A Kurb for Fat Kids: There's an App for That

It happens about once a year.

I’m just moving right along, finding inspiration for this work about bodies and belonging in the bravery of the women around me, enjoying the gift of watching their awakening.

And then bam, I am shaken from this pleasantry by some battle on the national or global stage that exposes the underbelly of diet culture and thrusts those who resist it into the spotlight, reminding me why I get out of bed in the morning and creating a Twitter backlash for the ages.

Last year, it was Tess Holliday on the cover of Self magazine.

This year, it’s Weight Watchers and their app for fat kids.

I became aware that this battle was underway while comfortably seated in my backyard, sipping my coffee and enjoying my early morning Instagram scroll. I stumbled on a post from one of my favorite Intuitive Eating influencers. She’s a Registered Dietician, smart as hell, and in this post, she was also angry af.

I went on to read that Weight Watchers - recently rebranded as WW in an effort to rescue plummeting profits - had launched an app called Kurbo, targeting children ages 8-17. This app comes complete with interactive “health coaching”, a stoplight system that turns 1% milk into a “yellow” food to be enjoyed in moderation, and offers “pleasing your parents” as a viable reason for weight loss.

Super. So for about $70/month, we can deliver an Intro to Eating Disorders tool kit direct to the smartphone of a 10 year-old. All the while, Weight Watchers will drive new revenue with residual income. Nothing to see here, folks. I’m sure this company is solely concerned with the health of your children.

Insert teenage-sized eye roll here.

Now, you might think I took to Twitter with the throngs of experts, doing what I could to expose WW and bring down the brand, but I didn’t. There are so many extraordinary humans - far more qualified than I - who rushed in with a little evidence and a whole lot of fury to put WW in their place. And they did so with an exquisite precision accomplished only by those most practiced at squeezing the truth into 140 characters. If you’ve read any of my writing, you know I’m not that girl. Succinct is not exactly my thing, so Twitter is just better off without me.

(if you’re curious though, follow #wakeupweightwatchers for all the latest)

As for me, I spent the week consuming their wisdom and feasting on all the of science that supports the radical claim that the healthiest approach to appetite is the instinctual approach to appetite. I reserved opinion, licked my own triggered wounds a bit, and waited to weigh in.

Until now.

I waited because I wasn’t so much interested in belonging to the battle using hashtags and witty one-liners. I was, instead, interested in providing something I wasn’t seeing in many places.

Compassion. I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of compassion.

Not for WW. They can suck it.

But compassion for you. For me. For the sea of moms and dads who have no idea how to navigate the competing priorities of parenthood (because no one actually knows, if we’re being honest). For the kids in fat bodies who want nothing more than a sense of agency inside of their skin and a little relief from the incessant assertion that they need to be fixed.

Like most debates, this one has become gridlocked on both sides, neglecting to realize that there are real people in these stories. There are parents who have watched their kids come home from school and weep because they have been so wounded by the words of their peers.. There are grown women, like me, who have to check their envy, thinking that maybe they wouldn’t be sitting in these size 18 jeans if someone had just handed them an app to keep them on track. There are babies who daily face the ridicule because of their big bellies, stuck smack dab in the middle of a culture that will never stop reminding them that fat is bad.

And that’s the piece I want to land on here. I want to land on the culture, or more accurately, on the context in which we find ourselves, in order to cultivate some compassion.

Last week, I had dinner with a friend who thanked me for opening her eyes to diet culture. She said, “ It’s so strange to me, but I just never saw it before. All of the obsession and manipulation about food - it was just normal. Now all I want is ease. I want food to be easy.”

I want food to be easy.

And it’s not. We all know it’s not. Unless, of course, you’re on day one of your new diet with only the promise of thinness in front of you. Talk to me on day 127 though, when your commitment to your “lifestyle change” is waning and you’ve considered killing your co-worker for the bagel on her desk.

Not so easy now, is it?

So, we start to believe that we need programs and products and apps to help us fix our instincts.

And companies rake in cash.

And we go on seeking the next solution.

Is it any real wonder, then, that Kurbo exists? Or better yet, that there are hordes of people who support the advancement, claiming it will most certainly curb childhood obesity? No, it is no wonder at all. This is the context in which we live and move and love, and if we are to respond, we have to respond with compassion for its confines.

Fat is still feared. Wellness is a multi-billion dollar industry. Parents want every good thing for their babies. And people will subscribe to this app.

But before they do, I hope for just one little thing…

I hope for a moment’s pause during which they can make space to draw on a memory of themselves at 8 or 10 or 14 years old. Even in the best of circumstances, those years are awkward and bumpy and full of more uncertainty than any one human should have to endure. But endure, we did, and it wasn’t because of some app that promised to help us rule our appetite. We endure because of resilience. Or because of kindness. Or because of hope.

I endured because there were small pockets of people who could put their arms around me and tell me everything would be okay. That my family would eventually find a path to peace. That there was life ahead of me in spite of what was happening inside of me.

During those years, I needed to know I was safe.. I didn’t need to know that ice cream was a “red light food” that might permanently thwart my hopes for love and marriage.

Because that wasn’t true anyway. I adore ice cream today almost as much as I adore my wife. I’ve been led to both things by instinct and a deep need for nourishment.

We can teach our kids to do the same and it doesn’t have to cost a thing.

Win win.

Well, maybe not for WW, but I wasn’t worried about them anyway.

I was worried about us. But I think we can find our way through this one together.

Sarah Stevens