Kick Kurbo and Fatphobia to the Curb
Photo courtesy of Annie Shelmerdine
Kurbo, an app launched by WW (Weight Watchers) this past August, targets kids and teens and claims to help them develop healthy eating and exercise habits. Over 87,000 people have signed a petition to demand that WW remove the app because it has the potential to promote eating disorders, as well as physical and psychological harm.
WW has always been advertised as a company that helps people lose weight and eat "healthy." WW sells supplement bars and pre-packaged meals, and is a well-known leader in Diet Culture.
The app asks you to track everything that you eat, but there is nothing healthy about encouraging kids to be so obsessed with every, single thing they consume. This puts the focus of health on weight and size rather than health in holistic terms, which means taking into account not just physical well-being, but also emotional, mental, and social factors. WW is a company built off fear-mongering and paranoia around weight-gain under the guise of “healthy eating and exercise,” but gaining weight or losing weight means nothing about the health of a body. The underlying message of WW is that your body is not okay as it is, which is the premise of white supremacy, our deadly culture that thrives off capitalism where we are all encouraged to invest in products in order to achieve impossible beauty standards, specifically European beauty standards — Gloria Oladipo writes succinctly about this for Bitch Magazine.
On Instagram, Sonalee Rashatwar, also known as The Fat Sex Therapist, says that "...placing kids on non-consensual diets can be traumatic bc it can feel like a form of intentional food scarcity. when kids can’t rely on caregivers for basic needs like abundant nourishing food, this can cause a disruption in the attachment relationship." What WW is encouraging is not healthy eating, but fatphobia and body-shaming.
Dahlia Balcazar and Amy Lam of Bitch Media's podcast, Backtalk, discuss Kurbo and the toxicity of Diet Culture in their most recent episode. Balcazar describes the app and says, "...you put in what you've eaten and it gives you a green, yellow, or red icon saying green is like 'eat as much as you want,' yellow is like, 'oh, you should eat less of this,' and red is 'don't eat this.'" Balcazar signed up as a fake user and gave the app a whirl. She told the app that she ate avocado and eggs for breakfast and chicken teriyaki and rice for lunch. (This sounds absolutely delicious).
"It told me both of those things were yellow and red." Balcazar reports, "So, it told me you should not be eating avocado and eggs." From Balcazar's short experience she has gleaned that WW becomes this stamp of approval and end-all-be-all of what is "healthy" and what isn't for someone's body, when all bodies are not created equal. We all have different needs and they change over time. Children (and adults too!) need to feel empowered to decide for themselves what their version of healthy looks like.
Achieving whiteness and thinness — two constructs created out of white supremacy and colonization — are our societal markers of what it means to be successful, wealthy and beautiful. Recently, with the co-optation of “wellness” and “body-positivity,” celebrities like Gywneth Paltrow are now the spokespeople for what it means to be well. Apparently “being well” means spending a shit ton of money on a jade egg and shoving it up your vagina.
“She’s among a group of white well-to-do women (like [Marianne] Williamson) who have made self-help and ‘wellness,’ arguably the newest euphemism for ‘skinny,’ into a highly individualistic and often unethical billion dollar industry of aspiration,” writes Rumya Putcha on her research blog Namaste Nation.
Wellness is not aesthetics. Paltrow and Williamson fail to talk about all of the ways race and class impact health outcomes, particularly for Black and Indigenous womxn.
Balcazar goes on to say that although Kurbo is "free," one of the most disturbing features of the app is an "alarmingly easy to sign up for" paid service in which for "...$69 per month you get a consultation with a digital coach for fifteen minutes." What child has $69 a month to pay for this?! And what can you really get out of 15 minutes?!
While there is a huge emphasis on this app being based in "scientifically-proven" research, Huff Post reports that this app could encourage kids to be even more hyper-focused on their bodies and food-intake than they are already encouraged to be in our weight-obsessed culture. Kathryn Argento, a registered dietician with The Renfrew Center, a national network of eating disorder treatment centers for women and girls, told Huff Post that, “Targeting kids as young as 8 years old to focus on ... their bodies can lead to an intense preoccupation with food, size, shape and weight.”
An app like this is just another tool of white supremacy culture in an effort to police and control bodies, especially fat, Black bodies. In her essay, "White Supremacy, Colonialism, and Fatphobia Are Inherently Tied to Each Other," Sherronda J. Brown writes that fatphobia,
“...functions as a distraction for people to take the attention off the real issues of our society. The problem does not lie in our bodies, our sizes, weights, or shapes - but the problem lies in the social, economic, and environmental injustices that are happening daily.”
Be diligent and weary. Protect yourself from the insidious wellness-industrial-complex.