standard. We know these things have long hindered women personally, emotionally, and financially. And we know that dieting leads to all the shitty things in the world — decreased mental and physical health, lost dollars, chronic illness, fatigue, light-headedness, malnourishment, disordered eating, and body dysmorphia (and in my case SCURVY) — and yet somehow not weight loss.

So, an investment in the diet industry is an investment against women. Period.

I asked one of my favorite people in the world, Isabel Foxen Duke, what she thought about Oprah’s new 10% ownership of Weight Watchers. Isabel has brought me to Jesus many a time, and she is — in my opinion — the leading voice in the health coaching industry when it comes to understanding exactly how futile any program (no matter how woo or disciplinarian) that promotes weight loss actually is. She said the following:

“Diet product sales and marketing — by each and every health professional, celebrity stakeholder, or anyone else with a financial interest in selling weight-loss products — is likely the single biggest contributor to the cultural anti-fat machine keeping women trapped in self-loathing, body hatred, and dysfunctional eating patterns. It is hugely disappointing that Oprah — someone who has herself spoken so openly about her emotional struggles with dieting, food, and body hatred — is promoting an initiative that ultimately spurs these issues forward, rather than resolves them.”

But what’s the real problem here?

When I read the news, I went into my mind palace, and all I could think was dieting is an obvious bet against her own self-interest (PS: Dieting is a bet against the self interest of anyone who is dieting, just FYI). Oprah benefitted financially, but it came at the cost of diminished freedom for herself — and for all women.

For as long as diet culture thrives, women suffer.

For as long as diet culture thrives, women will take massive hits financially and emotionally.

For as long as diet culture thrives, women will put their lives on hold.

For as long as diet culture thrives, women will apologize for their body when there’s nothing wrong with it.

So what can women do?

1. Dump diet culture already. He’s not good enough for you.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING that women can do is to stop dieting. Dieting is harmful (and boring), there’s nothing wrong with your body, and trying to make everyone on the planet have the same body is, like, eugenic-y and racist-y, and again BORING. Girl, stop spending your precious time on this bullshit.

2. Speak up against diet culture.

Do it in a way that feels nourishing and cute for you. If selfies are your thing, do that. If calling people out is your thing, do that. If wearing shirts that say “I’m the Queen of Fatlandia. Bow down!” is your thing, do that.

3. Direct action.

The next time you’re in a store and you see the aisle with the Weight Watchers sacks on it, stick your hand out and knock everything off the shelf.

4. Stop being polite.

Diet culture is the culmination of about 10,000 years of total bullshit. You have the right to be rude.

I want to end on the hope question that I probably should have been answering this whole time (me and tangents are like milk and cookies). I think women should feel a lot of hope because, in my opinion, we are winning. The fact that someone as influential as O — and I mean, girl, in the hierarchy of life it’s like 1. Jesus, 2. porn, 3. Oprah — had to come in to save a long-standing company like Weight Watchers means something rad is happening.



Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column for Wear Your Voice Magazine by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist, and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012), and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in human sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.

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