Yesterday I was contacted by a journalist from Stuff for my thoughts on the closure of Jenny Craig and you can read the resulting article here.
Ever since I contracted Long COVID last year and got brain fog, I find it much easier to provide written responses where I can articulate myself properly, rather than a rushed phone conversation, so I answered her questions via email. I had rather a lot to say, so here's my full response to the questions:
How do you feel about the possible end of Jenny Craig?
My first response was absolute glee. It's always good when a hateful company that actively profited off making people miserable gets its comeuppance. I'm sad for the low level staff losing their jobs because I understand under capitalism you don't always have options to be ethical when you have to pay rent, but the executives can go step on Lego.
That said, celebrating is very premature, because Jenny Craig is just one cog in the Diet Culture and fat phobia machine. It's now finding more insidious ways to prey on people under the guise of "wellness" rather than "diet". Check out how Weight Watchers has rebranded to WW - like Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded to KFC - like if they're not saying the word "weight" they can pretend it it's healthier than dieting. Or how Noom claims it's not a diet - intermittent fasting is absolutely a diet! And businesses are still profiting from making people unhappy with their bodies. Various market research studies put the global weight loss and weight management diet market around $250 billion dollars A YEAR, so there is still much much more work to be done.
How does diet culture promote fatphobia, and what role does Jenny Craig play in all of this?
So diet culture is a social expectation that tells us how our bodies should look and how we should eat.
Fat phobia describes the negative attitudes and stereotypes surrounding and attached to larger bodies. It's rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing. Diet culture and fat phobia affects everyone but it absolutely applies more stringently to more marginalised people - women, and especially women of colour, whose bodies (and identities) are seen to be unruly if they don't conform to thin white standards. In New Zealand you'll see this in stereotypes about beneficiaries "wasting their money" on takeaways, for example.
Or you'll see this played out in any office morning tea where someone is like "oh I'll be naughty and have a piece of cake". How is that naughty? Did you steal that cake? No? Food does not have a moral value. And what other people eat - or don't eat - is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
Diet culture is someone at work sending out an email about a competitive weight challenge, assuming that everyone will want to take part in that kind of unhealthy behaviour, without thinking what a trigger it could be for eating disorders, and as the cherry on top having the prize for the most weight loss be a voucher for a yoga brand that doesn't carry stock in sizes over 14 - immediately cutting out half the team.
Diet culture and fat phobia is fat people making less money than their thinner counterparts (a LinkedIn study
found a gap of nearly $9000) because they are perceived
to be more lazy and less productive.
Diet culture is fashion designers refusing to make clothes in larger sizes despite the average American woman wearing a size 16, because they don't want their clothes to be seen on fat people.
Diet culture is suggesting bariatric surgery as the cure to weight stigma, instead of actually working to dismantle that stigma (real lovely victim-blaming move there from medical professionals).
Diet culture is when passing out from chronically low levels of iron caused by weight loss surgery is deemed to be a more acceptable outcome than being fat.
Fat phobia is the idea that your own worth is defined by how you look compared to someone else. Jenny Craig's business model was all about the way you look. Their "before and after" photos suggest that if you're fat, you're unworthy, you can't live a real life, that you're on hold until you're thin, which is absolute nonsense.
Additionally, when you only see the immediate "after" photo, it suggests that weight loss is easy and that anyone can do it if they want (even though research proves this isn't true), which adds to the stigma faced by people who "fail" to lose weight - or don't even try to (because why should they?).
Has the brand done more harm in the way we think about our/other bodies than good?
What good has it done? Seriously, I don't think it has done anything positive ever.
Jenny Craig's own spokespeople demonstrated that its diets did not have a lasting effect, that its products did not work. Magda Szubanski did two campaigns for them, losing weight, then regaining the weight then being a spokesperson again. Mel B did campaigns in 2012 and 2016. If Jenny Craig actually was successful, they wouldn't be able to use the same spokespeople again!
As Regan Chastain has written time and time again - and done the research literature reviews to prove - the failure rate of intentional weight loss attempts is around 95%
. So Jenny Craig knew it was setting its the vast majority of their clients up for failure, that any initial weight loss was likely to be regained (and then some). And Jenny Craig did this so they could double or triple down on making money off their desperate clients.
As Canadian weight researchers told The Guardian in 2020
, "“Whenever people decrease their calories, they activate a bunch of hormones and neurochemicals within their brain, within their gut, that drive the weight to come back on. So we’re failing people all the time when we say go on a diet so they can lose a little bit of weight, [because they often] regain all of it, if not more
And the issue is that it's not just about how you look - yoyo dieting or weight cycling is really bad for your health. For example one system review in 2021
found that weight cycling increased your chances of getting diabetes by 23%. Another study
found that body weight fluctuations are associated with higher mortality and a higher rate of cardiovascular events independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors. And then there's depression and eating disorders and a whole raft of other issues.
And before people chime in with "BUT IT'S BEING FAT THAT'S UNHEALTHY!!!", perhaps they should look into the extensive work of the Health At Every Size movement.
Can we ever dismantle diet culture?
Oh lorde, I wish. And there has been some progress made. It starts with individuals unpacking their own fat phobia, which I suggest they do simply by broadening their social media followings. Get some fat babes in your life. Learn about Health At Every Size. Learn that someone's health - or lack of it - isn't actually your business, and health is not equated with deserving human rights and common decency. Think about who is profiting from you hating yourself (hint: it ain't you). I have a whole talk about how to be a fat activist in five minutes a day here on YouTube
More widely, it's been really great to see new anti discrimination laws passing in New York City, but there's still so much work to be done. In New Zealand, our immigration criteria includes BMI
, which is racist and outmoded, and that should change. It's still not illegal to discriminate against fat people. Shortland Street
, despite its otherwise pretty good record on diversity, has still never had a fat main character
who wouldn't be able to walk into Glassons and buy a new outfit straight away.
So start writing some letters. Tell your colleague that their diet is none of your business
when they're being boring. Contact theatres and ask them to list their seat sizes on their websites. And don't give your money to vultures trying to prey on your insecurities.
Rot in hell, Jenny Craig. Let's hope your competitor brands join you there real soon too.