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.