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and the Goddess Anorexia.
Or, How I Stopped Worrying
and Learned to Love The Bomb
First, a personal message from Alleee.
I am one of those few-and-far between American women who do not struggle with their weight.
Hey-wait-don't hate me, because the thing is, I'm fat. I weigh about, oh, 75 pounds more than what is considered not fat. I used to struggle with my weight. That lasted for about 10, almost-wasted years of my life. That's a lot less time than many women I know. I was always a fat kid. I spent years being ridiculed by the kids in school, and worried over by parents and doctors. I had extremely low self-esteem, and bore the name-calling in a very christian, turn-the-other-cheek sort of way. Suffering is good for us, the pastors always said. I was the martyr who was superior to all of them for not returning the insults. And in the end, I knew I would be rewarded for my righteous suffering. That, and, well, I figured I deserved it.
I came of age in the early eighties, the decade punctuated by the birth of MTV. 1980's number-one song was Physical, by legwarmer and sweatband-wearing Olivia Neutron Bomb.
Later on, the bestselling book and video was Jane Fonda's Workout. Aerobics was born in the 70's but de rigeur in the eighties. The new Foodie craze was Nouvelle Cuisine, a California yuppie thing where you got three tiny strips of some colorful food artfully placed on white cafewear for fifty bucks. It wasn't easy.
Even so, I found my rebellion at age 17 quite easily. Dieting. I quit. I told my mom-"no more biweekly appointments with my nutritionist-cum-psychoanalyst. I don't believe in it anymore." I also stopped going to church. This is where my first real skepticism with everything was born. I knew to poo-poo television ads from my parents. So-what was on television ads more than almost anything else? Fitness. Diet centers/cults. Exercise equipment and clothing. Bally's Gym. All with promises I had stopped believing in, just as I stopped believing in the christian promise of heaven and Judgement Day.
I ran with an interesting crowd in the late eighties/early nineties. I was basically there at the birth of the Riot Grrrl Movement. My best friend and roommate was Ms. Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Punk Rock Singer, Julie Ruin. While Kathleen was intensely busy creating her revolution in the various bedrooms next to mine, my own was brewing. Well-mine was probably less far-reaching, and more subtle. I created a fanzine called The Adventures of Big Girl, a feminist, anti-diet, fat-acceptance, personal fanzine. I only wrote two issues of the thing, but I hear it was included at the first Riot Grrrl National Conference in DC, and I managed to get issues sent all over the world. I also did a couple of neighborhood bookstore readings. So-maybe. I dunno. Maybe it was influential. I did what I had to do. I got political. That's what it took to be able to hold my head up, smile, and actually, for the first time, really talk to people. Make friends.
It's been ten years since that second issue of Big Girl. Now that I am mostly at peace with the issue, I thought I'd take a look at how things are going. Are people sane yet? Did I change the world? How has my perspective changed?
I cannot define all weight loss centers and groups as cults, but many of them share cultish characteristics (as defined by our page, Cult Test).
A quick search for "weight loss" on Google yielded almost two-and-a-half million results. Not surprising. But why so many, and why do so many suck? For quick reference, I always keep the Diet Fraud website on my browser.
First, I examine the Big Boys...uh, I mean "girls," because, after all. who are we kidding?
From the website Bodypositive.com:
From Happy Woman Magazine
According to the site, one million people from all over the world come together to join a weight watchers support meeting, led and organized by "successful" meeting members (wonder if they get paid?), every week.
Weight Watchers weight loss is based on a points system, and support meetings. Food points are based on, origially, calories, later on fat grams and fibre, and recently, of course, carbs (we'll discuss those later). When you run out of food points, you either make them up with exercise points or stop eating for the rest of the day. Exciting and Revolutionary! *yawn.*
But the historical basis, what Weight Watchers was really founded upon are the meetings.
These meetings are very much like AA, in that they center around personal testimony; however, much of it is not voluntary. Everyone at the meeting is weighed, and that weight is not only announced, but any weight loss or gain is announced, too, opening one up to the "motivational" response of the peers-you're left open to the mood of the crowd that day.
From this testimony, it looks like weight watchers, or that particular group, is on the old "drink tons of water" dieting technique. I believe that "truth" has been recently refuted. Drinking lots of water makes you pee a lot, and helps you lose that essential 5 pounds of "water weight," something dieters know very well about. Every little pound lost reported at a meeting is good pr for the company. Back to the story...
I noticed from reading ex-weight watchers that the company's "success rate" factors in successful weight loss from folks who lose, gain the weight back, and then rejoin-and pay that $50 fee again, and again, and again...
I don't think weight watchers is a cult, but there is pressure to stay in the group, as well as groupspeak, confessionals, faith in the efficacy of the system-fault lies with the individual, the idea of "salvation" coming to those who lose weight, a lot of conditioning and behavior modification, a little deception (as in the success numbers), and a little fear of "what might happen if I leave?" Cultism points? 10-in my opinion. Hmmmm...Borderline, I'd say. In its defense, I will say that Weight Watchers allows for one to do it oneself, online, using the message board community in place of meetings.
What is a weight-loss scam?
According to ScamWatch, it's likely to be a scam if it
Some Really Bad Diet Products
Get Slim Slippers
"Get Slim Slippers" are supposedly based on mysterious, ancient Chinese reflexology secrets. Oh-and magnets, of course. Duh.
Thanks for the tip, Get Slim Slippers!
E-Z Weightloss Superstore
Here you will find a clearinghouse of all manner of horrible, horrible pills, gel, creams and programs.
Anorex: "Designed to mitigate the profound effect that variations in the human genetic code have on the storage, use, and disposition of body fat." Wow!
Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle Diet: Drink watered-down citrus-flavored juice for two days. It "cleanses" and "detoxifies" the body, mind, and spirit," and they do it in Europe, so you know it's good.
TrimSpa: "Everyone is taking it but you. But the question is does it really work or is it just another flash in the pan product. To answer that question.. Absolutely Yes!! As a matter of fact Trim Spa has been the best keep secret in weight loss in my opinion.
I wonder why so many people are fat with so many miracle products available through E-Z Weightloss!
FTC, Enforma Embroiled in Continuing Labeling Battle
It looks like the infomercials are off the air, but the website is still up and running.
Working Out with Jesus: Christian-Based Weight Loss
The Christian consumer market is huge. So much for selling everything you own and giving the money to the poor. There is a christian demand for christian-flavored everything, from home decor, cosmetics and sporting goods to, yes, diet, exercise and weight-loss programs. There is nothing one can't buy that one can't buy with the jesus trademark.
A Holland Sentinel Article examines Christian weight-loss groups.
The Weigh Down Workshop
Isnít that clever! "Weigh" down! You know, like "way" down. *hahaha* Oh, never mind.
Yes, God needs us to have good knees so that we may kneel to him. So why donít the Hindus get surgery to add additional arms? Should Buddhists strive for Big Bellies? The Weigh Down Workshop claims to be "different from all other programs" because it has
(A little problem with the English language there.) Ah, so very Unique and Different! A little advice to marketers of diet programs and products: just saying that the plan or product is different and unique does not make it so. Please, for the love of Jesus Christ, whom you love so much, find something unique about the program and focus on that.
This is exactly what is wrong with both religious and eating-disordered thinking. Food has not and will never "rob you" of anything. Food can be a delicious part of life. Food enhances life, and gives pleasure. Iím simply stymied as to why a supposed "nutrition program" promotes eating-disordered thinking. The idea that food is an enemy is quite a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous cult-speak (or, of course, the AA spinoff, Overeaters Anonymous). We are powerless over Alcohol the Demon, and we must surrender to God, because we know it has control over us. Strangly anthropormorphising food and drink, no?
Itís that simple! (Of course, thatís what they said about masturbation and sex.)
What Would Jesus Eat? The Ultimate Program for Eating Well, Feeling Great, and Living Longer by Don Colbert
Now, I don't know if Jesus existed, let alone if he was physically fit (what was Jesus' cholesterol level, and percentage of body fat?). I'm not sure, but I don't think 2000 years ago people lived very long. If you're a literalist, though, some people lived 900 years or so (so why isn't it What Would Methuselah Eat?). Using that kind of "logic," it seems to make sense.
But were the dietary laws of the Old Testament based on health? Actually, I'm not entirely sure that shellfish is that unhealthy. And how is yeast bread more healthy on some days than others? Maybe Doctor Colbert answers that question. But I'm not buying his books-he also wrote the Bible Cure series. The scriptures have cures for allergies, obesity, diabetes, depression, hepatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, prostate disorders, memory loss, ADD, yeast infections (!), chronic fatigue syndrome, menopause symptoms, sleep disorders, cancer, PMS, Osteoporosis, high blood pressure, headaches, arthritis, heartburn, heart disease, stress, skin disorders and back pain (that's one book per, folks. And I'm not sure the good doctor is done yet)! Why use medical textbooks? Well, as it has been said-there's only one book worth reading, one book that has all the answers: the good ol' KJV 1611.
First Place: the Bible's Way to Weight Loss
First Place is another Christian-based weight-loss system: but this group manages to worm their slim and fit way into community churches. They brilliantly offer their services to your neighborhood church, let that church tack on 10 or 20 dollars to every kit, tape and session, and let the church leaders members fellowship and pressure the laity into attending meetings and joining this strict program of dieting and rote bible-verse memorization. Talk about guilt.
10. Drink the Kool-Aide
11. Wait for the Mother-Ship.
I don't want people to think that my philosophy is simply that "fat is beautiful." Indeed, I think it is better to be fit and healthy than fat. Unfortunately, most weight-loss plans are actually more dangerous and less healthy that being fat. I am also of the opinion that the definition of fatness and obesity has changed with culture, economics, and fashion. Striving to fit the particular mode of the day, or achieving your perfect body for the purpose of getting control of your life or your status in your family (as is the case with many anorectics) is a symptom of psychological and broader sociological problems, such as sexism and classism.
My final thought, a la Jerry Springer. Eat well, relish good food, enjoy life, and move your ass once in a while.