I went to a Weight Watchers meeting this morning. This, in and of itself, is not unusual. I follow a cyclical pattern: I decide I am too heavy, so I join Weight Watchers. I attend the meetings regularly, but I do not follow the diet plan. I fail to lose weight, so I give up and quit. They keep my money.
What was unusual about this morning's meeting was how many men were present. Almost half the attendees were men. Weight loss is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the United States, and Weight Watchers is its biggest player. Women form the backbone of the company's clientele. Though I can't find quotable gender statistics online, I can tell you from personal observation that Weight Watchers' membership, at least that portion of it that attends meetings, is overwhelmingly female. Take it from a Weight Watchers veteran: losing weight, and paying crazy amounts of money for help in doing so, is primarily a women's issue.
Why is that? Weight Watchers has made some effort recently to recruit men as members, featuring them in their online ads and promising special dietary advice for the beer-and-barbecue crowd. But I know very few men who would be caught dead whipping out their point-counters in the aisles at the supermarket or writing down in a notebook exactly how much dressing they had put on their salad. Some men I know have made concerted efforts to lose weight, but they are more likely to follow something like Atkins or South Beach, which allows them unlimited steak and requires no attendance at meetings. That confessional, supportive stuff is for girls. Weight Watchers understands this, and that's why their male-targeted advertisements push online membership rather than meetings. You can do this from the privacy of your computer. You won't run into anyone you know. No one will be the wiser.
But it's not just that men are embarrassed to talk about their food issues or to seek help with them. To a large extent, the problem is bigger: men are not subject to the same societal pressures as women. Their weight is not constantly in play as a discussion topic, so they are not as self-conscious about it as women are. They are not targeted by magazines featuring starving, underage boys on their covers. They are not encouraged to believe that they need to look like supermodels to succeed in business, relationships, or life. They are simply more comfortable in their skin than we are.
And then there's that unfair fact of life about women: we fluctuate naturally. We gain and lose as a matter of nature, according to the phase of life that we happen to be in. Girlhood? Menarche? Adolescence? Child-bearing? Menopause? They all come with weight ups and downs, and they all raise their own issues, both physical and psychological. Men don't swell up in order to gestate and nourish their young, or shrink back down because their calcium supplies are diminishing. I'm generalizing here, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most of them don't stand in front of their closets in the morning, pushing aside the "skinny" clothes and rummaging through the "fat" things, looking for something that will fit on this particular day, in this particular year, at this particular time of the month. Something that will fit, and won't make them look too fat.
I'd like to think that my weight is entirely outside of my control. It's partly genetics, and partly age, and partly circumstance. My body has been through a lot in the past twenty years, for sure. But there's a big part of it that's psychological too. I'm not going to lie and say that I don't find food comforting, or that I love aerobics classes, or that I didn't eat a ridiculous amount of candy yesterday.
"Wish me luck," I told the Weight Watchers lady today, as I signed yet another credit-card receipt for the privilege of eating less.
"I would," she responded, "but it's not about luck. You know that, don't you?"
Yes, indeed, I do.