I attended Weight Watchers meetings weekly for at least a year and a half when I was around twenty-nine. I had a positive experience with Weight Watchers and was very successful (at least temporarily). I was a card-carrying Lifetime Member, meaning I‘d met my goal weight and didn’t have to pay for future missed meetings as long as I weighed in monthly and stayed with two pounds of my goal weight. Weight Watchers recommends attending meetings for life to keep you honest. As I gained weight, I tried to return to meetings, but life and competing priorities got in the way.
What strikes me thinking back is the different “types”of women at the meetings. They came in all shapes and sizes and at various stages of their weight loss journeys.
Newbie: The Newbie wanders in, not quite sure where to go and if she wants to be there. She examines boxes of bars and shakes, cookbooks, pedometers and food scales—paraphernalia to ensure her weight loss success. She fills her arms with one of everything.
A lady behind a table tells the Newbie to step on a scale, and hands her a white card with the date and her weight etched in ink. The Newbie gulps at what her weight should be based on the BMI chart (the Bible-equivalent in the weight loss world). She takes her seat and looks around, trying to measure the likelihood of success based on the appearances of the other members around her.
Some of the group members murmur encouraging words to the Newbie, while others take bets on how long she’ll last.
Gung-Ho Overachiever: The Gung-Ho Overachiever is on a mission. She sits in the front row, laughing, nodding and hanging onto the meeting leader’s every word. She’s tried every new low-calorie, low-fat recipe out there and has the food manufacturers on speed dial, ready to report any new diet food in development and the date it’ll hit the shelf.
When the meeting leader asks who lost weight that week, the Gung-Ho Overachiever’s hand shoots up in pride. She gets applause from the group and racks up gold stars, bookmarks, and other tokens for hitting the five pound weight loss mark, ten-pound weight loss mark and so on.
The Gung-Ho Overachiever has a secret sense of superiority towards those around her who haven’t accomplished as much as she has. She cringes a little hearing about those who have backslided, cheated, gained. She wouldn’t, couldn’t be that person.
Some less-accomplished group members have the urge to smack her and force feed her a box of doughnuts.
Skinny Girl: The Skinny Girl’s life would be perfect if she could just lose fifteen pounds. Or ten. Or five. Some of the other women might be satisfied with less, she thinks. They might not even look so bad. But that just won’t do for her.
Many group members think Skinny Girl looks just fine the way she is. She doesn’t need to come to the meetings, nor does she belong. They think Skinny Girl should stop whining and jog on out of the meeting.
Lifetime Member: The Lifetime Member has seen it all and done it all. She’s lost, gained and plateau-ed. She nods at members’ tales of their struggles. Talk to me when you’ve been at this as long as I have, she thinks. I’ve got seniority over all of you. The Lifetime Member may have slipped and is looking to get back on track, or she may be at her goal weight and is trying to hang on, hands clenching onto the meetings for dear life.
I’m not going to have to struggle like that forever, other members of the group think. I hope I don’t have to struggle like that forever.
Underachiever: The Underachiever wants to be inspired by the success stories around her. But really, she’s a little bit sick of the people around her. If you’ve reached your goal, go home. All the clapping and cheerleading is starting to hurt her ears.
I did everything right, she thinks. What do they have that I don’t? I’m wearing lighter clothes next week for the weigh-in. And I’m definitely not eating before the meeting.
The Danger of Stereotypes
All of these stereotypes are just that, of course. None of us can be put into boxes, and we don’t know what is in other women’s’ heads.
But there’s a common thread that ties the stereotypes together, as well as women who struggle with their weight and/or body image issues in the “outside world”:
- Jealousy-Assumptions that it’s easier for other women to be thinner than you.
- Envy-Assumptions that women thinner than you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, worry about how they look.
- Fear-Fear that you won’t be able to lose the weight, or be able to keep it off. Fear that you don’t have the discipline and willpower that other women seem to have.
Losing weight and maintaining weight loss can be tough. And we are all so tough on ourselves. We don’t always see our bodies the way other people do. Self-loathing and judgment of other women accomplish nothing but to tear all of us down.
Support others and respect where they are at. Go easier on them. And yourself.