Feeling Good Means Healing Good

13 Jan

So it’s January and the weight loss advertisements are literally flooding in.  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.

As usual I was behind the times because I TiVoed Black Girls Rock, which was taped in October and aired in November, but I did not watch it until December.  So I literally watched her amazing performance with Ledisi, Jill Scott, and Marcia singing Nina Simone’s “Four Women” thinking wow she has gained a lot of weight since I saw her last. Then a few weeks later saw the WW ad. (Correction: I was alerted to the fact that the fourth singer at Black Girls Rock was Kelly Price not Jennifer Hudson)

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, Jennifer Hudson would have been considered overweight in October 2010, but has loss considerable weight in time for a January 2011 ad campaign–that’s fast.  (Correction:  See above).  Third, 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.

I don’t buy into the Body Mass Index formulas because they were not meant 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 hair stylist.  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 equal “feeling good.”  I know 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.  Weight loss=feeling good–really? What about 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 weeks 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!

Again I apologize for the Jennifer Hudson/Kelly Price error, but I believe the larger points still hold.


8 Responses to “Feeling Good Means Healing Good”

  1. La-Shanta January 13, 2011 at 3:57 PM #

    I agree with you abt that whole Jennifer Hudson weight loss thing (although, the “white dress” ad actually has her heavier than her original “weight loss”– she looked like a bobble-head at first…she’s since, looking at the new commercials, gained SOME weight back from Weight Watchers.); I think that we’re all being sold short with the weight Watchers commercials. Those don’t show the actual struggle that is losing weight AND trying to be healthy that we go thru when doing it. Also, like you said about her support group. We don’t see that and we know it’s GOT to be there. That woman lost her family AND had a child!! Come on! I’m supposed to believe she did all of that with just weight Watchers?? Please. (not to mention her man is a pro-wrestler! Stress on stress, shoot…) we need a real story, and it’s just best we look at ourselves when we’re picturing ourselves. Weight loss don’t come in a neatly sang package for dollars at a time as Weight Watchers would have us believe.

  2. Liz January 13, 2011 at 4:33 PM #

    Just wanted to point out that Jennifer Hudson did not perform “Four Women.” The fourth singer was Kelly Price.

    • sheridf January 13, 2011 at 5:02 PM #

      Thank you Liz for clearing that up. That changes a lot. I apologize to everyone for this mistake because that means she did not have some dramatic weight loss in less than three months. Again I apologize for this mistake. And I will adjust the post to indicate the error.

  3. ashon January 13, 2011 at 9:28 PM #

    “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.”

    i’m wondering if this non-mention, the lack of the “how much,” is actually a good thing. or, if not good, could it at least open up the possibility of resisting the proscribed narratives of what it means to “lose weight and feel great?” something that resists telling people how much they should lose in order to feel good, at least to me, seems much more consistent with what Fat Studies’s Linda Bacon argues for with her Healthy at Every Size (http://haescommunity.org/) initiative …

  4. Angie January 14, 2011 at 3:23 AM #

    I have some problems with one of your points, although I agree with a lot of what you have to say.

    “Being thin or losing weight does not equal ‘feeling good.'” I’m really wary of the prescriptivism expressed in this statement, especially since you could say that you go on to contradict yourself with the next statement: “I know 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.” The very structure of “X does not imply Y and this is truth because *I know* this” really bothers me, no matter what subject you’re talking about.

    Are getting compliments on how one looks NOT a way for someone to feel good? Many of us do “feel good” when someone pays us a compliment. I also don’t know what the “that” is referring to when you say that “That is ridiculous!” but it feels off.

    For some of us who are eating disordered, being thin and losing weight DOES equal “feeling good”, sometimes precisely because of what you say: it leads to compliments. Not eating becomes synonymous with compliments and “feeling good.”

    I don’t think you can have a discussion about how “being thin doesn’t feel good” without taking into account the women (and men) who define a lot of their self-worth through being or becoming thin. What is *really* ridiculous here? It is the people who do honestly believe that “being thin feels good”, or our society which teaches us that these two things are synonymous?

    I realize that this post is focused on Jennifer Hudson’s Weight Watchers ad, but the ableism really isn’t necessary. In addition, disordered eating has for so long been considered a “rich white female” problem, so women and men of color who are eating disordered have consistently been erased in discussions around disordered eating.

  5. berdawn January 14, 2011 at 8:49 AM #

    Not disagreeing with anything others have written, but Weight Watchers has at its core an emphasis on eating whole foods and getting more exercise; things that would be helpful to someone in a stressful situation. Of all the programs Ms. Hudson could have chosen, this one seems to be the one with the greatest emphasis on health, rather than size.

  6. wordLife January 14, 2011 at 6:36 PM #

    thanks for giving your take on these commercials and what they could mean for how the media portrays black women’s bodies (as well as how we let them be portrayed). Remember when Queen Latifah and Phylicia Rashad did the Jenny Craig commercials? What are the differences or similarities between their endorsements and JHud’s?

  7. sheridf January 14, 2011 at 10:40 PM #

    @ Angie. I would like to clarify my point about being thin=feeling good and my example of not eating. What I was trying to say is the visual equation of weight loss and compliments even when what you are doing is not good for your body is problematic. I feel awkward when people comment on weight loss that to me is symbolic of what I am doing wrong not right. My overall point is that feeling good, particularly as it is described in the song, is about more than how our bodies look. The normalization of thinness and being in a constant state of weight loss or at least feeling like (being made to feel like) we should be is where I have problems with the prevalence of weight loss ads.

    I would appreciate if you would explain more about your feeling that I am using ableist language and not taking into account eating disordered men and women of color. Feeling good as long as you are thin is very different than feeling good about your total self (body, experiences, life choices etc.). Weight loss is not the cure all it is touted to be and I want more positive body narratives outside of the weight loss frame.

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