Waitrose’s ‘Healthy Eating Specialists’ are a Recipe for Fatphobia

Waitrose

Waitrose have announced that they’re introducing ‘healthy eating specialists’ on the shop floors of their stores, who will provide ‘nutritional help’ to customers as they go about their shopping. This follows research conducted by the supermarket, where they found that around half of shoppers would say that they don’t feel like they take enough care of their health.

And apparently, the good folks at Waitrose decided that “I don’t think I take the best care of my body” means “please give me unsolicited advice while I’m just trying to pick up some milk”.

There’s a line that all fat people know, that makes them want to roll their eyes so far back that they can see the inside of their skull. If you’re reading this as a fat person (or genuine fat ally) you already know what it is, but I’m going to say it for clarity anyways: “I’m just looking out for your health!”

‘Health’ is the reason placed on a pedestal and used to justify all manner of fatphobia, from the subtle to the subtle-as-a-brick. If you excuse your hateful (intentional or otherwise) rhetoric by saying you’re only speaking out of concern, somehow society lets you off the hook. Time and time again, fat people and their bodies are thrown under the bus in conversations about what it means to be healthy, their feelings of self-worth deemed less important than the size of their waistband.

“Packets, bottles, tubs and boxes of food are emblazoned with what is considered their biggest selling points: “LOW IN FAT!” screams one, “FEWER CALORIES!” bellows another.”

This priority of ‘physical health’ (read: a distorted perception of what physical health looks like in different people) above everything else is already steeped into our supermarkets, even without ‘healthy eating specialists’ stationed at the end of the aisles. Packets, bottles, tubs and boxes of food are emblazoned with what is considered their biggest selling points: “LOW IN FAT!” screams one, “FEWER CALORIES!” bellows another. Even if we’ve made it past all the products that promise to give us a ‘better’ (thinner) body, we get to the till and stand in line staring at an array of celebrity gossip magazines, circling bodies that have ‘ballooned’ or ‘let themselves go’ or ‘lost control’… all because they dared to go out into the world with a bit of cellulite.

The supermarket have already addressed the backlash against the introduction of these ‘healthy eating specialists’, stating that they will only give nutrition advice when approached.


Okay, sure. But forgive me if I’m more than a little skeptical. As a fat person I already experience size-based stigma from mainstream media, health charities, fitness organisations, medical professionals, my own peers… to name but a few. If I can’t trust my own doctor to give me advice free from internalised fatphobia, am I really going to trust someone hanging out by the fruit and veg aisle on my weekly shop?

Given the somewhat sensitive nature of the population’s health, this is a scheme that Waitrose are obviously going to want to work. They’re going to want the numbers of people their ‘healthy eating specialists’ interact with to be relatively high. Are we honestly expected to believe that these specialists aren’t going to be instructed to approach people while shopping?

“As a fat woman, I feel deterred from shopping in Waitrose for fear of having to fend off fatphobic assumptions about what I ‘should’ be eating based on my size. And I doubt I’m the only one.”

Personally, I don’t think it’s likely that I would have the time nor the inclination to be lectured on what’s in my shopping basket, and would be very unlikely to approach someone to do this for me. Though time will tell, it seems obvious that many shoppers will find themselves being approached by specialists offering unsolicited ‘advice’ on their eating habits.

And therein lies the most problematic aspect of this initiation; the advice will be given by human beings (I assume, unless Waitrose have a really advanced android project we don’t know about). Human beings laden with their own personal bias and preconceptions about what a ‘healthy’ individual looks like. As a fat woman, I feel deterred from shopping in Waitrose for fear of having to fend off fatphobic assumptions about what I ‘should’ be eating based on my size. And I doubt I’m the only one.

Yes, many people may feel that they don’t take as good care of their body as they feel they should. Aside from the fact that what people think they ‘should’ be doing is heavily influenced by what they’re told (through the aforementioned mediums, with their own unique variations on fatphobia), the solution to this isn’t specialists in the supermarket. Making people feel insecure about what they’re putting through the till, or even targeted because of their size, is not going to make anyone more inclined to buy healthier foods.

In fact, if I ever do have the pleasure of being approached by one of these ‘healthy eating specialists’ during a shop, I know I’ll be taking a big tub of Ben and Jerry’s from the freezer, while maintaining eye contact.

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