Selling shame

I’ve been meaning to write a quick post on the minor controversy over Masterchef judge and food-writer Matt Preston’s apparent interest in being a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. Since the post just wasn’t forthcoming, I figured I just wasn’t invested enough in it. I mean, I seriously do not care whether Matt Preston engages in intentional weight loss. It’s his body. It has nothing to do with me. And whilst I think it would be terribly disappointing for someone who has built a career on his discerning palate to start spruiking pre-packaged diet foods, I guess that’s his perogative. He may need the money or something: whatever, it still has nothing to do with me.

Except, it does.

Jenny Craig, its marketing, its tactics, its existence, has bothered me my whole life. My brother used to taunt me with ‘you need to go to Jenny Craig!’ or ‘I’m making you an appointment with Jenny!’ when I was a young child (and not yet fat). Bullies at school did the same – I heard some variation on the theme daily. I guess the advertising Jenny Craig had in the eighties was pervasive enough to work on children as well as their target audience (as it is now, of course). Every time a Jenny Craig advertisement came on the TV, I’d be reminded of that bullying. I hated those ads, I hated the company and all it represented. Except, sometimes I wished I could ‘phone Jenny’. I wished I had the money. I wished I was an adult with a good job in the city who could afford such things. I wished I could pay for my salvation to get out of fat hell.

Luckily for me, by the time I had the money for Jenny Craig I no longer had the stomach for it. (Ok, I had the stomach; a nice fat one actually. But not the desire.) I say luckily because I firmly believe that the weight-loss industry exists purely to extract money from people who are vulnerable precisely because the weight-loss industry has eroded their self esteem as well as their common sense. They take our money with the full knowledge that upwards of 95% of us will ‘need’ them again after one or two years when the weight comes back, and then some. They take our money because they know when we lose a few kilos we will be so hopeful, so grateful, that well tell all of our friends how wonderful their company is. And our friends will believe us, even after we gain back the weight, because our friends will believe that weight regain was our fault. So will we. We’ll hate ourselves, we’ll curse our lack of willpower, and we’ll steadily get fatter until it is time to jump on the bandwagon and give them some more money. Sometimes the same company will take our money many times over, and we’ll thank them for it.

The infuriating thing is how blatant this all is. How even when the whole debacle is played out in the public eye (Kirstie Alley I’m looking at you), the industry manages to spin it in their favour. No wonder Jenny Craig in Australia is so keen to take on some of our most talented, most beloved celebrities (Magda Szubanski, Chrissie Swan, Matt Preston).

Look, I’ve already said it: I really don’t care if Matt Preston loses weight. I personally don’t think a diet is the healthiest path but I’m not him, or his doctor, or anyone with the right to object. I don’t live in his body. I’m also not without sympathy for his position: it’s true that he’s borne the brunt of a lot of offensive commentary on the apparent weight gain of all three Masterchef judges. Anyone who had the misfortune of seeing Wil Anderson’s comments on Good News Week this Monday will know what I’m talking about: the fat-shaming is relentless and it must hurt. I’ve heard it in person too. An acquaintance said to me recently that she can’t watch Masterchef because Matt Preston is a ‘fat, arrogant, pig’. She spat the word ‘fat’ like it hurt her mouth to say it. Being a celebrity with a substantial girth can’t be easy.

But I think Channel Ten is right in saying that a diet food company is incongruous with the Masterchef brand: a show that explicitly promotes enjoyment of food and implicitly promotes health through encouraging cooking from scratch and trying a wide range of produce. I also can’t imagine that someone so dedicated to deliciousness could possibly do anything but binge wildly after confining himself to mass-produced diet fare! In any case, it’s now been reported that Channel Ten would prefer him to ‘slim down’ with the help of The Biggest Loser’s Michelle Bridges and, well, perhaps that will allow for a better variety of food. It’ll still be spruiking weightloss, it’ll still be promoting the idea that losing weight is good for you whatever the cost and, presumably, that thinner bodies are the only aesthetically pleasing kind.

The truth is, I do care if Preston loses weight for money. I do care if he does a huge ad campaign about it. I do care if he stops standing for the joy of good eating and starts standing for a company, or a TV show, that condemns people to a life of permanent dieting in order to be worthy. I do care if he stops being a reason to turn on the televison and becomes yet another reminder of Jenny Craig. Yet another person colluding with the bullies.

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11 Comments

Filed under Body Image/Fat Acceptance

11 responses to “Selling shame

  1. puss in boots

    Thank you, I really loved reading this. I love that you obviously think so much about what you write and you put things in words that I haven’t even come up with yet.

    Your paragraph about Jenny et al.’s cycle of marketing and blame is brilliant. All products and services are designed to make us buy more of them, even pharmaceuticals are dedicated to making sure symptoms come back and we will always need them. WHY then do we believe so deeply in the parable of weight loss that we have so much FAITH that the diet companies are the only ones truly dedicated to our long term ‘happiness’ (in the shape of size 10 clothes, natch)? It was like a light bulb for me. Of course they want you to fail. Of course it’s our fault we ‘fail’ at diets, not the fault of the diets themselves, or the very expectation that health is about weight, or that weight is even controllable, the very premise of ‘succeeding’ and ‘failing’ itself. The language is so powerful and our acceptance so brutal to ourselves and other people.

    I really needed this, it caps my day off perfectly. I’ve been musing about the destructive personality traits my parents imparted to me – such as being unable to relax and always being too hard on myself – and the ridiculous attitudes they had to ‘health’ (read: weight). I wish with all my heart they could read this and realise they weren’t enlightened, they were Marketed To.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. As long as weight-loss programs and their shills continue to be associated with “virtue”, “inspiration”, “self-care” and “looking and feeling one’s best” – rather than treated with a hefty dose of skepticism and admonishment – stances like this are necessary.

    …implicitly promotes health through encouraging cooking from scratch and trying a wide range of produce.

    No. Kidding. I was asked to give a demonstration at our local college’s class “Making Better Food Choices” because I cook from scratch and have children (the latter something the instructor lacked; she knew her students, most of them receiving TANF benefits, had kids). My presentation was all about cooking from scratch – within the resources one had to do it – and giving respect to whomever prepares the meal, and meal time. I also brought fresh-baked bread and refried beans (from dried). We had a great time that day, and I think a big part of it was I wasn’t condescending to the students about how they needed to seek out low-fat this-and-that, measure portion sizes by a pack of cards, yadda yadda. I’ve often thought how much fun it would be to teach the entire class proper, since I love cooking and I love helping people to discover more ways to cook and eat to help feed their bodies and souls.

  3. carmel

    I just feel like ‘another one bites the dust’. These people spruiking for JC are clever, talented, successful – but they obviously can’t truly be happy because they’re fat.

    That’s probably what I hate the most about ‘public’ weight loss – when they say that they always *thought* they were happy, but it was only when they lost the weight that they realised how miserable they were. (Hang on – if you thought you were happy, you probably were.)

    I went to JC when I was about 20 years old. They encouraged me to get some kind of ‘gold’ membership, so I could come back again and again and again for the rest of my life at no extra cost. Did it occur to me that this was pretty much the opposite of what I would want from a weight loss company? Unfortunately not.

  4. Excellent piece!

    You know what question I ask? What happens to these celebrities that Jenny Craig tosses them aside.

    Do they reach their thin goals? Ummm… no.

    Do they stay fat or regain… YEP! Which means one thing… Jenny Craig doesn’t fucking work!

    I can’t think of one celebrity endorsement for Jenny Craig that has actually resulted in a permanently thin celebrity at the end, can you?

    Just like it’s every day customers, Jenny Craig drags in these celebs and then spits them out again like trash when they are no longer of use.

    None of them actually get any long term benefit, in fact all they get is the rap that they’re “failures”.

    The only failure I can see is that of Jenny Craig to actually produce any permanently thin representatives. Yet they’re a success because they’re making a motza on the backs of ashamed fat people.

    I don’t know about any of you, but I’ve had a gut full of Jenny Craig’s bullshit. A big, fat, wobbly gut full.

  5. Thank you for this. As a chubby child who indexed her self-worth against her BMI, I wanted to ‘call Jenny’ with all my being. As an adult, I’ve toyed with the idea of everything from Alli to surgery and have embarked upon several campaigns of attempted starvation. None succesful. Recently, I’ve been alarmed by how much bodysnark and fatphobia has seeped into even decor / design blogs; really, can we enjoy nothing without reducing it to anxiety about bodies, not even creative, considered food?

  6. La di Da

    This is also how I felt when Mikey Robins was the subject of Australian Story on the ABC after he lost a fair bit of weight because he had lap band surgery. Robins talked about how happy fat people were basically in denial, how he was ashamed of himself and embarrassed because he ‘looked like crap’. And how having to use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea was horrible because it ‘takes the spontaneity out your sex life’. (What rot, I use a CPAP machine and it takes about 1.3 seconds to rip off my mask and hit the off button for some spontaneous canoodling with my man!)

    As with this blog post, I’m not commenting on his surgery or weight loss – that’s his business as you say – but I was pretty irate that the things he said about how awful and shameful it was to be fat were framed as applying to all fat people. How dare he assume that he just knows other fat people couldn’t possibly be happy?

  7. Love the title of this very well written post.

    I wasn’t aware of this little contentious development – I’d watch more TV but I learn everything I need to know from the Internet, and thankyou for that – after reading this I find it sad that just when Australia is starting to really get into the enjoyment of good food on a mainstream basis someone leading that movement starts to sway towards the diet industry. Too bad.

  8. I wish the whole dieting industry would just bugger off and eat a few cupcakes. It annoys me no end that we celebrate fatloss as a beauty quest without any mention or concern about what real beauty is. Shame.

  9. I’ve missed a lot of MC this year and tend to run out of the room to do stuff in the ad breaks, do they have the L*ght & E*sy ads this year as well? because if they had L&E AND Jenny Craig, that would be, not bordering on weird, but well into bizarro territory for a program like that.

    When I blogged about this last year (about the L&E thing) some commenters said they just used it as a substitute for home cooking, as busy workaholics who didn’t like to go out and didn’t want “takeaway”. I understand that point of view but JC seems to be more hardcore diet oriented.

    I wonder, given the above, whether there’s a niche market for home-delivered cooking which isn’t necessarily diet-oriented – Food bloggers ahoy?!

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