Stop assuming all women hate their bodies

I feel a little sorry for modern-day advertisers.  I can easily imagine them sitting in a cavernous boardroom across from the brand managers at a table made of teak or mahogany or some other rich person wood. Then the word comes up that they’ve been dreading – ‘viral’. It’s now not enough to make an ad that is clever or informative or funny or persuasive, it’s only worthwhile if it gets thousands of reposts tagged with ‘#truedat’.

When you watch a campaign like The Mimi Foundation’s recent heart warmer to surprise people with cancer or Pro Infirmis’s wonderful initiative to make mannequins in the likeness of people with disabilities, you can’t help but get a little teary over the joyousness on display in these videos. But it can go dreadfully wrong when big brands follow the lead of these smaller not-for-profit charities and try to create a similarly inspirational marketing push.

All of which leads us to Special K’s latest advertising stunt, brought to you by the letter K for ‘kinda konfusing’. It’s a rather transparent attempt to try to jump on the faux ‘empowerment’ bandwagon much like Dove has (Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches video from earlier this year currently sits on sixty million views on YouTube).

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In the video titled ‘Shhhhut Down Fat Talk’ Special K reveal they’ve decided to fight the ‘fat talk’ (when women complain about looking or feeling fat) that a reported 93 per cent of women do by filling a boutique full of clothes labelled with derogatory comments women have made about their bodies on social media. And then they stick a bunch of women in there, who suddenly realise gee golly gosh, they’re all guilty of bullying themselves with fat talk. Lucky a cereal brand was there to suddenly make them self aware, right? Whatever happened to a cereal being marketed because it’s delicious – why does it suddenly have to be about saving women from themselves?

This campaign is a cynical, hypocritical mess. Let’s recap, to remind women they are beautiful, Special K filled a room full of mean comments?  There’s also the obvious problem that Special K consistently brands their product as a diet cereal. Now, they cleverly never use the word diet (the level of double speak in their marketing material is positively Orwellian), but their website says how their products can ‘help you manage your weight’ and there’s even a BMI calculator on there. And right there in the video, the narrator says fat talk is “a barrier to managing their weight” for women.

So Special K want to get rid of fat talk while telling women they need to manage their weight? Basically the message is don’t talk about feeling fat, but keep eating our breakfast flakes so you don’t actually get fat. Fat talk is obviously corrosive, but what contributes to it is a society that puts pressure on women to conform to a certain acceptable shape – just like Special K promotes.

The other issue that makes this ad campaign ring such a hollow note is that it comes from an explicitly stated viewpoint that all women (93 per cent fat talk according to their vid) dislike their bodies. Now I’m not sure if I’m surrounded by women with preternaturally buoyant self esteem, but most of my friends don’t fall into this Cathy ‘Ack! My thighs!’ stereotype of womanhood – they’re much too busy having actual interests. Special K’s advertisement just reinforces the idea that hating our bodies is supposedly the default psychological state of the majority of women – not exactly a healthy perspective to be endorsing.

Interestingly I read the 2011 paper from Rachel H. Salk and Renee Engeln-Maddox that the 93 per cent figure was lifted from, and it’s very misleadingly framed within the video. When the study defines engaging in fat talk that can mean someone says to you “I’m fat” and you answer “No, you’re not” and bam! – you’ve engaged in fat talk, despite the fact you might not think or care that you’re fat or if anyone else is.

In the study, it instead said 36 per cent of women rarely engage in fat talk when rating their own frequency of fat talk – but that’s not quite such a catchy statistic to quote. And the study found BMI is not related to how commonly women engage in fat talk, so I’m not sure why Special K chose to frame it as being a problem related to ‘managing your weight’, as opposed to just a psychologically exhausting and saddening state of mind.

Know what has been found to be correlated to body dissatisfaction? Dieting. So if the brand was really interested in curbing body dissatisfaction they should stop shilling eating and exercise plans along with their breakfast foods.

Special K’s message is that you should stop saying bad things about your body being fat, while simultaneously purchasing their cereal so you can “manage your weight”. The dissonance between the campaign and what is being sold is just staggering to behold. I’m sorry, Special K, but you don’t get to have your low-GI high-protein cereal and eat it too.

 

9 comments

  • Agreed. After 13 years of off-on dieting, I have had enough. If I want the chocolate, I'm going to eat the bloody chocolate!

    'Dieting' has been replaced by concepts such as, 'healthy eating plan', 'detoxing' and 'fasting'.

    We sometimes speak badly about ourselves to ourselves. The answer is not to eat Special K; it's to nip that kind of self-talk in the bud and be kinder to ourselves. Self-love FTW.

    Commenter
    grooviechickie
    Date and time
    December 13, 2013, 9:47AM
    • "'Dieting' has been replaced by concepts such as, 'healthy eating plan', 'detoxing' and 'fasting'."

      Responding to what you have put in quotes:

      (1) "Dieting" is often code for "look at my for-profit Web site - you can buy lots of books and other products there". Usually there is not a scrap of peer-reviewed evidence that those products are of any health benefit.

      (2) "Detoxing" - this is pseudo-science, same as (1).

      (3) "Fasting" - same as (1) and (2).

      (4) "Healthy eating plan" - these are good. An Accredited Practising Dietitian is an evidence-based health professional who can offer advice about eating in a healthy way - you can find one here: http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/find-an-apd/what-is-an-accredited-practising-dietitian/ .

      Commenter
      Dr Kiwi
      Date and time
      December 13, 2013, 3:44PM
  • I actually think this is a positive message even if the source is a tad questionable. while i don't buy into the whole "all women hate their bodies" many do engage in negative conversations about their appearance which only inhibits their ability to be healthy and happy. I've personally lost count of how many times I've listened to a girl who is a size 8 talk about her "fat thighs" or "pot belly". its total bollocks and i'm sure deep down they know that but it creates such a negative outlook that cannot be healthy.

    a better message might be attempting to change the rhetoric around body image from "fat or skinny" to "healthy or unhealthy". though whether the best person to convey this a cereal company i'm a tad doubtful...

    Commenter
    Chloe
    Date and time
    December 13, 2013, 10:13AM
    • Advertising industry makes women feel sh&t about their bodies every day; advertising industry blames women for their consequent insecurities then sells them a cereal that will help them feel better. No Special K for me, thanks.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 13, 2013, 10:30AM
      • Given Special K is loaded with sugar and empty carbs, the idea that they'd be part of a weight loss programme is bizarre. It's junk cereal, and no amount of 'positioning' changes the contents of the pack. To anyone who buys this stuff, check the label, you'll be amazed at the sugar content.

        Commenter
        Faniya
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        December 13, 2013, 2:01PM
    • "Know what has been found to be correlated to body dissatisfaction? Dieting. So if the brand was really interested in curbing body dissatisfaction they should stop shilling eating and exercise plans along with their breakfast foods."
      Did you even read the paper you linked in this statement? From the opening paragraph:

      'Although dieters did not have more stringent standards for body shape than nondieters, there was a larger discrepancy between ideal and current shape for dieters owing to their greater body weights.'
      As in, people on diets are likely to be fatter than those who do not go on diets. They are on a diet because they are (probably justifiably) dissatisfied with their body, not the other way around.

      Commenter
      Markus
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      December 13, 2013, 10:32AM
      • Perhaps the message Special K is tryingto put out is not "don’t talk about feeling fat, but keep eating our breakfast flakes so you don’t actually get fat" but instead to actually eat healthily? The very simple fact is that more than half of all adult Australians are obese or overweight, but everytime it's talked about you get accused of fat-shaming people.

        If 36% of women rarely engage in fat talk when rating their own frequency of doing so then that means that 64% of women do so more frequently. Which is actually just shy of two thirds of women, which is a majority of the female population. So pretty clearly a lot of women do talk about whether they feel fat or not, and so they should (as should males) given that so many of us are overweight and unhealthily so. As long as the debate is about their health rather than just whether they look/feel/are fat then it's agood thing, that way we might actually get the epidemic of obesity under control.

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        December 13, 2013, 11:21AM
        • All this not talking about how fat I am has made me subliminally hungry for burgers. A bit like all the healthy beautiful people on my television gulping down fried chook and pizza then washing it down with a bucket of soft drink. "Does my bum look big in this" should be replaced with "If I was in a television commercial would my bum look Just Right in this?'
          I should be in advertising...

          Commenter
          mutt
          Date and time
          December 13, 2013, 11:44AM
          • On a more positive note, how awesome is this Pantene ad from Singapore?

            http://business.time.com/2013/12/10/pantene-powerfully-breaks-down-every-sexist-workplace-stereotype-in-one-ad/

            Very rare that an ad actually sends women a positive message without using it as a bludgeon, but this is masterful!

            Commenter
            Red Pony
            Date and time
            December 13, 2013, 12:02PM
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