9th October 2018

‘Weight’ is such a weighted word

Sophie Marriott argues that the criticism of Weight Watchers for their name change is placing too much meaning on the language of wellness and in itself weighing down notion of health and perpetuating cultures of shame.
‘Weight’ is such a weighted word
Weight Watchers Re-branding to focus on ‘wellness’. Photo: pixabay

The weight loss advice service, Weight Watchers, is undergoing a re-branding — dropping the emphasis on the word ‘weight’ and going instead by ‘WW’. These letters are to stand for nothing in particular, but simply to carry a meaning that the organisation feels is already attached to their brand. Explaining this decision, WW has claimed that this is part of their attempt to focus more on general health and well-being rather than individuals’ weight and appearance. If WW is attempting to present itself as a more wellness-focused program then let them do so; after all, it is not their branding, but their entire premise we should be questioning.

The name change has generated controversy for its implication that the word ‘weight’, and the attempt to lose it, is somehow embarrassing and should thus be disguised. Surely, however, it is these critics and their unceasing crusade of rhetoric who are placing that sense of shame onto the word? In reality, this is a simple case of branding which is being weighed down by the heavy discussion surrounding health. A discussion dominated by feelings of shame and guilt which are spuriously attached to each new approach to physical wellness. To say that a company’s name has any more responsibility for this culture than those commenting on it is another move in this tired blame game surrounding modern eating habits.

This is not meant to be a sycophantic praise of the new WW by any stretch of the imagination. Whether they’re focused on weight loss or wellness, they’re still a stifling diet programme that relies on a restrictive point system which perpetuates notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Regardless of their name, prescriptive diet plans have in common their ignorance of the diversity of all humans’ nutritional needs and mental attitudes. WW will still be attempting to dictate what ‘wellness’ means (if indeed it means anything) and promoting themselves as having the key to achieving it. It is the perceived necessity of organisations like WW that we need to challenge rather than the petty issues of their PR campaigns.

There is a collective anxiety surrounding body weight that prompts people to pay for membership of a club filled with other anxious people in an effort to induce more anxiety through calorie counting. Instead, we should trust people to be able to live a healthy lifestyle of their own accord. Arguably, this is because many feel they don’t possess the self-restraint to avoid unhealthy ‘junk food’ options because of their scarily successful marketing. So, like some sick self-fulfilling prophecy, it is our slavery to advertising that is locking eating habits into a perpetual cycle of campaigns, slogans, and logos.

If we are to genuinely ever reach a point where body image issues aren’t so scarily prevalent as they are today, we need to stop searching for the right words and just start doing the right thing. Perhaps the first steps to ‘wellness’ would be to shift the ten-tonne connotations we have with the word ‘weight’ and there is no doubt everyone would feel an awful lot lighter.

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