ANONYMOUS - I’m 13 years old, and it’s 2011. I walk into an office building that says WEIGHT WATCHERS in big letters, and it’s next to a pizza buffet. Once we get in, a woman greets me, and my mother and I are directed to weigh ourselves. My mother goes first, the lady peeks over, she writes the number down, and my mom frowns. She looks at me expectantly, and I weigh next. 156 lbs. The lady peers over again even though she doesn’t have to write it down because my mom just makes me attend. Anyways, we go and sit down, and a peppy leader begins the meeting. The women go around in a circle sharing how many pounds they’ve gained or lost and how many times they’ves failed or succeeded that week with their eating. The ones who did the best are awarded Weight Watchers pendants, applause, and sometimes even Weight Watchers snacks.
I remember this, and I’m 22 now. And while I no longer have to attend these Weight Watchers meetings, ever since it’s rebranding, I’ve taken notice of the company again. It is now titled WW, and the main difference is that members have the option of 3 plans rather than just one with the intention of creating more freedom. WW now markets itself as a wellness and body positive lifestyle program rather than a weight loss program. However, according to CNBC, “shares plummetted by roughly 35% and erased more than $48 million from Oprah Winfrey’s stake in the weight loss company” after WW first rebranded in 2018.
The rebranding message fell flat with consumers because as I can recall, weight loss results without intense exercise were the most integral feature of the company’s mission, not a lifestyle. Weight loss results were the reason why customers converted from other plans, were loyal, and even advocated for the brand. As WW tries to evolve with the body positivity movements of millennials and GenZ’ers, the overarching idea of the entire company’s brand still has not changed. For that reason, there are three main contradictions with WW’s social messaging that exclude it from modern body positivity movements.
Body positivity is a journey, not something we win after weight loss.
Body positivity is about self-discovery, and it is about realizing your worth independent of physical appearance. Body positivity is not a trophy awarded after reaching a goal. It is a state of mind on the never-ending journey to self-acceptance. While WW claims to affirm self-acceptance, it only affirms self-acceptance as something earned after weight loss.
The entire program is based on a weight loss plan. The graphic above from WW’s website portrays that it’s okay to love food, but if you look closer, it also sends a double message because the graphic also grants the permission to love food. If there were no contingencies on loving food, we wouldn’t need permission, right? From the perspective of WW, the contingency on treats is the diet planning you’ve done that week to earn it. Yes, this can definitely be an effective method for losing weight. However, the entire idea of needing permission disagrees with the most important point of body positivity - people don’t need permission to enjoy the things they want.
That is a huge millennial and Gen Z value that WW brand does not align with. Planning and goals require merit, and merit requires deservingness. Body positivity has nothing to do with deservingness. Body positivity praises living life. Why would they title the blog post this? Given their brand, a better title would be “How Your Favorite Foods Can Help You Live Well.” This is an easy fix that still creates demand for their product because their audience will always seek balance. If not treating yourself can ultimately lead to self-sabotage, then just say that! Don’t sneak subtle ideas about deservingness in!
Body positivity is naturally unrelated to the goal of transformation.
An infographic in AdWeek shared that people remember 80% of what they see or do, versus 20% of what they read. The visual images associated with a brand is the most important aspect. Consumers need to relate, emotionally resonate, and identify with a campaign’s visuals. With that being said, the majority of the visuals on WW’s website show women who fit typical body ideals and beauty standards. If this is not the type of person that would purchase a WW plan, what is WW saying subliminally through their social messaging? They’re saying that these women are the products of WW. And if these women are the product, they are the goal. They are an image that WW is trying to sell. The brand’s social messaging evokes an overwhelming sense of idealism. It is not authentic to any body-positive movements since the brand does not even embrace the physical form of their targeted audience.
WW has been around for years, and it has proven itself to be a results-driven weight loss program that works for a multitude of people. It is a helpful program to track you diet, and it is a great program from weight loss accountability. However, it is not a program for body positivity. Body positivity affirms humanity. WW actually affirms image, goals, and corrective action whereas real body positivity means asking about the real truth. It means asking about who we are outside of body image, and it means including all body sizes as beautiful and deserving. Body positivity means living, not watching yourself from the outside.