After some shopping around, Meltzer finds a meeting in Park Slope that she likes. While she appreciates the democratic, accessible nature of the program she, at times, finds the earnestness off-putting, and bonds with Sadie, a wife and mother who shares her tendency toward sarcasm. (“That is NOT a bagel,” hisses Sadie when presented with a weird agglomeration of ingredients — self-rising flour and Greek yogurt, painted with an egg wash and topped with Everything Bagel seasoning — that, when shaped into a circle and baked, the company swears will pass.) Yet she hangs in, because even though Weight Watchers is the dad joke of diet programs — corny, broad — it seems sane and accessible compared with the other options she explores, like a spartan, wildly overpriced camp, and a super-fancy “wellness” cruise in the Andaman Sea in Thailand that appears to cater to the already-thin and fabulous. And Weight Watchers has been scrambling to get with the times — in fact, in light of the anti-diet diet craze (as disingenuous as it may be), the company has rebranded itself as WW. The words “weight” and “weight loss” are no longer front and center.
At times, Meltzer’s writing evokes the sadness and anger of Judith Moore’s 2005 memoir “Fat Girl,” particularly on themes of dating, desire and visibility. Other times, it feels as if she’s juggling too many things at once — anecdotes, statistics, trends, cultural reportage, personal ruminations and historical shifts. (A similar overexerted feeling clouded Kim Chernin’s “The Obsession.” To be fair, the myriad forces at play around the subject of weight are a lot to balance.) But the occasional compressed-in-haste spots are offset by an abundance of shrewd observations, about matters like the current trend of “clean eating” as a flimsy mask for orthorexia, and dishy disclosures, as when Meltzer recalls checking out the size tag on Emily Blunt’s jeans when she was left alone in a dressing room while profiling the sylphlike star.
Meltzer has created a singular companionate text for those who know the agony of frustration surrounding weight as an issue, both personal and political. People — women, especially — who ping-pong around the weight spectrum will feel less alone when they read it. As she wraps up her yearlong venture with Weight Watchers (er, WW), she evaluates what “progress” means, not just corporeally, but holistically. What is it that we really want from weight loss? That question is more radical than it appears.
“Of course I want to lose weight, but at what cost?” Meltzer writes. “What I really want is to stop existing in a world where food is either punishment or reward. I couldn’t disappear — I wouldn’t — and, instead, I was resolutely living in the present, a place where, even if I’m having a good day and concentrating on my wins, I was going to be reminded of my weight. There would always be someone who is all too willing to give me a whole bunch of advice I couldn’t use and did not want. Could I find a way to exist in that world and be happy?”
How searching, how beautiful. How real.
Meltzer concludes that Jean, like her, was “a woman of appetite.” They’ve both greeted the world as women doing the best they can to thrive in the body, and the cultural context, into which they were born. In these ways, they are perfect, and perfectly suited for each other, exactly as is. Nidetch may be long gone, but Meltzer carries on her legacy of putting a public face on the challenge of weight management. Acerbic, culturally astute and genuine, she makes exquisite company in the struggle, and that is no small thing.