This ad for Weight Watchers “Smart Ones” frozen meals popped up before a YouTube video I was watching, and I actually had to watch it twice all the way through to realize it wasn’t some kind of satire or parody. Unfortunately, it’s real. And it’s terrible.
“We brought women like you together in Times Square,” reads the opening title, over a whimsical soundtrack. “It was time to ‘fess up.” This is followed by women (only women, no men) sheepishly admitting to the camera that they like buttered popcorn, or that they once ate cake frosting for breakfast, or that they have a weakness for mini cupcakes. Their confessions are shown on a huge screen in Times Square for all to see (while the women cover their faces in shame), before being digitally erased and replaced with a message: “Congratulations, you now have a clean slate!” Women are then shown cheering and triumphantly holding up empty plates, which they are presumably only to fill with microwavable, highly processed meals from now until eternity. Or maybe, in an ideal world, they just wouldn’t eat at all?
Weight Watchers, I have three words for you: Fuck. This. Noise. Here’s why:
According to their official Twitter bio, “Weight Watchers is dedicated to inspiring and helping you adopt a healthier way to live. For life.” Riiiiiight. Where in the inspirational, healthy life guidebook does it say you’re supposed to encourage women to feel shame for EATING FOOD? WW made this ad because their business model relies on women feeling bad about themselves and guilty about the things they eat. News flash: humans eat. We eat to stay alive. We eat to socialize. We eat for pleasure. Sometimes we eat too much. Sometimes we eat too little. Sometimes we eat a bunch of extra calories. Sometimes we eat healthy, whole foods (that category definitely doesn’t include Smart Ones meals, BTW). Most of us are constantly trying to find a balance. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s hard.
But this is always true: there is no food on this planet that can or should make you feel bad about who you are. There is no food on the planet that can make you bad. Food is just food. Just like weight is just weight. A brownie does not have the power to make you feel guilty or ugly or ashamed or wrong. That’s what companies like Weight Watchers are for.
In addition to the toxic patterns of shame and guilt WW happily propagates in order to sell their shitty freezer meals, they also cloaked themselves in a thick layer of faux empowerment. This is a pretty common practice in ads nowadays (thanks, Dove!), but the empowerment they’re peddling here strikes me as particularly dangerous. While most of the women featured in the ad “confess” to fairly standard indulgences (uh-oh! that woman likes extra butter on her popcorn! off with her head!), a few of them divulge some disordered eating habits that are fairly alarming. For example, the first woman in the video says, “I binge on junk food and blame my children” while looking like she’s about to cry.
Binge eating and hiding your consumption from loved ones are major red flags (trust me, I’ve been there), and yet, according to Weight Watchers, this woman need only to confess her “food crime” publicly and let it be erased by a nifty trick on a screen to “earn a clean slate,” whatever the hell that means (spoiler alert: it means nothing). No introspection or deeper reflection needed. No treatment. No recovery. No recognition that binge eating is a far more serious matter than the
guilty pleasures most people indulge in every once in awhile. Just a quick public shaming and a free, empty plate and she’s cured! Damn, Weight Watchers, your frozen meals sure do make some dangerous promises.
So let’s recap: the messages we’ve gleaned from this commercial so far are as follows:
- Women should feel shame for indulging in “bad” foods.
- Eating mini cupcakes is akin to sinning or committing a crime and requires a confession.
- Women should apologize for eating, especially foods they enjoy.
- Food guilt is normal and healthy.
- Disordered eating habits can be “cured” by gimmicky diet company commercials.
Oh, and let’s not forget that by putting only women in the video, WW underscores our cultural norm that feeling shame and guilt over food is something only women need to worry about. Guys can just chill in their man caves, drinking beers and plowing through buttered popcorn and mini cupcakes, for all they care. Meanwhile, us women need to be confessing our guilt every time we dare to eat a fucking Fig Newton.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end here. To everyone reading this who hated that commercial as much as I did, remember the best way to communicate to companies that it’s not OK to treat us this way is simple: don’t buy their products. Leave the Smart Ones on the shelf, and stop apologizing for eating. After all, it’s kind of important.