Yeah, you heard me.
Weight Watchers US is offering a six-week free membership for teens between the ages of 13 and 17 this summer to encourage more children - because teenagers or not, they're still children - to lose weight. The aim is to boost customer loyalty, tying in with their goal of reaching 5million people on the Weight Watchers programme by 2020. In the words of the late Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?
Following Oprah Winfrey's incredibly powerful speech at the Golden Globes, Weight Watchers' stocks are up, with a reported 16% jump since then. Despite her moving words, we seem to forget that Oprah is not just the entertainment mogul we've come to know and love — she also owns a 10% stake in the diet company, as well as sitting on the brand's board and being a Weight Watchers spokeswoman. Additionally, music producer DJ Khaled helped boost figures as it was announced that he was now a Freestyle partner and social media ambassador.
Teenagers love free shit. I, for example, wanted a free pen and strange fuzzy thing that was being given out at school when I was 14. Next thing I knew, I was an NHS organ donor. So if I, especially being the yoyo-dieting, eating disorder ridden, self-hating teen, was given the opportunity to get involved with a programme like Weight Watchers for free, I would've jumped at it like it was a slice of calorie-free chocolate cake (because back then, that was the dream).
Why does a brand, who already capitalises off of the adult population by feeding them (no pun intended) with restrictive methods and an obsessive counting, feel the need to spread that into the most vulnerable age group of all? It's messed up. It's engraining the ideals of diet cultures into teenagers at a time where the decisions that they make can effectively shape the kind of person that they become.
This so-called 'initiative' and the potential impact that it can have on younger minds takes me back to reading Sarai Walker's Dietland, where protagonist Plum Kettle reflects on her teenage years under the influence of a restrictive diet plan and how it directly paved her way of thinking.
Luckily, so far at least, there's no sign of this coming over from the States and infiltrating teenage communities in the UK. And we're totally okay for it to stay that way. Here's hoping that Weight Watchers decide that they're making enough money as it is (they turned over $1.2bn in 2016) without targeting young people and potentially ruining their lives.