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How Maintenance Phase Interrogates the Wellness and Weight Loss Industry

MH: So much of this is about who has power in a situation. I think that most of the messages that people have gotten about this issue have been so misrepresented to them. As soon as you start talking about this stuff publicly, what you get is somebody will say, “well, what about the fat activists who think it’s fat-phobic to go to the gym?” This actually happened a couple of weeks ago. Some random person on a talk show—I think she was, like, 19—said it’s fat phobic to do CrossFit or something like that. And it’s like, she’s in college, she’s experimenting with ideologies, but this becomes then, like, 55 YouTube video essays [saying] “fat activists don’t want you to go to the gym.” Other than like, I think individuals should be kind to others, I really have no individual prescriptions for anybody. And what we’re trying to change is like these people with power, who are like, in measurable ways, harming people.

AG: It is extremely ineffective to try and get a bunch of individual people to change their individual behavior and expect societal change to result solely from that. That’s how we got here. It feels much more important to me that if we’re having a conversation about working out, we have a conversation about the ways in which bodybuilding culture and working out has been used to drive, like, organized white supremacy. That feels much more interesting and fruitful to me than like getting into a fight with somebody about whether or not it’s okay for them to be on a low carb diet.

What do you make of the cultural shifts like the body positivity movement and efforts to combat fatphobia?

AG: I would say that as a fat person, the primary effect that I notice with body positivity is a false sense of security amongst people who are not fat that they’re doing the right thing because they tell people to love their bodies. It doesn’t require folks to reflect on their own behaviors. Much of the body positivity movement is focused on very slightly moving the goalposts, very slightly widening the target of who we consider an acceptable body. If body positivity was exploding our understandings of beauty, that would look really different, we would have more people who were visibly disfigured or disabled, we would have more people who are my size or larger, like very fat people, we would have more folks with like skin issues or acne being pictured.

We’re also having a similar sort of transformation in the weight loss world where it’s sort of changing its clothes and putting on a fedora and those glasses with a nose and mustache attached. Like, “we’re wellness now,” you’re like, “oh, it’s still Weight Watchers, it’s still Nutrisystem.” It’s still absolutely the same product and playbook.

Why do health myths and misinformation spread so rampantly?

AG: If you can cast your minds back to the first couple of months of the pandemic, the number of people I know who are, like, astonishingly smart people who would call me and be like, “hey, I heard that if you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, you definitely don’t have COVID.” I think what advertising health, wellness and weight loss products do a great job of is fearmongering. You don’t, at this point, have to make the whole spiel about diabetes and heart disease and all of those sorts of things to get people to be like, “hey, it’s bad for you to be fat.” You just have to be like, “is it good for you to be fat?” And I’ll be like, “no.” Like, that’s sort of all it takes.

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