Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The National Eating Disorder Association’s (NEDA’s) media watchdog program, which began in 1997, targets advertising that portrays unhealthy messages about body shape and size, with the understanding that such messages may contribute to the incidence of eating disorders. According to NEDA, over 50% of the protested ad campaigns have been discontinued as the result of such advocacy.
In 2002, when I first learned of, and became involved in, the campaign, I met with female students at a local university in order to get their feedback on the ad above. The promotion, for Nutri-Grain breakfast bars, features a slim, attractive woman with two cinnamon buns affixed to her rear end. You may remember similar television ads, including one, this time whose subject was male, who wore a frosted doughnut wrapped around his middle.
Aside from the obvious untruth (cinnamon buns don’t land directly on your buns, nor doughnuts on your waist, and it’s exactly this type of thinking that encourages people to seek out widely proliferated, but highly ineffective, techniques for “spot reduction”), what struck me most about this ad, and when led to the most interesting discussion at the college, was the copy, which does away with subtlety and diplomacy and instead bodes consumers to “Respect yourself in the morning.”
Lest this be unclear, eating a Nutri-Grain breakfast bar allows you to maintain your self-respect. Eating a cinnamon bun (or two), quite obviously akin to engaging in an unplanned, unladylike, orgiastic feast the night before, does not.
It’s interesting, this juxtaposition of food and morality (sprinkled with a healthy dose of sex) that seems to repeatedly be played out in our thoughts and conversations. “I was good” or “I was bad” don’t have anything to do with characterological or behavioral transgressions, but instead with what we ate. It’s not surprising that Madison Avenue caught on, recognizing that how we rate ourselves morally, and how we feel about ourselves in general, is largely tied to what we eat. Breakfast bar or cinnamon bun? Madonna or whore? You make the call. . . .