I’ve spent a lot of this summer feeling a little bleh. Uninspired. Burnt out. The Eating Instinct has been out for the better part of a year and while I still hear from readers weekly (thank you!) its “moment,” so to speak, is waning. The formal book tour ended ages ago — although! I will be in New York City for an awesome event at Housing Works Bookstore on October 8! — and our podcast was on hiatus (back now). I thought I’d use all my supposed summer-y downtime to get cracking on a new book idea that I feel deeply passionate about…but somehow I just couldn’t get that passion onto the page.
In hindsight, it makes sense that my brain needed my downtime to be actual downtime, not burrow-deep-into-a-brand-new-project time. I’ve given so many interviews, written so many words about weight stigma, body image, diet culture, feeding kids, etc. that it was starting to all come out jumbled and kind of flat. I couldn’t tell if any of it was helpful. Sure, body positivity is An Acknowledged Thing now. Hulu made Shrill! Women’s magazines are reclaiming fat and showing fat, black women working out, and believe me when I say this is change that I honestly didn’t think would happen in my lifetime.
But I also hear so many women — wildly accomplished, amazing women! — continuing to denigrate their bodies and their food choices. I see dads policing the number of crackers their kids can eat on play dates. I hear the sugar shaming at birthday parties. And the Instagram version of body positivity continues to get whiter, straighter and thinner, pushing out the very people whom this movement is supposed to center. This summer I also started to notice a frustrating backlash to the backlash: Influencers who want to somehow square intuitive eating with weight loss goals, or even to make dieting great again.
Are we moving forward, or just going in circles?
I honestly don’t know. I’m too deep in the forest to count the trees. But after a few months of feeling frustrated by so many mini-setbacks, there was one huge setback — and I’m finding it oddly galvanizing. About three weeks ago, one of my New York Times editors sent me a note (right before we were leaving on vacation, of course!) that said: “Weight Watchers just launched a new app for kids. How fast can you write something about it?”
Nothing clears out writer’s block like a hard deadline of infuriation. Here’s what I wrote. Here I am on NPR’s Radio Times and The Takeaway, after the story blew up. And this conversation is still happening. A very few voices have come out in defense of Weight Watchers, but fewer than I expected; it seems that even the most conservative childhood obesity experts don’t want to endorse kids on diets. As I’m typing this newsletter, over 107,000 people have signed a Change.org petition and more campaigns and protests are under way.
I don’t expect Weight Watchers to pull the app — at least not until they fail to hit their sales goals and have to come up with a new way to pivot the brand. But the outcry has underscored to me how much we are all grappling with these issues…especially parents. There are inconsistencies, of course. (One mom in a FB group I follow posted that she was thinking about rejoining Weight Watchers for herself, even as she registered her outrage that they were targeting kids.) The issue of kids’ changing bodies is a complicated and divisive one, and we don’t show up to parenting with any of this figured out. Parents want to protect their kids from eating disorders and most also don’t want their kids to be fat, and we’re only just starting to come to terms with how those goals conflict.
But we’re starting to have these conversations. And, inadvertently thanks to Weight Watchers, we’re having them more loudly right now. So I’m ready to hop out of my summer slump, figure out new ways to tell these stories and contribute what I can.