A weight loss peddler called “The Diet Chef” created an ad utilizing the tired “before and after” trope in which a thinner (and, predictably, much better dressed and groomed) woman talks to a fatter version of herself:
In the advert, the later Cheryl tells her former self: “I know how you feel; you can look that good again, you know,” and “I bought a bikini last week, for the first time since this picture.”
The former Cheryl says: “You look amazing. I never dreamed I could be that slim again.”
Viewers contacted the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to say that they’re fed up with this “weight loss as the solution” to everything bullshit:
Objecting that the advert was irresponsible for exploiting women’s body insecurities by implying that they needed to be slim to be happy.
The ASA agreed saying that the ad:
“implied that weight loss was the only solution to her problems”.
It went on: “It therefore implied that those with insecurities about their bodies, and particularly their weight, could only achieve happiness and self-confidence through weight loss.
“We therefore concluded that the ad presented a socially irresponsible approach to body image and breached the code.”
It ruled that the advert must not appear again in its current form and told Diet Chef “to ensure that their products were advertised in a socially responsible way”.
This is definitely progress and a huge step in the right direction. The problem is that there is no socially responsible way to talk about weight loss because there is no reason to believe that long-term weight loss is achievable by most people – in fact most people will lose weight short term, but almost all of them will gain the weight back long term with the majority gaining back more than they lost. Talking about the benefits of weight loss as if it’s something to be pursued is like talking about the benefits surviving a skydiving accident as if people should jump out of planes without parachutes.
The reason that so many people are confused by this is that we live in a fatphobic society that celebrates, glorifies and – for reasons often passing logic and understanding –gives weight loss the credit for basically everything. People who talk about weight loss as a positive thing will get guaranteed attention and accolades. But 2-5 years later when they’ve gained back all of their weight the media will have moved on, they will be branded a failure by those who praised them (despite the fact that what happened is a statistical near-certainty,) and they will face the choice of opting out of this harmful cycle, or starting the cycle over again. Meanwhile we’ll only have heard about the “successful” short term weight loss.
So I’m appreciating the people who took the time to contact that ASA about this ad (activism works!) and celebrating that the ASA has taken steps to be clear that happiness and self-worth are not weight (or weight-loss) dependent. Since almost nobody will be successful at weight loss long term it’s incredibly important to know that we have the option to get off the weight loss roller coaster, stop participating in harmful weight loss talk, and pursue the lives we want in the bodies we have right now.
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