Dear Weight Watchers,
I became aware of you as a small child. You were spoken of frequently in our house, used by my dad over many years of seeing him grow and shrink over and over again. I learnt that bad foods carried more points than good foods, and that too many points made you fat. I learnt, through this, that fat was bad. That my body shouldn’t take up too much space, and that I could prevent this by counting.
I spent hours spinning around a cardboard wheel, listing foods that I should and shouldn’t eat. Your points system was one I didn’t fully understand, but what I did understand was that numbers were important. That’s when I graduated from points to calories.
Calories worked the way points did: more = fat and less = thin. And what I learnt from you is: fat = bad and thin = good. So less and less I ate. More and more I shrank.
Aged 8 I became aware of my size after you infiltrated my home. Aged 12, the first symptoms of my eating disorder began. Aged 13 I was anorexic. I am now 29 and guess what? I am still anorexic.
There have been times over the last 17 years that I have been well, though I have spent the majority of my life up to this point making my way through anorexia, purging disorder and bulimia. My weight has gone up and down like a yoyo, from underweight to a healthy weight over and over and over again. And always in the back of my mind is counting, counting, counting. Always is a list of good food and bad food. Always is the notion that above everything else in my life, I must not be fat.
In 1998, at 8 years old, I was not exposed to technology. I didn’t have the internet and smart phones didn’t exist. Yet still, I was acutely aware of my body and how it measured up against others. Children today are not so lucky to have escaped this technology. They are exposed to perfect Instagram bodies, diet culture and fitness trackers. They learn even earlier and more intensely that bigger bodies are wrong, that BMI is crucial, that they should look a certain way.
Your app, Kurbo, is poison to young minds. You deny that it uses calorie counting, which may be true, but you continue to put foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps with your colour coded system. Your own website states: we want you to count every food you put in your body. This isn’t normal. This is not how ‘normal’ people eat. Our lives shouldn’t be governed by numbers or colours or whatever system is being used to achieve the same outcome: separating foods into ‘good’ or ‘bad’. You have used before and after photos of a child, to advertise their weight loss. That disgusts me.
I can never unlearn what I have learnt about food, diets, and disordered thoughts. Although I believe I can be more free from my eating disorder than I am now, I don’t believe this is something I can ever fully recover from. I was exposed to this culture too young, I have struggled with it for too long. I have relapsed too many times. It breaks my heart that you are not only allowing children to become aware of these ideas, but actively encouraging them to participate.
Yes, there is a rise in childhood obesity. There is also a rise in eating disorders, and they are affecting children younger and younger than ever before. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. People are literally dying to be thin.
And yes, we should be encouraging and educating people about health from an early age. But healthy doesn’t always mean thin, and that’s a misconception that we need to shatter. Additionally, there are so many deep rooted socioeconomic factors that influence weight, and this app isn’t going to solve that.
I hope you know that through releasing Kurbo, you have blood on your hands, and I hope as a result of this you reconsider its use.