Weight Watchers and Feminism: Are Diets Inherently Bad for Women?

Is it hypocritical of me to preach self-acceptance while carefully regulating what goes into my mouth?
Publish date:
September 15, 2011
diets, body image, self acceptance, weight watchers

I'm on a diet.

Actually, what's more noticeable right now is that I'm NOT on my diet, since a week that included PMS, overwork due to fashion week + an MIA coworker, an office evacuation, and near-hourly harassing emails from a mentally ill stranger culminated in a Ben and Jerrys Cinnamon Buns/supermarket carrot cake/pizza binge last night.

But in general, I follow the Weight Watchers plan, as do lots of other men and women.

And look, I'm super pro-choice when it comes to women's bodies: As long as you're not infringing upon anyone else, do with yours what you want. Tattoo it, plastic surgery it, charge admission, draw a face on your belly and make it jiggle, I don't care, it's your business.

But I'm also deeply critical of a society which makes women feel deeply insecure about our perceived body flaws, and of course, strongly in favor of loving yourself just exactly the way you are when possible, preferably in a bikini. So I struggle: Is it hypocritical of me to preach self-acceptance while carefully regulating what goes into my mouth?

There is a weight range within which I feel most comfortable -- between 160 and 166 on my 5'10 frame. I don't have to starve myself to get there, but I do have to pay attention to stay there. When I eat naturally, without restrictions, my weight without fail goes up and doesn't stop.

When I am following a food plan, I feel happier, calmer and more confident. This is partly about weight, but also about my mental and emotional well-being. I'm a compulsive eater. I use food for purposes for which it was not intended -- to fill a void or alter my mood or comfort myself for the crappy week I just had, rather than to nourish my body. I imagine we all do to some extent.

In my case, I will keep doing it until I reach a size at which I am unhealthy and unhappy. Not everyone who is at that size would be unhappy and unhealthy, but I will be. I won't exerise. I won't eat fruits and vegetables. I will eat well past the point of satiation, into discomfort. I will have trouble getting around, have low energy levels and generally feel unwell.

As a -black-and-white compulsive person, I am capable of only these 2 extremes at this point in my ife: total nutritional anarchy or a regimented, rule-bound way of eating. For me, my diet is not only about weight loss, but about functioning as an eating person. I've got to put stuff in my mouth, somebody tell me how to do it!

I'm not great at eating. I've been known to become overwhelmed into inaction by too many choices, leaving myself hungry and frustrated. I don't understand what constitutes a meal and would eat ice cream for most of them if left to my own devices. I have trouble starting and stopping when hungry and full, respectively.

From what I understand about the eating 12-step programs, you create a food plan that often cuts out troublesome food categories like sugar or refined flour and plan your meals rigorously, deciding what you're eating for the day and not altering from that plan no matter what. For me, Weight Watchers functions similarly.

This is a food plan I can still abuse -- eating 4 Hostess cupcakes and using 20 of my 29 points is healthier than the way I used to eat only calorically. But I need rules and structure around my eating to feel happy and safe. Even when I make mistakes and overeat, I beat myself up less when I have a plan to go back to. I don't feel so helpless in the face of this complicated business of eating.

So I can't be anti-diet, like the radical feminists I have known who preached publicly against the beauty myth while keeping scales in their offices. But if I 've made a pact with you guys to be totally honest, totally honest (and I have, in my mind), then that means admitting to the stuff nobody is cheering for.

Because at the end of the day, we're all products of the system we're fighting against. And sometimes I've looked at photos of myself for this site and complained right out loud that I look fat in them. But I put them up anyway. Cause I owe it to you to try to love myself.

And to try to help you love yourselves, too. And also to understand that we're all just doing the best we can with what we've been given, which frankly, is a whole lot of suck. I try to direct my anger at that fact, rather than at the women who fail to exist in perfect counterexample to everything we've all been taught. And when we make mistakes, we can all try again tomorrow.