Oh, freedom is mine: Weight Watchers and “Feeling Good”

By | January 18, 2011


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Nina Simone, in France circa 1982

The past few years have seen the rise of a new sort of celebrity. I blame Kirstie Alley for this, given her particularly memorable turn as Jenny Craig spokesperson, but she is only one of the many — Valerie Bertinelli, Sara Rue, Carnie Wilson, Jason Alexander — who have been famous in recent years primarily for having been on a diet. The latest casualty collected by the diet-spokesperson bandwagon is Carrie Fisher, of all people, who was evidently driven to take the job by mean-spirited internet commenters. I’ve started to wonder if someday soon I will turn on my television to see Miss Piggy singing the glories of Jenny Craig to the tune of “The Rainbow Connection”.

The topic of today’s post is nearly as bad.

Jennifer Hudson has been shilling for Weight Watchers since the middle of 2010. Her new commercial campaign, predictably beginning with the new year, features a song known best to most folks today as a favorite of contestants on American Idol, or as something Michael Bublé sings. The song is “Feeling Good”, and it first drew popular interest when it was recorded by Nina Simone.

Nina Simone did not write “Feeling Good”, though her interpretation is probably the best-known version of it. “Feeling Good” is a song from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s musical The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd, which came to the stage in 1965. The two main characters, Sir and Cocky, represent the upper and lower classes respectively. The story is told as a Vaudevillian allegory of British society, in which Sir and Cocky continuously play a vaguely-defined “game” for success in life. The set looks something like a giant tilted game board, and Cocky plays for food, employment, and love. Sir, as the wealthy and influential, controls and changes the rules of the game at will, while Cocky, as the working class, dutifully follows them. Unsurprisingly, Sir always seems to win the game while Cocky always loses. However, it is neither of these characters who sings what may be today’s best-known number from this little-known show.

“Feeling Good” is sung by a character called simply “The Negro”. When this character appears, Sir decides to let him and Cocky play the game against each other, in a clear demonstration of how social tensions around race intersect with social tensions around class, and how racism pits poor white folks against poor Black folks to keep them from establishing common ground, which might pose a danger to the status quo. Predictably, Cocky’s kneejerk reaction is to become as imperious to The Negro, representing the sole person more oppressed then he, as Sir has been to him, and he attempts to dictate the rules to his new partner, who quickly realizes that he cannot win so long as his opponent controls the play. Sir steps in to reestablish the order of things, and while he and Cocky argue, The Negro seizes upon the opportunity and wins the game. “Feeling Good” is the song he sings afterwards:

“Feeling Good”

Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good

Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don’t you know
Butterflies all havin’ fun, you know what I mean
Sleepin’ peace when day is done, that’s what I mean
And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Oh, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good

Nina Simone was much heralded as a genre-defying pianist and singer in her own time, and used her platform as a popular artist to express her radical politics during the civil rights era. A proponent of armed responses to racism, Nina frequently sang songs written specifically to address the horrors of institutionalized inequality, such as the fantastic show-tune-without-a-show “Mississippi Goddam”. Nina also borrowed music from other sources and recreated it to illustrate her politics; one example is her live cover of “Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera, a song originally about the vengeance of a jealous woman, but which in Nina’s hands becomes a vivid and chilling vision of violent revolt against white supremacy.

Nina’s cover of “Feeling Good” was recorded in 1965 — the same year the show from which it is taken debuted — and like virtually everything she recorded around this time, her rendition was steeped in the political climate. Though the lyrics seem straightforward enough, “Feeling Good” is a song of tragic optimism, of retaining hope even in the face of insurmountable odds. With “Feeling Good”, Nina did what Nina did so well, and invested a song with meaning as much in the way she sang it as by the words themselves. It is a song both sad and victorious, expressing the frustration that this is a battle that needs fighting in the first place.

From here, we come to Weight Watchers.

Jennifer Hudson has said of the song and the campaign: “Feeling good is the perfect way to express how I feel right now… I’ve tried diet after diet, plan after plan and I’ve only gotten so far, but never this far. I feel like I have a new life, I feel like a brand new person.”

“Feeling Good” has been, since its inception, a song about an oppressed minority surviving in spite of the odds piled against them, and occasionally even managing to succeed not because anything’s been handed to them, but by sheer force of will. It is a song of marvelous depth, even with its uncomplicated lyrics.

What it is not, is a song about an individual’s assimilation — Jennifer Hudson or anyone else — into the cultural mainstream. It is not a song about overcoming the oppression of one’s stubbornly different body, as that body is not the subject of oppression but the object. The only way to force “Feeling Good” to fit this mold is to strip it of context, as the commercial above does. And you know, it’s fine to listen to a piece of music and just feel good about it; I don’t have unreasonable expectations that everyone should know all the background information to every song they ever hear. But it’s something else to take such a song and use it to sell the idea of a “new life” through Weight Watchers, when Hudson herself has said of her “new life”: “Being skinny, it’s a job. It’s not easy.” And given that nearly every assessment of the campaign has focused not on how Hudson feels, but how she looks, this hardly qualifies as the revolutionary moment the commercial is selling.

The obvious criticisms of this song choice are that dieting doesn’t, in fact, feel good, and often the good feeling that may come as the end result of dieting is short-lived: because of weight regain, or because of the shift in how people treat you when you’ve gone from fat to less fat, or because of the well-documented disappointment that many folks feel when their weight loss fails to fix all their problems — even the ones having nothing to do with their size.

…Hudson said she is still grappling with knowing herself in her thinner frame. She said she still feels like the same woman, but is aware that people now view her differently. “It’s almost like there is a new person, but there is still the question of how do I want to represent myself, how do I [want] to be perceived,” she said. (Source)

The less obvious undercurrent running through this campaign is Weight Watchers’ attempt to capitalize on the familiarity of liberation rhetoric and “diva” stereotypes to make their product more appealing to Black women. Jennifer Hudson is a once-fat Black woman who famously talked about how she enjoyed her “curves” pre-weight-loss, and who now instead exults in her newfound slenderness. The choice to use her to convince proud and ostensibly “curvy” Black women that they need Weight Watchers too, if they want to feel good, is hardly a coincidence.

Understand, the thing that bothers me about the recycling and/or co-opting of certain cultural artefacts in order to sell people things is not that their commercial use erodes their brilliance. “Feeling Good” is a marvelous song no matter where it’s used. It’s that this new environment lacks context, and context is the stuff that our collective sense of cultural history is made of. The fuller context of “Feeling Good” should make its use in this situation offensive to us. But because the politics and art of the civil rights movement are not something on which everyone is properly educated, the song becomes popularly known only as a Weight Watchers jingle. (Excluding the occasional extraordinarily clueless outrage at the “theft” of the song, as expressed by this commenter on Bossip: “Sure she sounds great but she stole that song. That song is Feeling Good by MUSE and it was on their album Origin of Symmetry. And she changed and took out some words. I hate how she published it as her own. What a cheat.”)

If Jennifer Hudson is happy with her new shape, then I’m happy for her. I am not the body police, for obvious reasons, and so I will not condemn her for her private decisions. What I will condemn is the choice to promote Weight Watchers using this particular song. Though authorial intent is of little value in the kind of criticism I do, I daresay that Nina Simone would be dubious of the notion that paying money to Weight Watchers for the privilege of restricting one’s diet in an effort to assimilate — an excellent means of keeping women distracted from larger social issues — could result in anyone’s liberation.

At any rate, that’s how I feel about it. I am dubious.

Goddam.


51 Comments

Arwen on January 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm.

Even as a long-time fan of Nina Simone, I had missed the history of that song. Thanks for the education: I have some reading to do. (I’ve been so irritated by that ad, but took it no farther than irritated.)

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Samantha Nicola on January 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm.

My thoughts exactly. It’s a song of hope, of..well, you said it. Despite setbacks and the odds feeling good. Just wrongly used here.
We have a new WW commercial here about a mom not being ‘able’ to play with her child on the beach before weightwatchers. Sickening.
But that might just be a pet peeve.

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Tanya Roberts on January 18, 2011 at 2:43 pm.

Thanks for giving me even another reason for those commercials to irritate me.

I was already irritated by the skinny=betterineveryway rhetoric, and not to mention the likelihood that WW alone did not attain her results (but instead, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and likely some form of body reshaping surgery.) It already seemed like a bit of false advertising. Along with it being played CONSTANTLY, it was enough for me to boast a hatred of the marketing scheme. Now that I know it’s a song based on race relations – and not one I was familiar with. Just wow. I can’t even wrap my head around all that.

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Dana Udall-Weiner on January 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm.

Loved reading about the historical context of the song, as well as its use as a co-opted anthem to increase weight watchers profits, particularly among black women. I find it quite depressing that a song (and a woman) once associated with the lofty purpose of defeating racial discrimination, is being used to peddle weight loss products. Sad, indeed.

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Awlbiste on January 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm.

It’s a completely out-of-touch, and pretty much downright wrong, co-opting of the song to shill a product. Even worse that it’s a diet product with all of the connotations you mentioned.

And yet, were Jennifer Hudson singing the song not as a commercial, I’d really like her version of it. Alas.

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Tari on January 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm.

I hate that the entertainment industry and pop culture in general so often completely erase the people who actually write the music that they use to sell crap, not to mention (and particularly when there’s direct contradiction to) the sociopolitical context that so often served as inspiration for that music in the first place. Compelling performance is a beautiful thing, but in a capitalist context, I think it’s almost irresponsible to let a song just be a song.
(Then again, I’m a songwriter, so I may be biased.)

Brilliant post, as always!

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purplekeychain on January 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm.

I was just talking about this (not as eloquently) elsewhere: http://fatnerd.blogspot.com/2011/01/shut-up-already.html

I hate the fucking racial stereotype associated with the commercial. In media, black people are always on about “freedom” and being “strong”, just like Native Americans are always portrayed as talking about their “ancestors” and Chinese people are on about their “honor”. Jennifer belting out that song like it’s some old Negro spiritual makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Thanks for the history of the song!

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Lesley on January 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm.

Great post, thanks for linking it. The stereotyping is totally unbearable, and I wish more folks would get angry about it.

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purplekeychain on January 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm.

ugh, i really should have asked before posting the link, i realize. if you can edit my comment, please please edit it out. it was really obnoxious of me to do that, you have my most sincere apology.

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Lesley on January 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm.

No, seriously, topical linking is always fine! No worries.

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Twistie on January 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm.

THANK YOU!

This commercial has been steaming my corn since it started playing, in significant part because I was once in a production of The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd (Orange Urchin! Represent!) and I understood what the song was about. My rage, however, has been so incoherent that I hadn’t been able to articulate it.

And now I’m going to sit down to listen to the incomparable Nina Simone singing it. There was someone who truly understood what that song was about.

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Lesley on January 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm.

Ha! I KNEW there would be someone who’d be all I’VE BEEN IN THIS MUSICAL!

And yeah, it took these past couple weeks for my rage to sufficiently cool to be able to write a post that wasn’t simply FUCK FUCK FUCK AAARGGHHDJAKSNKJ!

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lesleymac on January 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm.

I was unaware of this ad until I read your post. The thought of a song like “Feeling Good” being used to shill diets (after listening to the pride and strength and beauty that Nina Simone brings to it, after knowing its history!) is enough to make me nauseated.

rawrsob.

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Cynthia on January 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm.

Weight loss schemes and fat phobia are just another way for Sir to tilt the board so he always wins, too. Cool essay. I love it when I can learn a fact or two from a blog.

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Michelle on January 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm.

WW are the masters of the co-opting these days. It is so incredibly irritating and offensive…and worst of all, apparently successful for them as a strategy. There needs to be more critical analysis of this strategy so people can see why it’s problematic, propagandizing doublespeak.

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Michelle on January 18, 2011 at 5:08 pm.

Also, I love Nina Simone, but I had no idea about this song or its origins. So glad to know.

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Lesley on January 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm.

Believe it or not, I originally researched its origins after having heard the urban legend that it was about drug use one too many times. Little did I know that information would come in handy!

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Melissa Anderson on January 18, 2011 at 5:14 pm.

Thanks for the ninsight and that incredible history!

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LonieMc on January 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm.

Once more out of the ballpark! I loved the history and perspective on this.

I’ve been thinking a lot about co-opting lately. It is perhaps the most devious and hardest to fight of all ways the dominant rhetoric oppresses. Two steps forward and one back.

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Jami on January 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm.

I had no idea this was an old song but I was already annoyed by that commercial. And now I despise it more because I hate it when they steal old songs to turn into jingles. (I’ve talked more then once about how much I hate the “Viva Viagra” commercial – it’s Viva LAS VEGAS and I hope the ghost of Elvis Presley haunts everyone involved with this commercial campaign until they all go insane!)

That being said, I understand why Jennifer did this. I’m fat and a singer too. I may not be famous but I get a lot of crap about it. On MySpace more then once I got messages where I was told “You have a beautiful voice, but you’re an ugly beast” and going on and on about how fat and ugly I am. I would report these people for abuse but it still hurts. I don’t have a lot of YouTube views but I figure most of my thumbs down are from people who see I’m fat and don’t even watch the videos. (The others I’m sure are from folks from the Cheezeburger network who hate me because I believe in God. I’ve gotten several nasty messages about that too.)

Jennifer is in the public eye and the public eye is very judgmental. You can point out all the Ella Fitzgeralds and Mama Casses you want, the public is still for the most part going to say, “She’s too fat to be famous.” And it sucks.

And frankly, so does WW.

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Amy on February 8, 2011 at 4:06 am.

I wish you had told your youtube name so I could give you thumbs up! :)

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Bilt4Cmfrt on January 18, 2011 at 6:08 pm.

Thank you, thank you and PREACH!

Nina is one of my favorite Blues Artists and the outrage I felt, the betrayal that may be unreasonable but is felt no less, upon hearing this song being used in a WW ad defies description. As for J. Hudson? Everybody’s got to make that Paper, but there are times when you just need to say ‘Holdup!’, and actually question what lines your ready to step across. Far as I’m concerned, she crossed the wrong ones.

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Veronica on January 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm.

That was so interesting! I loved reading it!:)

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MMM on January 18, 2011 at 8:28 pm.

In blaming Jennifer, who is a member of an oppressed and marginalized group (despite her thinner body), are we joining with the “Sirs” in our accusations that she should have made a better choice? How much of a choice did she really have?

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Lesley on January 18, 2011 at 8:42 pm.

I can’t speak for any other commenters, but I’m not blaming Jennifer Hudson. Weight Watchers doesn’t pay her to research what music their potential customers are likely to respond to — that’s what their marketing department is for. Honestly, I would be shocked if her contract allows her any real control over things like song choice at all.

Jennifer Hudson is being employed to do what Weight Watchers tells her to do, so if anyone is to blame here, it’s Weight Watchers.

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etana on January 18, 2011 at 11:25 pm.

Yes. You so eloquently put into words what Ive been shuddering at since I first watched her ridiculous commercial.

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thirtiesgirl on January 19, 2011 at 12:25 am.

I’m a long time Nina Simone fan and I remember the first time I saw the new WW commercial on tv. I remember feeling mildly bothered by hearing the song in the commercial, but couldn’t really figure out why. I kept thinking, I understand why WW would pick the song, based on the lyrics… but it still doesn’t seem quite right to me. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Reading your post, I now understand why. Stripped of context, the song loses its impact (at least the impact I feel when I hear Simone sing it). I wonder what Simone would think if she saw the commercial. Sad to think that she’s not around to share her opinion on the subject any more.

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SweetAsCake on January 19, 2011 at 1:05 am.

“Feeling Good” was my favorite song for the year after I left an abusive relationship. I didn’t know its history at the time, but the meaning does come through even so in a way that makes the association with dieting irritating.

You nailed it – dieting is usually about making a concession to oppression, not overcoming it.

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Stephanie on January 19, 2011 at 4:17 am.

Thank you so much for addressing this! “Feeling Good” is one of my all-time favorite songs, and I was so upset when I saw this commercial on TV.

I was already feeling a bit sensitive when I saw this commercial; I don’t normally watch much TV, because I’m working towards a PhD in the UK (and I don’t have a TV), but when I went home for the Holidays, I was catching up on shows that I had missed watching. I was shocked by the shear number of weight loss commercials to begin with–I guess they really ramp up that type of advertising around New Year’s–but when this commercial came on, it felt like the last straw. Not only were they using one of my favorite songs for a weight-loss commercial, they also completely warped the meaning of the song until the meaning that they were trying to imply was the exact opposite of the meaning I had always perceived. It was a rather upsetting experience.

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shay on January 19, 2011 at 7:11 am.

I LOATHE this commercial everytime it comes on my roommate or myself dive for the remote to save our ears for the sounds of skinning a cat. I have heard the original song a number of times but until I was educated on ur site I realized that great song was what she was attempting to sing WOW! Anyway I’m tired of the ad, she looks great but they can have her talking instead of screaming about weight watchers. I mean it offends me soooo badly I want to write to weight watchers it SUXXXXXXX! Thanks for ur site and ur honesty ;-)

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Stacey Rea on January 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm.

Another terrific post, Lesley. You are such a talented writer and I always enjoy your blog posting. This one was especially illuminating. Nina Simone’s version of this song is so heart-wrenchingly beautiful. And to be honest I enjoyed Jennifer Hudson’s rendition too. But, I have not seen the commercial for WW yet. I hope I am not subjected to it — ever. It’s too bad WW co-opted this richly political song for promoting their weight loss products. But, I really appreciate your educating us about the song’s origins. Well done!

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smh on January 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm.

Sounds like your trying to make fat people an oppressed minority in the way black people are. Yeah… no. Jennifer Hudson is still curvy, now she just slimmed down. She’s curvy in the right places (STOMACH FAT =/= CURVY).

The commercial is about her feeling free from being a fat ass. You should try it some time. Type all the pseudo-intellectual ramble you want, you know you’d be better off at a normal, healthy weight. And you KNOW what a normal, healthy weight is. Stop playin’ lol.

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Lesley on January 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm.

Oh, how fun. You must be new!

Point the first is: I am at a normal, “healthy” weight. Point the second is: I’ll have you know my intellectual rambling is not psuedo, but is backed up by several silly bits of embossed paper for which I will be paying back student loans into my twilight years! The only thing I get from them is the ability to be a Real Live Officially-Sanctioned Intellectual Rambler, so I’ll kindly ask you not attempt to pry that tiny benefit from my fleshy fingers as they quiver with despair over the profound obesity of my debt to the federal government.

I know that the commercial is about her feeling free from being a fatass — I think I said that. As I said above, I have no opinion on Jennifer Hudson losing weight or being “curvy” (whatever the fuck that means? having tits and an ass? don’t most women have those?). It’s none of my business what Jennifer Hudson does with her body. My point is that co-opting a song historically connected with the civil rights movement is inappropriate and deeply offensive. I’m not actually the one drawing connections between racism and fatness — Weight Watchers did that. At least we can agree on how massively fucked up that is!

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smh on January 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm.

lol @ you thinking just because you read it in some college textbook it’s not pseudo-intellectual garbage. College is ground zero for that stuff.

If you were normal and healthy, you wouldn’t have those triple chins and be bigger than an NFL linebacker. That’s NOT normal and it’s NOT healthy. You don’t have to be a size 4, but humans are not meant to be in excess of 200, 300, 400+ pounds – that’s madness. Deep down, you know I’m right. It’s common freakin’ sense.

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Lesley on January 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm.

What, pray tell, counts as legitimately intellectual (i.e. non-”psuedo”) in your opinion? Unless you’re actually arguing that ALL intellectual thinking is garbage? I think you and I will have to part ways on that one, my friend.

It’s a shame you’re not a more pleasant person. I usually enjoy friendly conversations with detractors. Oh well.

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Roxie on January 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm.

Madness?

This isn’t madness.

THIS IS TWO WHOLE CAKES!

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The Real Cie on February 17, 2011 at 4:15 am.

If you weren’t a complete asshat, you wouldn’t have to troll around looking for people to insult. A rude personality is far more unappealing than a fat booty any day.

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Jami on January 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm.

You do realize not everyone can help their weight, right? A lot of women are fat because of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. One of my mom’s good friends actually has a TUMOR on her thyroid – that they cannot completely remove – she could be stranded on an island ala Tom Hanks in Castaway and STILL not lose weight.

There’s also psychological reasons. While PCOS is part of the reason I’m fat, for instance, another is because I was sexually assaulted when I was in junior high and I can’t help but think, “If I’m fat, no one will try to rape me.” Nevermind that fat women DO get raped, I just can’t get the idea out of my head that by being fat I’ll stay “safe” from being attacked ever again.

Maybe you should try picking up some books sometime and reading instead of spending too much time watching Jersey Shore.

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Sabrina on January 20, 2011 at 3:00 pm.

My thoughts EXACTLY on the celebs and WW and the exploitation of this highly socio-political song (that frankly was done much better, and with more feeling, by Nina). Thank you for posting, will be sharing on FB.

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Nancy Lebovitz on January 21, 2011 at 12:01 am.

Two more reasons to be irritated with the commercial– that is not a song for sashaying to. (00:17) The choreography is really dull. That might be a good thing– it’s bad enough that a good song is wasted on the commercial. Perhaps the less good art is used in commercials, the better.

What’s worse is that the lyrics are about the natural world, and Hudson is dancing in a blank environment.

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Sarah C. on January 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm.

I am dying with laughter at your takedown of the above commenter. If you are so opposed to the values of a particular blog, why read in the first place? I vehemently disagree with Glenn Beck and the Tea Party crowd, but I do not spend large amounts of time hanging out on their blogs and commenting because I have better things to do with my time.

I’m also slightly troubled by the idea expressed by a commenter that because she is “a member of an oppressed and marginalized group,” Jennifer Hudson has no agency or autonomy–”How much of a choice did she really have?”

I’m certainly not denying reality of racism and its persistent and pervasive effects and the way it intersects with gender and body shape, but viewing Hudson as a helpless pawn with no decision-making power of her own seems a tad paternalistic. Her choice is her choice and her business, but I do think it does represent volition and not helpless compliance.

Thanks for the careful parsing of the song’s backstory. I know the amount of time and expertise this kind of “pseudo-intellectual rambling” takes

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Roxie on January 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm.

Ever since the debut of this commercial I scream at the screen,
“THIS IS NOT WHAT NINA MEANT!!”

I’m so glad you wrote on about this. The use of this song in this way feels like an intentional betrayal to me

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GR on January 23, 2011 at 12:36 am.

What’s worse than Iggy Pop selling his best stuff to Carnival Cruises? Here it is!
Miss Nina is not merely rolling over in her grave, she is throwing Molotov cocktails!
Thanks for the background, Lesley!

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Willow on January 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm.

Lesley, I wholeheartedly agree with your dissection of this issue, but I have to say this: I have met many a person with graduate degrees (some with multiple Ph.Ds) who are still idiots despite their education. From what I have read of your writing, you do not number among these people – you come across as a bona fide intellectual – but simply having earned a college degree does not give credence to one’s writing.

I’m not attacking you, though it may sound that way. Education really does educate some people. For other people, it just gives them expensive pieces of paper to frame and hang on the wall to bolster their snooty attitudes. You have to have the frame of mind of an intellectual for any sort of formal education (provided it’s worth a damn) to help feed the fire behind your natural intellectual curiosities.

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Lesley on January 25, 2011 at 9:23 am.

Thanks for this! I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I was being sarcastic about my degrees in my comment above. I think graduate school is immensely valuable for lots of people, but it is not a sure route to wisdom, and the people whose intelligence I value most in my life rarely have a bunch of useless degrees.

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Willow on January 23, 2011 at 11:37 pm.

Oh, and I forgot to add this (just a commentary on the “this version vs. that version” aspect of this blog entry) – IMO, Nina Simone’s voice is filled with emotion and nuance; her rendition of “Feeling Good” is breathtaking and almost brought me to tears the first time I heard it. Jennifer Hudson’s voice has been Autotuned and sounds soulless; thus, her version of the song has pretty much no meaning at all to me. It doesn’t seem to matter if you can genuinely sing anymore; just belt it out and the producers will Autotune it so it sounds good, but emotionless. I don’t really listen to today’s music much; so much of it is clearly sort of “mass produced,” versus the artists with genuine talent of decades past who could not only sing, but who often wrote their own music – true musicians, in other words.

I sound like an old fogey, but music just isn’t what it used to be – Pete Droge’s “Under the Waves” has been overtaken by the Queens of Fake Talent, namely Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Miley Cirus (never could figure out why the fuck they sold so many albums in the first place).

Ah well, thanks for letting me have that bit of a rant.

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Corri on February 1, 2011 at 10:52 am.

I always love your media dissections, fat-related or not. Highly engaging.

I know it wasn’t the intended result, but I must thank you for such a powerful introduction to Nina Simone’s work. It prompted several well-spent hours downloading Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, and Nina Simone. “Pirate Jenny” = chills. I think you and Marianne Kirby are responsible for fully half of the great tunes I’ve bought lately.

Thanks!

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The Real Cie on February 17, 2011 at 4:12 am.

Nina Simone was one of those bold, brassy women who pulled no punches. I doubt that she would have given a shit what anyone thought about her body. I like Jennifer Hudson, but I have seen in her a need to please others–something which I happen to dislike in myself, mind.
I can’t really explain it but when people lose weight and jump on the “diet” bandwagon, they tend to lose the part of their personalities that made them appealing along with the weight and become bland, at least in my opinion. Rikki Lake used to be super cool back in her John Waters days. Then she lost weight and that part of her personality went by the wayside. It seems the same with Jennifer Hudson. She’s a nice enough person, but she lost the edge to her personality that made her “cool.”
I admit that I continue to try to find ways to make myself thinner, which I think is somewhat tragic. Really, we should all just stop giving a crap about it. It’s not worth the suffering that it causes.

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michael on July 26, 2011 at 10:43 am.

This was so insightful!!! My eyes have now been opened to a major problem this country has with corporate accountability. They don’t care and more so the artists (that is still to be determined with Ms. Hudson) that could give two shits about what they are pushing and how they are pushing it as long as they get those greenbacks! I have had issues with Hudson since the Oscar committee decide to punish all with the most bizarre so random decision ever in the history of Hollywood! Now we are subjected to the not only a horribly sung song, but an unjust rendition to the true origins of the original. Screw weight watchers I agree 10000000% with everyone on here and the person accountable for this disaster who has gotten exposure in the New York times for her fantastic work in turning around the brand is SVP Cheryl Calan.

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erin on August 18, 2011 at 12:34 am.

THANK YOU so so much for posting this. Every time that weight watchers commercial plays I run to the TV screaming and turn it off. I absolutely love that song and find it so horrifying that weight watchers has used it to sell body insecurity and hate. Thank you also for sharing the history behind it, I was unaware of the origins of the song aside from Nina Simone’s version.

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Frannie Zellman on August 18, 2011 at 1:00 am.

Couldn’t agree with you more about Weight Watchers’ rather dubious and shameful cooptation of Feeling Good..except that “Pirate Jenny” has a very strong and deliberate anti-capitalist message. It was written by two leftist Germans, one of whom was Jewish, who had to flee Nazi Germany soon after. “Threepenny Opera,” from which the song comes (translation of the German Die Dreigroschenoper), was actually an anti-capitalist rewriting/retelling of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (18th Century).

Nice to contemplate that the “The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd” had predecessors in its anti-capitalist, anti-cooptation message..maybe one day in the not too distant future, someone will write a wonderfully ironic musical about Weight Watchers!

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