What’s the Real Enemy? Weight? Or Kurbo and Diet Culture itself?
This week, Weight Watchers, a company—and yes, keep in mind that Weight Watchers is a company, a business—introduced Kurbo, its new weight loss and nutrition app. No big deal, you may say. As many of us know, Weight Watchers has been struggling to rebrand itself, attract new customers, and stay relevant in a world that (hopefully?) is starting to realize that controlling your body isn’t the answer. Of course Weight Watchers would try to reach their clients through a mobile app.
Kurbo is different, though. Kurbo is dangerous. Because Kurbo is marketed towards kids—towards children as young as eight years old.
Eight years old.
Think of that for a second. At eight years old, children are still in elementary school. At eight years old, children are still growing. At eight years old, children should be focused on school and friends and family and activities and having fun. They should be growing, in more ways than one.
This is what so many people in this society fail to realize, about both kids and adults. As human beings, our bodies are designed to grow and change. Adults will not always have the same bodies they did in high school, and that’s okay. That’s perfect, actually, because you are not the same person you were then. Bodies change with pregnancies because you are bringing life into the world. Bodies change during stressful times in life when you don’t have time to exercise. Bodies change when you grow older. Bodies know what they’re doing if you don’t try to control them.
Children’s bodies change, too. On the surface, people say that they know this. They understand that kids grow and get taller. At the same time, though, doctors plot kids’ growth out on charts and lecture about healthy eating. They recommend that parents put their kids on diets so that kids can ultimately fit the same image that adults strive to fit themselves into. The same image that Weight Watchers uses to promote its programs.
Here’s the thing, though—kids are supposed to gain weight. Often, that weight gain will not fit the “fit and healthy” image that diet culture promotes. In fact, for children, it’s perfectly normal to gain weight first and then “catch up” in height later. As bodies mature, organs develop, bone and muscle density increase, and hormones change, it is essential for adolescents to increase their body weight in order to support these changes.
This is the point where many adults—whether doctors or parents—panic. They panic because they have been taught that weight gain is bad. That being “chubby” or “fat” is bad. That this situation is something their kids need to “fix” through diet and exercise, rather than letting kids’ bodies find their true stasis.
If left unmanipulated, bodies know how to take care of themselves. Wounds heal, bones mend, and bodies figure out where they belong. Numerous studies have shown that diets don’t work, and that attempts to control one’s weight will only backfire. Ultimately, diets (or whatever Weight Watchers chooses to “call” its programs) will lead to obsessions, disordered eating, and full-blown eating disorders.
In the end, this is exactly what Weight Watchers wants. It wants people to focus on controlling their weight. Because these adults—these kids now—who push back against their body’s true shapes will become their lifelong customers. They will become obsessed with points and types of foods and fitting some arbitrary quota of traffic light colors. They will deny themselves food when they’re hungry because they already had enough “red food”, even though their body is crying out for nourishment.
Kids need nourishment. We all need nourishment. We deserve it, no matter what size or shape or weight we are. We deserve to take care of ourselves. We all need different amounts of calories to survive, and that can vary by the day. We all aren’t the same weight, which means there is no “overweight.”
There is just “you.”
The National Eating Disorders Association has found that 40-60% of elementary aged girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or becoming too fat. Doctors have seen eating disorders in children as young as six years old and there are treatment centers dedicated to children as young as nine.
When I was suffering from an eating disorder, an app like Kurbo would have been dangerous—even deadly to my health. For many children, an app like this could set them on a lifelong battle against their weight—a battle they don’t need to fight against an enemy that doesn’t even exist.
Weight is an enemy that is manufactured by our society, by the diet culture that aims to control so many. We can fight back, though. By speaking out against apps like this. By rejecting the pressure to control our children or ourselves. By saving the next generation from the obsessions that we ourselves struggled through.
They deserve better.
So do we.