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Diet Culture is Coming for the Children

Photo by Graphic Node on Unsplash

At my cousin’s wedding reception a couple of summers ago, my then nine-year-old niece picked up my wrap and asked me what it was for. I told her it was for keeping warm, and showed her the ways she could wear it. She took my wrap and tied it around her neck the way I showed her, pulling her long blonde hair out of the back and adjusting it like a pro. My niece fidgeted some more, pulling and shifting the fabric, and then asked, “Does this make me look fat?”

Reminder: she was nine.

I wish I could get this moment back. I was so unprepared. I had been thinking that questions like this, that distorted thoughts and all the ways women hate themselves were still years away for her. I hadn’t started hating my body until I was twelve. I wasn’t accounting for how much faster everything moves now. Information and images come to us instantly. Of course it’s going to infect her sooner. This disease is silent, but almost every woman I know has it.

I have it. I have been struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating off and on for my entire adult life. Once, during college, I got down to 98 pounds. Today, I don’t starve myself, but I’m still afraid of food. Until a few years ago, putting any food besides a vegetable or fruit in front of me would paralyze me with fear about what said food might do to me.

I got this way because of a variety of factors, but a major one is the culture we live in—one that places how thin and attractive we are above all else (aka “diet culture”). We are constantly detoxing, Keto-ing, and Paleo-ing in search of our best selves. But food of any kind is not evil, which is something I’m still learning and trying to get comfortable with. Donuts aren’t bad. Spinach isn’t good. It’s all just food. And our best selves have nothing at all to do with how much we weigh or what we look like.

You know what is evil and bad? Large corporations targeting children my niece’s age. Weight Watchers (Now WW. Whatever. You can try to rebrand, but we still see you.) launched Kurbo last week, a weight-loss app for kids ages 8-17. Read that again. Kids ages 8-17.

WW is targeting an age group that is growing and changing and NEEDS TO PUT ON WEIGHT TO GROW INTO HEALTHY ADULT HUMANS. It is an age group that needs to how to have a healthy relationship with food and with their bodies. As if it isn’t hard enough to go through adolescence, now there is a bullshit app that will help you learn how to feel shame, guilt, and fear around food and your body.

Teaching anyone, but especially kids, that the most important thing they can be is thin is the real evil. As is teaching them to feel badly around food. I’ve spent the last thirty years under the weight of that message, and I still haven’t gotten out from under it.

The thing I wish I had told my niece at the wedding was that of course she didn’t look fat, but also, who cares if she does? She is smart—hella smart—and funny, and a superstar on the soccer field, and a good writer, and a million other things that have nothing to do with how much she weighs or what she looks like. That, and there is nothing wrong with a bigger body. This is the message that passed me by in my youth. This was the message I so desperately needed.

Kurbo is a massive step in the wrong direction. We already have media and movies and Instagram and a million other things that project false and unhealthy body image issues onto us. We don’t need another thing, and we certainly don’t need something that goes after the children.

I’m not a dietician, so I don’t have all of the facts and figures about why things like this are so damaging, and why diets don’t work, but if you’re interested you can find some of that here or here, and you can learn more about diet culture and why it’s bad for everyone here.

Shame on you WW. If diets worked you wouldn’t be worth billions of dollars—you would have been out of business ages ago. You’re just trying to snag life-long clients while they’re still young. I can’t think of anything more sleazy.

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