Wednesday, February 27, 2008


They've started a Weight Watchers at Work program at my workplace. For some reason, this is annoying the crap out of me. I can't quite figure out why.

It's partly that I fear it may create food police, it's partly the ludicrous amount of company-wide promotion, and it's partly the note on a bag of chips left in the communal food area: "Cleaning out because I'm starting Weight Watchers! :)" But it's more than those reasons--there's some gestalt at play. I can't pin it down.

I mean, it's really nice that the company responded to an employee request and started this. But it's bugging me. Maybe after it actually starts my fears will subside and it will annoy me less. Incidentally, no one else seems annoyed by it.

Meanwhile: Thriller, still an incredible album 25 years later. I'm groovin' to Billie Jean as I type. The kid is not my son.

UPDATE: AH! This abstract explains much of WW resistance. Viva la resistance!


Larry Jones said...

Wow. That abstract sure clears things up for me.

Narya said...

Good lord. Despite actually understanding a bunch of the abstract (and despite having read and taught Foucault), my eyes hurt from rolling them. Foucault goes to Weight Watchers? Oy.

OTOH, it's only fair to ask yourself how the Weight Watchers narrative differs from your effort to avoid refined flour and sugar for awhile.

I think part of the challenge is that there are several narratives in play: wanting to feel good (as in able to do the things we want to do, physically, without discomfort); wanting to present a pleasing appearance to the world (which has gendered aspects, but also a generalized aspect, and which also has a variety of cultural expectations); wanting to enjoy good food (because food tastes good, damnit!); wanting to eat responsibly or ethically (though the meaning of that may vary wildly); and, at least in some cases, not having a sense of balance about one or more aspects of the whole thing, perhaps because of stuff we learned in our families.

But that's just my two cents.

Could it be that you're afraid they'll try to recruit you somehow?

Ann F said...

Part of it may be related to the commercial aspects of such sponsored events. It's free advertising -- Weight Watchers(tm)! -- candy-coated (so to speak) with Personal Responsibility(tm) and Self-Help(tm).

The chips are such a small thing, but representative: The person couldn't just have left the chips out for others to eat; there had to also be the declaration of intent, the subtle claim to moral superiority, not to mention the name-drop of WW.

It may also have to do with the authority of one's workplace. There's always the possibility that your managers will think less of you as an employee if you don't Participate(tm), which makes it just one more responsibility for which you aren't getting paid.

And that's without the excessive cultural pressure of body image crap piled on. It's all complicated and Nuanced(tm), I'm sure.

PS. "The hupomnemata of these organizations thus use asketic language to conceal their implication in normalization." Well, of course!

Narya said...

I like Ann's comment better.

Though the leaving the chips out with a message may also be a form of self-encouragement, rather than a claim to moral superiority. When some people quit smoking, for example, they find it helpful to tell other people, not so people nag them, but because they know they'll be more likely to stay quit. That psychology doesn't work with everyone (like me, for example).

I have to admit that I do like some of WW's recent ad campaign, because it seems to be focusing more on healthy eating rather than on dieting, per se, and I think that's a more useful perspective. (Too many people regard "diet" as something you do for awhile, something that requires all kinds of sacrifices, and then you're magically Thin, and then you don't have to do that horrible Diet thing any longer and can go back to whatever you were doing pre-diet.)

But yeah, the workplace involvement . . . kinda flair-ish, you know?

kStyle said...

Larry: Sorry, I meant this part of the abstract in particular:
For feminists, weight-loss dieting has long been associated with the tyranny of slenderness and the enforcement, by patriarchal disciplinary practices, of an ideal body type that carries a powerful symbolism of self-discipline, controlled appetites, and the circumscription of appropriate feminine behavior and appearance.

kStyle said...

Narya: It's not fearing recruitment, so much as fearing this will create open season on gabbing about everyone's weight.

Ann: Yes! That's it! By jove! Thanks!

Narya said...

And THAT is patriarchal, insofar as it's women's bodies being targeted for discussion. And, before such a discussion can take place, there has to be a "gaze" at said bodies, and an evaluation, and so on.

I knew the patriarchy was implicated here.

kStyle said...

Take that, patriarchy!

And also, I think I sort of get the Foucault argument without having read Foucault. WW co-opts self-healing techniques and exploits them for lots of profit. What gets me is that it's a potentially endless process. In contrast to the workshop I'll be teaching on IBS this weekend, which will give the students tools to apply on their own, no additional fee. (Though it could be argued that that is what WW does.)

Also, there's a thread of irritation, for me, about the narrow definition of "health" and what we think of as our "bodies". Most people think only of muscles and fat, maybe bones. What about organs, the brain, the skin, vasculature and innervation? And the "emotional body"? I'm not blaming anyone for not realizing that there is more to our bodies and to health than the BMI. It's "the system". But it's still irritating.

Narya said...

I think it's an interesting issue. The recovering alcoholics I've known continue to go to AA meetings, but their reasons for doing so seem to change over time, and the frequency of their attendance at meetings changes as well. (I often tried to convince Chuck to go, in part because the 12th step is basically giving back--and that's why I continue to be a guest speaker at smoking cessation groups, even though I quit 20 years ago.) For the smoking cessation, in the beginning some smokers want the continuation of the group, at least for a little while, simply to be around other people who are dealing with the same challenges. I can imagine WW being similar: some things are easier in a group of people who are fighting the same battles you're fighting. You have to explain less. I can't speak for/against WW, but I do think anything that provides people with tools, with a framework of understanding, etc., does allow people to go off and use those tools throughout their lives.

As for health, for some people, at some points in their lives, an aspect of their bodies/behaviors may be so overwhelming as to force everything else to be lived/understood through it. Addiction certainly works that way, and I can understand how weight could work that way, too (like the guy I saw on the bus this week who was carrying at least one, maybe two extra people around on his skeleton).

kStyle said...

Interesting points, Narya.

I see what you mean about an overwhelming piece of body/health becoming the lens through which the rest is viewed--but, in the case of weight, I would argue that our culture--and yes, the patriarchy!--have 9 out of 10 times forced that to be the lens.

Narya said...

and I'm going to (apparently?) reverse fields here, and say that part of what bugs me about this (and this speaks to your latest post) is the conflating of work and the personal. I don't WANT to have my work life and the rest of my life so intertwined.

kStyle said...

Narya, yes, so true. As G. put it when I was ranting about this (he's a patient soul), my workplace has enough boundary issues as is, without a WW program.