One of my favorite past times while watching television as a child was squinting at all the small print. It was like the secret information I could unlock with my spy decoder ring– information hidden there that they didn’t want me to know about whatever it was they were selling me. That the free shipping they were offering only applied to some states and that handling would still be charged. That this product you’re about to purchase is only available for a limited time (especially amusing when applied to fresh hamburger meat). And that the results aren’t typical.
It’s kind of revolting what diet and weight loss companies get away with selling us. When you think about it it’s an amazing racket. They start with a preconceived notion that we all have about fat: that it’s your fault. You are fat because you eat bad things and are lazy. But no worries! A lot of people have this problem, and you can turn it around. You can fix yourself. And if you give us a lot of money, we’ll tell you how. We’ll sell you shakes, make you measure every nutrition label and convert it into our ever-changing point system, or we’ll just give up and make the food and send it to you. And you see, if you follow this you’ll lose weight and be pretty and happy and healthy and people won’t cringe when they have to sit next t you on the bus!
.. but then what?
That’s the follow-through a lot of health and weight loss companies don’t want you worrying your pretty little heads about. Because most of them aren’t teaching you, despite their corporate promotions, to eat and live healthier. They’re teaching you to depend on their plan, to need their products. To have to give them money forever.
And here’s the genius of it: if their products fail, it’s your fault.
No other company or product can get away with this. If you buy a car, drive it off the lot and the engine falls out you don’t assume that you must’ve done something to cause the damage. The car salesman might, but that’s when you march back, get right in his face and scream at him until he gives you your money back for selling you a lemon.
The diet and weight loss industry is jam-packed with lemons, but they never get called out on it. They get rewarded. Congratulated for encouraging us to do well. For showing us images of people we can be if we try hard enough.
And on top of all that, they got to show us people that even according to their own studies you could never look like. No, they can’t actually cram your fat self into this thin-person mold even if that’s exactly what they’re selling you on. They’ll show you photos of people they admit themselves are almost impossible for you to ever imitate, selling you a product that they claim can. The results may not be typical, but hey, you could be the exception! If you try hard enough and really stick to the plan, I mean really, you could absolutely lose three dress sizes before beach season starts!
And if you fail it’s because you’re a fat, lazy slob and you should give us more money and do it right this time.
But all of that is a thing of the past! Have you noticed that you don’t see the asterisks on commercials anymore? No longer do they tell you that the results you see in these ads aren’t typical. The FTC decided that it wasn’t reasonable to show only images of their extraordinary results– that they could no longer tell you that the “results aren’t typical.” But what does that mean, exactly?
At first it sounds really, really exciting. Like the article says, weight loss companies aren’t allowed to jerk us around anymore. They can’t say that you’ll look like a body builder if you take their weight loss pill when most people don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of chiseling their pecks down to a shape that rivals Captain America’s.
The downside now is that there is no real definition for “typical.” Companies who used to have to tell you that the images you’re seeing aren’t normal don’t have to anymore. And haven’t for years. Now they can dice up the percentages, the body size definitions, and all other kinds of loopholes (“these results are typical when accompanied with diet and weight loss”).
Interestingly enough, almost as soon as this FTC rule came to pass we saw nothing but celebrity spokespeople talking about how these programs worked. Jennifer Hudson for Weight Watchers, Janet Jackson for Nutrisystem, Carrie Fisher for Jenny Craig in one of the most horribly fat-shaming commercials I’ve seen in my life. Celebrity chefs, celebrity money, celebrity makeup artists and tailors.
We are not celebrities. Weight Watchers would cost the average American $500 a year just in dues alone. And all that money is for a measly 11 pounds a year, or “up to” 15 pounds a year. This is a far, far cry from the success stories shown to us on television. Images of Jennifer Hudson singing about how she’s worth it (naturally when she was fat she was worthless, after all) and brandishing her sixty pound weight loss.
You or I couldn’t join Weight Watchers and realistically expect to permanently lose sixty pounds. Sure, you might, if you’re one of the exceptions. You might even keep it off. But most people won’t. Most people will keep feeding the industry money like a kind of body-image lottery: maybe one day I’ll be one of the lucky ones who beats the odds. If I keep trying hard enough or try enough plans or hate my body enough I can look like Jennifer Hudson, too. I mean, a super-rich celebrity could do it, why can’t I?
If you want to be healthier, be healthier. If you want to change your diet, change your diet. Just don’t focus on your scale in lieu of your body. Eat carbs. Eat sugar. Eat fat. Your body needs all of these things. And don’t listen to a stupid weight loss ad that tells you every person in the world needs to have a body shaped the way theirs are. Remember, the results aren’t typical.