So it's February and the weight loss advertisements are still flooding into my household. Like two days into the new year Bobby Flay was in a warm up suit talking healthy eating when October-December he and all his foodie buddies on the Food Network and the new Cooking channel were all about indulgence. But the ad that really caught my eye was the Jennifer Hudson Weight Watchers ad.
I must admit I don't keep up with the latest as much as I should, but I figured I was not seeing her much because she was focused on trying to recover/heal after the tragic loss of her mother, brother, and nephew. What concerns me most is that the new ad manages to do a lot of work while still tricking the public into thinking that weight loss will solve all your problems. So first off the use of the song "Feeling Good" is amazing because Jennifer Hudson is being read through many lenses. She is an American Idol runner-up turned super famous celebrity and a black woman who has had to overcome extreme adversity.
But here are a few behind the scenes details to know. First, CDC statistics indicate that nearly 1 in 4 Black women are "overweight" so we are being actively targeted as a major consumer market by Weight Watchers. Second, there is no clear indication in the commercial of how much weight she lost or how she lost it, just images of her body in a skin-tight white dress and a powerful song. Third, I don't buy into the Body Mass Index formula and the body measurement charts because they were no supposed to be used outside of the context of your family medical history and your personal medical history. I believe, like Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, that we should be talking about being healthy at any size or weight.
In October 2009 the Federal Trade Commission published guides for celebrity endorsements making it difficult for weight loss advertisements to include all kinds of statements while putting in small light font on a light background "results not typical." What Weight Watchers has done is effectively maneuver around these restrictions by using images alone. Rewatch the commercial and you will see that it is just an encoded music video for Weight Watchers. What we see is a smaller Jennifer Hudson singing "I'm Feeling Good" and Weight Watchers Points Plus. What we don't see is her personal trainer, nutritionist, psychiatrist/psychologist/therapist, potentially a cosmetic surgeon, or her stylist(s). Furthermore every time she sings this song, Weight Watchers gets to tag along.
If Jennifer Hudson is feeling good I am happy about that, more power to her. But the way she is using her body or the way her body is being used to promote weight loss-for-all can be devastating for women broadly, and Black women in particular. So here is my "talk back."
#1 Being thin or losing weight does not necessarily equal "feeling good." I believe this because when I am most stressed, confused, upset, what have you my tendency is to not eat as much as I should, lose weight, and get compliments for it. That is ridiculous!
#2 Talk to me about Jennifer's support group, her girls who helped her through it all, her supportive partner, therapist, dance teacher, minister, or whoever has helped her to recover. “Feeling good,” as Nina Simone sings, is for me about a deeper spiritual feeling that resonates from the inside out so when I think about Jennifer Hudson I’m interested in her recovering from the unbelievable loss of her immediate family?
#3 The true winner is Weight Watchers because they managed to get around FTC rules and while they may be "inspiring" people individually, when you think about the shear number of weight loss ads on television in the last two months alone it's more like collectively "shaming" people into saying "if J Hudson can do it after what she has been through then what is my excuse?"
When I say feeling good means healing good, I mean let's feel good because we are taking care of ourselves inside and out "at every size and every weight", loving ourselves "at every size and every weight," NOT because we are Watching our Weight (ourselves) through someone else's eyes trying to look like Jennifer Hudson in December 2010.
Let us "feel good" responsibly. I officially name and claim January-March as "Love Ya Body Quarter" starting NOW!
~ Sheri Davis-Faulkner