September 23, 2021

We Don’t Want Your “Wellness” Award

A response to fatphobic funding and the diet culture trap

Earlier this year FoodShare was nominated for something called a WW Wellness Impact Award. 

We did not apply. 

Here’s why: 

While we are grateful that a community member finds our work worthy of a wellness award, we did not want to receive funding or recognition from an organization like Weight Watchers. 

As a food justice organization, FoodShare has taken a very firm stance against fatphobia. We are invested in body liberation and fat acceptance. That means we believe that all bodies are worthy and have the right to exist as they are. Nothing about Weight Watchers’ history, marketing or messaging aligns with these values.  

We recognize that many people, particularly those that are fat, racialized, trans, queer, gender non-conforming or disabled, experience body policing. This means being told: who or what they are because of their bodies, what they can and cannot do with their bodies (including what and how much to eat) and how to feel about their bodies. We know that these messages lead to real harm—physical, emotional and psychological. 

Fatphobia and Anti-Black Racism 

This award claims to address health inequity and to be a “new initiative to empower community leaders and break down the barriers to wellness—for everyone.”

It is unclear to us how Weight Watchers can reconcile their language around wellness and equity, while persistently marketing weight loss. Throughout their messaging Weight Watchers (or “WW”) uses references to weight loss and wellness interchangeably. The celebration of members’ pounds lost on their website lionizes making bodies smaller and suggests fat bodies are deficient or unwell. 

Weight Watchers is clearly aware of racism as the award is specifically directed at Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities and their website states they are “committed to selecting an organization led by and dedicated to the advancement of wellness in communities of colour.” Yet, they fail to recognize that fatphobia is a form of systemic oppression with distinct origins in anti-Black racism. And they continue to profit off of societal fatphobia. 

Impacts on Young People 

Young people especially can be negatively impacted by messaging like Weight Watchers’. That’s why we find it particularly egregious that Weight Watchers continues to run weight loss programs specifically targeting children and youth. Evidence shows that young people are more likely to die of an eating disorder than diabetes. There is an alarming list of harm that weight stigma and fatphobia present for people in fat bodies in terms of health, mental well being, personal safety and even opportunities for livelihood. 

At FoodShare, food education looks like enhancing folks’ understanding of our food systems, the role we all play, the connections between environmental and social justice and the systems of oppression that inform who has what food to eat and why. We choose to celebrate traditional foods, speak to the community-building possibilities of food and discuss the history behind the dishes we prepare together. Learning about food can be done without shame, and without stigma. But not if the aim is to turn a profit by stigmatising larger bodies. 

Declining Fatphobic Funding 

Be assured publically declining to apply for this award is not a comment on the nominees or recipients. We have no doubt they are doing important work for their communities and an $18,000 grant can go a long way for a community-based agency or grassroots group. Our ire is directed at Weight Watchers for continuing to ignore the insidious nature of fatphobia and food and body policing—especially in communities of colour. 

The model of voting for these projects allows Weight Watchers to benefit from association with BIPOC-led initiatives that are trying to support their communities and keep their doors open. Weight Watchers will benefit more from association with this work than these organizations will benefit from a donation. 

Avoiding association with these types of organizations is why FoodShare developed our guidelines for working with funders and partners. We will not accept money from Weight Watchers, or any other funder that is making money off of fatphobia and body shame, and we encourage other organisations working in our sector to develop similar guidelines.  

If other organizations are wrestling with these questions and conversations: please reach out. The more of us who commit to address fatphobia, the better off we’ll be. 

FoodShare will always be guided by our vision: ensuring everyone in our city can access the food they need with dignity and joy. 

That includes the freedom to live without stigma, shame or insecurity. And without the help of companies who profit off creating and maintaining these feelings and, ultimately, do real harm. 

So, Weight Watchers, no thank you

Interested in tackling fatphobia in your organization? 

You can: 

Set up a working group or internal taskforce dedicated to these issues and document your organization’s values and response to fatphobia. Read FoodShare’s statement on body liberation and fat acceptance

Establish a set of guidelines for working with partners and funders. You are welcome to use FoodShare’s Traffic Light Policy for Partnerships & Funders as a framework.