From the time I was about 10 years old, I've been a consumer of diet programs and products -- from weight loss camp to diet pills, diet frozen dinners to weight loss support groups. At the same time, I've always been confident, outgoing, and had a strong sense of self, never hesitating to know or to communicate who I am. And that has been the truth no matter where the scale has gone.
But the folks behind weight loss programs, pills, supplements, foods, and support groups want me -- and women like me -- to think otherwise. They'd rather our sense of self-worth and identity was inextricably woven to our weight. I realized this recently when I saw two posters at a Weight Watchers center, which display the following boasts from now-thin women: "When I look in the mirror, I see the real me" and "Now I'm the person I always wanted to be."
I couldn't help but notice that these were the messages exclusively from and targeting women ... Women like a lady in one of my WW meetings, actually, who called the leader's bluff and remarked that she's always worn fashionable clothes and loved how she looks in them, no matter what size she's fit into. The point she was making was loud and clear: Just because you have some weight to lose doesn't mean you should be having an identity crisis!
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After all, men aren't being told that they need to drop the pounds to be the person they've always wanted to be. In fact, the WW poster from and for men read, "You can do this." That's all. No mention of self-worth, the mirror, the real him. No, all he needs is a little Tony Robbins-style motivational tap.
I'm a Lifetime Weight Watcher, currently on the new PointsPlus program leading up to my wedding. I approve of the plan itself for the most part as a great way to learn and adhere to healthy lifestyle habits. But noticing how these two campaigns are like night and day really underlined a mega, double-edged problem when it comes to what Weight Watchers and similar companies are selling women and what we're buying. It's so disappointing to see how these commercial diets continue to steer us into a dangerous trap: Tying up who we are as people, our minds and souls, with our weight. Telling us that if we're overweight, we must not be our authentic selves.
It's the reason we waste so much time and energy berating ourselves when our jeans size goes up or when we have a craving for a "bad food." The reason some women overeat, undereat, or find themselves in abusive relationships, because they don't feel worthy of anything else. It's the reason we struggle to treat ourselves to self-compassion when we look in the mirror on a daily basis. The reason it's possible to negate a woman's success simply by calling her fat. Because the message women get from society is basically that if you're overweight, you're a nobody, or at least, you're certainly not the "person you've always wanted to be" or the "real you." But hey, once you're thinner, you will be! Tsk, tsk. Oh, but men, if you've got a few pounds to pare, fuhgettaboutit! You got this!
These sexist and completely screwed-up polar opposite messages assault us basically all day every day in this country. But perhaps realizing just how twisted and sad they are is the first step to tuning them out and embracing the truth that a scale is just a scale, a clothing size is just a clothing size -- never to be equated with the person we are on the inside.
Do you feel like weight is inextricably linked to who you perceive yourself to be? Does the way weight loss programs target women vs. men bother you?