It started innocently enough: I absent-mindedly double-tapped an Instagram photo of a friend drinking a smoothie. Within 24 hours, she sent me a Facebook message: Wouldn’t I love to try the (expensive) protein powder in that smoothie, which she apparently sells as a side-gig? It’s delicious and it’ll help me slim down! When I didn’t respond, I received another Facebook message, plus a follow-up email in case I hadn’t been on social media.
Since then, I’ve heard from at least half a dozen others – typically long-lost friends and near-strangers – who think I would be a perfect fit for whatever weight-loss product they’re hawking.
Every week, I receive countless invites to Facebook “parties” in which product reps encourage everyone they know to buy nail stickers and 3D mascara and patterned diaper bags and other products that have adapted the Tupperware model for the Internet age. I don’t love these invitations, but they don’t bother me, either.
Know what does? Being singled out to join someone’s at-home weight-loss and fitness program (think like Arbonne, 21-Day Fix, Shakeology, etc.).
It’s one thing to invite your entire friends list to buy whatever you’re selling; it’s another to decide who amongst your friends could stand to shed a few pounds and to target her individually. These are likely cases of well-intentioned but oblivious people trying to earn an extra buck, and so I hesitate to label them “fat shaming” – but that’s exactly what they are.
Of course, the fact that many women have a love/hate relationship with their bodies is exactly how the weight-loss industry has become a gazillion-dollar game (amount approximate), and it's why these new programs are having their moment in the sun, just as services like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Curves have before them. Hey, I used Weight Watchers once, and I even liked it. I’m not immune!
But a major tenet of many of these new programs is recruitment – convincing others within your personal network that they could (and should) do what you've been doing and that buying their product is the only way to achieve those results. The recruitment element is how participants make money, and in order to recruit, they have to evangelize.
I don't begrudge anyone a side income – but the evangelizing doesn't sit well with me.
People I haven’t seen or talked to in years write that I’d be “a perfect fit” for a “life-changing program” that they “can’t wait to share” with me for the small fee of a gazillion dollars a month (again, amount approximate). I have to wonder: Why me? Is it because they looked at my photos and decided I must struggle with my weight? Is it because they think I need to lose weight and assume I feel the same?
My reaction to being singled out with a request to join a weight-loss program is always along the lines of, “How uncomfortable, a vague acquaintance thinks I’m just fat enough to be the perfect target for her weight loss program (which may also be a pyramid scheme)."
“But they’re just trying to make money!” you say, and I hear you. “They’re asking everyone!”
No. They’re not. I seriously doubt that these brand reps reach out to their thin, health-obsessed friends to hawk their programs and products. Can you imagine trying to convince your personal trainer or nutritionist pal that she ought to shell out big bucks for daily nutrition powders and portioning containers and workout videos and whatever else it is that these programs require you to purchase in order to succeed?
No. And that’s the fat-shaming element.
If you’re trying to lock people into an expensive weight-loss program, you reach out to those who don’t already know how to do it, the ones who are desperate to drop a few pounds, the ones you think are vulnerable – the fat ones.
Yes, I’m kind of fat. My body isn't perfect, but it's mine, and when I turned 30, I finally started to make peace with it. I'm proud of that, because in a world that says you’re only attractive/valuable/sexy if your body is as small as it can possibly be, it's an act of rebellion to say, "I like this shell I live in, even if it's a lumpy one."
Could I treat my body better? Sure. I ought to eat healthier, work out harder (or, um, at all), and maybe pop some vitamins. I'm not really doing any of those, although I'm not sitting on my ass eating bags full of Doritos, either. I'm, well, I’m working on it. Sort of.
Regardless of what I am or am not doing, my body is my business, and it’s not anyone’s place to assume that I want to lose weight. Being approached by friends, no matter how well-intentioned, who want to profit off of what they perceive to be my relationship with my own body is offensive and intrusive – and, yes, fat-shaming.
So keep your protein powders to yourself, please. If I ever sign up for one of those fad programs, it will be because I want to, not because a friend trying to make a quick buck thinks I’m an easy target. And if I do sign up? I'm headed straight for the product rep who never made the pitch to me in the first place.