I am really bothered by a number of responses I’ve been reading, all over the fatosphere and livejournal, to the effect that, if you are exposed to weight loss propoganda while at work, you should just get over it. I am really bothered by the number of people who don’t seem to understand that a blanket invitation to weight loss, in the work arena, is neither appropriate nor inclusive.

While we spend a HUGE amount of time at our jobs and I think it’s good that companies are starting to be concerned about the health of their workers, continuing to equate improved health with weight loss doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help healthy fat people, it doesn’t help unhealthy skinny people, and it sure as hell doesn’t help unhealthy fat people who may or may not have any interest in improving their health (tip: focusing on weight loss is NOT the way to improve one’s health).

The idea that wanting to lose weight is ubiquitous and that this is OKAY really freaks me out. Because it ISN’T okay that so many people want to lose weight. It is NOT alright that virtually no one, particularly women, is happy with their body. It’s not okay that companies, no matter how good their team-building intentions, continue to support and foster that sort of mindset through a misguided interest in health.

I know it’s still cold in many parts of the country/world, but here in Florida (other than the past few days), it’s pretty much summer time. And so I ordered a bathing suit – I may be dealing with sun sensitivity but I can always swim in the pool at my gym. And already the talk is beginning – random strangers walking around talking on their cell phones or to their shopping buddies or to other random strangers browsing the swim suits about how awful their bodies are.

This is the fruit of a culture that thinks weight loss ought to be suggested to everyone as a “healthy” thing to do. There are other fruits as well, of course.

This is the fruit of a culture that thinks people ought to just, you know, ignore things that strike you as inappropriate because universe forfend you should overreact.

This is the fruit of a culture where women have so internalized the idea that dieting is a virtuous behavior that the right of nondieters to NOT be constantly battered with diet propoganda is virtually inconceivable.


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  1. Posted April 16, 2008 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I have been really bothered by weight loss advertising on LiveJournal, too.

    I subscribe to your blod via feed, and so the word ‘fat’ turns up on my flist, which to the electronic morons that parse pages and display ‘appropriate’ ads automatically means: – weight loss wanted!

  2. Posted April 16, 2008 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    My company thus far has sponsored both a Weight Watchers group and Biggest Loser style competition. In our yearly anonymous employee survey, I articulated my concerns with such initiatives, explaining how targeting fat employees does little for the health and wellness of thin employees, and creates a hostile work environment wherein fat employees feel targeted and ostracized. I also suggested that such saturation isn’t healthy or constructive for people recovering from eating disorders and explained how it all detracted from our task at hand: our jobs.

    I’m curious to see what their response, if any, will be.

  3. Posted April 16, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I am really offended that anyone pushes weightloss at work. Why? Because I am a recovering bulimic. As far as I am concerned, workplaces are taking a HUGE risk by pushing weight loss or “fitness” or a “healthy lifestyle” because they are potentially triggering relapse in folks who may have a mental health issue that has not been disclosed to HR. To me, it’s like putting a loaded gun in the lunchroom in a workplace that has someone who just got off of suicide watch.

  4. Posted April 16, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I hear ya.

    I have no problem with workplaces instituting healthy practices programmes (note: I do not believe that Weight Watchers fosters healthy practices or healthy attitudes about foods)—people forming groups to go out walking together at lunchtime, or on after-work runs; providing employees with guides to healhly meal alternatives near the workplace. Coming from a health-education background, I tend to think that we need to do everything we can to counter the many exhortations we receive to engage in unhealthy practices, from vending machines stocking only junk food in staff rooms to sedentary jobs, to employers encouraging everyone to work 10- and 12-hour days.

    I do have a problem with encouraging people to buy into the whole Thindustry. I have a problem with encouraging body hatred. I have a problem with anyone telling me what I should be eating or drinking or how much (and how) I sould be exercising. And I am increasingly uncomfortably aware of how wretchedly difficult it is to discuss healthy choices and habits without falling into the trap of talking about weight.

    I kind of look at WW at the office the way I look at office Christmas parties: as something other people do to assert their tribal identities and play into mainstream culture, without considering the broader implications of their actions. As someone uninterested in supporting the Thindustry and not Christian, I don’t feel that these practices add anything to my workplace, I don’t support them, and, if asked, I will explain my reasons. But I won’t stop my co-workers from doing WW meetings on their own time, as long as the workplace gives equal support for other employees’ bizarre hobbies.

  5. TR
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Maru, that is super irritating! I’ve installed ad blockers on my computer at home and it takes care of most of that stuff.

    Thoughtracer, that is a really good point that I wish companies would consider.

    Zingerella, it really bothers me when this stuff is company sponsored. I don’t mind when individual employees get stuff started but when HR has dreamed it up and thinks it’ll be great for all employees to participate? I’m so not okay with that.

    And, yes, the conflation of health with weight loss is super frustrating because it is so all-pervasive!

  6. Feral
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Being self-employed for the past 8 years always puts me in a “woah, like they DO THAT where you work?!?!!?!?” frame of mind… The horror stories I hear about HR and their “great ideas” always cause me to go – WHAT? an ADULT thought that up?

    This post has further cemented my resolve to (after I get certified) promote my personal training services as something for general health, physical conditioning, and whatever someone’s personal goals may be. Not just some boring “weight loss blah blah” bs.

  7. TR
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Feral, I totally support that resolution.

  8. Divajean
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Our company is currently sposnsoring a Biggest Loser contest. The teams are to be 4-6 people and the team with the largest average percentage loss is the winner.

    When I pointed out to our Human Resource Department that the winners could well be group of anorexic/bulemics because mathematics work like that- I was laughed away. Her claim was because its SO MUCH easier for larger people to lose weight at first that a group of larger folks would be more likely to win. When I showed her the math, she still opted to disagree. I’m sure she thinks its because I’m a big fat slob who won’t participate in the game (may its because a sweatshirt with the company logo on it is SO WORTH becoming disordered about eating! NOT!)

  9. libbyblue
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    following comment #1, i’m especially bothered by the constant weight loss ads (and “want a one night stand?” ads, but that’s not the discussion here) on facebook. i especially dislike the one which features the image of a woman who looks like me in too-tight jeans (the muffin top phenomenon) with the label “Gross!” and a brief invitation to rapid weight loss, with link. No, I’m not gross, and that has quite little to do with my ability to hunt down appropriately-sized pants. My body is fine. That woman’s body is fine. I’d really prefer to not be blatantly told that I am gross while I check up on my friends during exam period. The aspirational bullshit is bad enough.

  10. notblueatall
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Why don’t people understand/know that dietting is awful for their overall health? It’s so frustrating to hear it constantly. The shaming, the “success” stories…a very close friend the other night talked ad naseum about “Biggest Loser” for like a half hour. I couldn’t say a peep. He knew I don’t watch the show, but he still told me every little f-ing detail of every damned contestant. I simply sat, eating my sandwich in silence until he was done and I changed the subject. I should have simply said I’d rather talk about something else. Why do we all think being quiet and putting up with diet talk is okay? It’s not!

  11. Posted April 16, 2008 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I am so happy to see someone talking about this? There were two “biggest loser” style contests at work this year, and both times I was constantly pestered to join, even after I explained that I don’t diet, I am not in any way pursuing weight loss, and I was not in the least interested. I guess my alomst 300 pound body looked like a big flashing neon invitation to be harassed. It amazed me how many already thin people joined in pursuit of the mythical “just ten pounds”. One teacher actually suggested putting the results of the contests out somewhere for the students to see as a way to encourage kids to diet! It’s wrong on so many levels — it is unprofessional, but it also makes me sad to see people turn everything into a competition. If they wanted to do some kind of support group JUST for exercise, I would be in favor, but the focus always turns into weight loss.

  12. Posted April 16, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I want to say I have no problem with individuals at work doing things individually. My problem is when it becomes a company sponsored event. I have not, thankfully, run into it, but we have ALL run into company sponsored shenanigans of some sort. Christmas being the prime example. I am not Christian, either, and although I can tolerate it and enjoy the days off, I think back to my old job, where we employed a LOT of folks who were devout Muslim. Like a LOT of our staff — not management, those under us — were Muslim. And I couldn’t help but see the class disparity. POC, immigrant and lower class practicing a different religion = no days off. White, management upper class = lots of days off. It really bothered me.

    I am really concerned about group think. And that’s what happens in companies. Lots of people herded together for 8-10 hours a day, 40-60 hours a week, and it’s easy to get harassed into things like group weight loss, group religious celebration, honoring the arrival of babies, etc etc etc. It’s a job people. In the end, it’s a job. Show up, do your work, go home. Let’s not make it a cult, OK?

  13. Cindy
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    If my employers were serious about my health, they’d either hire more personnel or scale back the volume of products we pump out. The stress is not to be believed. I’d rather have an onsite yoga class, or one afternoon off a month as comp time, than a Biggest Loser contest.

    Sleep deprivation is detrimental to human health, but no one talks about that, because the longer people stay awake, the more they consume.

    God, I need sleep. A paid sabatical would be heaven, too. One week of vacation at a time is not enough. It takes my body four days to klet go of the work-a-day tension I live with.

  14. Posted April 16, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    It’s not work-related, but rather school (so one could consider me to be a captive audience) that’s driving me batshit crazy about “Lose Weight NOW!” :eyeroll:

    If this is me whoring, then I apologize, but Tanta can only do so much ranting in once day before Tanta has to take a Valium and a scotch and lie down in a dark room and cry.

  15. Bree
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    There IS an advantage to working in the nonprofit field!

    I work for a nonprofit organization and our office consists of just 4 people. We have no HR department and we are governed by a board of directors who could care less how much we weigh.

    These group competitions irritate me. It should be up to the individual to decide what they want to to. If they don’t want to participate in these silly contests, then leave them alone. Is it hard for someone to believe that GASP! some don’t want to do group things with their co-workers and just work? It doesn’t mean they “don’t play well with others,” they just have different priorties, one not being obsessed with weight loss.

  16. Posted April 16, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    TR, I guess where I’ve worked, any initiatives of the “Let’s have a WW group” type have been staff-driven, and sponsored by the company only to the extent of providing space on a bulletin board and maybe a place to meet. We currently receive one e-mail a month from our Employee Assistance Program about self-care; they’re mostly pretty low-level, and don’t mention weight-loss at all (more along the lines of “Here are some easy ways to get more green vegetables into your diet! Did you know that the following vegetables have the following important nutrients?”) So I don’t mind them, because they’re not telling me “Eat more green veggies, minion!”

    We have a staff softball team, which plays in a publishers league. We also have a staff book club. I’ve never felt any pressure to join either, and I think they’re both completely employee-driven and organized.

    If anyone wanted to have a weightloss competition or public WW program, officially sponsored by our HR person (she’s a one-woman department), I’d have to get really grumpy about that. Like I get grumpy about Christmas celebrations that force everyone to acknowledge one religion’s holiday without giving equal time and regard to other religions’ holidays. Like I get grumpy about the expectation that people will cheerfully work overtime every night.

    Cindy, I totally agree that a company that pays lip service to employee health by telling employees to, say, eat more green vegetables while simeltaneously working everyone long hours, not providing anyplace to get exercise, and not providing access to childcare, medical benefits, or a variety of different food for people’s different dietary needs is hypocritical at best.

  17. Posted April 16, 2008 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    We don’t have any type of group weight-loss activities at my school, thank God. I think the majority of us here want to put our energies towards learning. :)
    Last week, someone left a bunch of dieting magazines in the student lounge; they were left there for anyone to take. So I decided to turn into a FA ninja and I unceremoniously threw them out as I was leaving. :)

  18. msruth
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Oh why are human resources departments often so mind-shatteringly dumb? (Not all I hasten to add, my sister’s work has free gym membership, onsite yoga sessions and had meditation classes during their busy/stressful times of year. I think that’s all pretty smart)

    I want to say that despite some people mistakenly believing people need to be in relationships to be fufilled no one would be stupid enough to have office speed-dating and harass all the singletons into joining. However, now I’ve said that I’ll probably hear about someone’s office that does do that within the week.

    Why do companies try to induce an air of constant competition in their offices? And if they do what’s wrong with good old fashioned fantasy football?

  19. Fox
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    This is not work-related either, but along the same lines. I was at the mall yesterday for the first time in a while. As I headed toward the exit after a relatively draining attempt at clothes-shopping, passing by window display after window display of adorable dresses that will never be made in my size, something caught my eye: The words “WEIGHT LOSS CENTER” plastered brightly over a huge photo of an extremely skinny young white woman wearing a bikini and a glassy-eyed expression.

    What stopped me dead in my tracks was the slogan “Everyone wants to lose weight! But which diet pill is right for YOU?” And the realization that I was looking at a vending machine.

    A VENDING MACHINE. Stick in your credit card. Make your selection, ranging from $19.99 to $139 a pop. Collect your bottle. Hurry on home. You’ll be slipping into that cute dress or tiny bikini you’ve been ogling soon enough, now that you’ve got the right diet pill for YOU!

    I was gobsmacked. (I love that word.) Leaving aside many, many of the disturbing implications of which we’re all very aware, here’s the one I want to focus on most: This is an unsupervised, self-service machine displayed prominently in the middle of a shopping mall – a place highly trafficked, as they tend to be, by insecure, impressionable teenage girls who are likely to be feeling particularly body conscious given the context – and it is vending SPEED.

    It sounds like something out of dystopian future-fiction, but it’s not. It’s in my fucking local mall.


    And I want to do something about it. And I don’t even know where to start. But I really want to find out.

  20. Posted April 16, 2008 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  21. Posted April 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, that linky worked out rather poorly but you get the general idea.

  22. Posted April 16, 2008 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I have been ripping down WW posters and posting up counter-propaganda around my office for several months now. This shit is not only sanctioned by my company’s HR department, but also sponsored by the building management company, who waste SO many trees with saturation flyering every floor of an 80-story high-rise. Such bullshit. I am not having it!

  23. Posted April 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    thoughtracer wrote: As far as I am concerned, workplaces are taking a HUGE risk by pushing weight loss or “fitness” or a “healthy lifestyle” because they are potentially triggering relapse in folks who may have a mental health issue that has not been disclosed to HR.

    You win the internetz today. Because what you say is SO true. Beyond that, I would love to see a company written up with an OSHA violation (Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, for those outside the USA) if an employee is “triggered” into an ED relapse, and it can be shown that the company’s “wellness program” actions were responsible. The company should also have to pay for the hospitalization,if one results.

  24. Posted April 24, 2008 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    I’ve been offended by HR sponsored health checks and Weight Watchers groups at work, as well as endless “wellbeing” emails which concentrate on weight as a measure of wellbeing (rather than, say, stress levels, overall health or work/life balance). I’m getting sick of it, and I agree that it is NOT ok.

  25. Sandra
    Posted April 28, 2008 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    my place of employment ( a large teaching hospital) is always mass emailing us about joining WW, and now this spring there is some kind of weight loss team competition orgainized by HR. how do I protest this in a respectful way (so that I don’t get anyone’s knickers in a wad).

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  1. [...] the world need to eat a giant bag of STFU about it, what with damn near every office in the country forcing “Biggest Loser” contests down their employees’ throats (with no thought given as to whether egging people on relentlessly to crash-diet might trigger [...]

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