I wrote about the Yoplait commercial that was pulled from the air a few weeks ago in a post that had some hope for a change of tune for the company. It seemed that given the outcry – from media critics to the National Eating Disorder Association – Yoplait understood that their presentation of an anxious and panicked woman weighing whether or not she was “good” enough to eat a piece of cake and how many pieces of celery she would punish herself with in return for this ghastly ingestion was both triggering and normalizing. Triggering for people who may have experienced battles with eating disorders in the past, and normalizing for those who may be on the cusp of such a struggle, ensuring them that their mental calculations and rewards were right on par with the rest of America’s women. I also saw the danger in the potential of the commercial subtly instructing young women that this kind of anguish over food was what they had to expect and look forward to in their future, thereby setting them up for young failure. (I want to note that I am not excluding this commercial’s impact on the men who suffer from eating disorders, I am emphasizing women here because of the construct of the commercial and the genders of those who were featured in it.) I’ve also discussed advertising’s effect on behavior elsewhere, and I think this post addresses some of my previously articulated concerns.
However. I fear I wrote with hope a bit too soon. Another of Yoplait’s popular commercials smacks me between the eyes every couple of days, and while it’s certainly not as yougottabekiddingme as the one with the celery champion, there is still a real issue here:
Classifying some foods as “good” and vilifying others as “bad” sets one up for failure in a most beautifully orchestrated series of events. Certain foods may be healthier for you than others, but like most things, foods do not carry with them an innate characteristic of innocence or evil. In giving foods these kind of descriptions, they take on anthropomorphic identities that make it easy for one to associate with themselves. If cake = bad, and I consume cake, then I have consumed bad, ergo me = bad. Cake isn’t “bad.” It’s sweet. Sometimes sugary, sometimes tart. Sometimes in cup form. It isn’t “bad.”
And of course, you will eat cake at some point. Or a cookie, a brownie, a pie, pick your pleasure. If you don’t like sweets but are trying to calorie cut like a pageant contestant, perhaps it will be bread, or all carbs, or any drink other than water. Trying to eliminate the consumption of something either enjoyable (cake) or necessary (you know, food in general), the abstinence of which upon you have hinged your self-worth, leads you down a dark path resulting in you equating yourself with a monster when all you did was have some dessert.
While I noted above that men also suffer from eating disorders (they comprise about 10% of eating disorder cases), this commercial also does nothing to fight and everything to reiterate one of our oldest gender stereotypes. A woman obsessing over food and calorie counts and thinking herself to be deserving of punishment if she fails the arbitrary, socially sanctioned test of true character – resisting cake and losing weight! The fact that someone as talented as Jennifer Hudson recently articulated that her weight loss was more of an accomplishment than her Oscar shows just how far the socialization of this absurd test of character has gone for women and girls. Making the resistance of a slice of sheet cake the high point of one’s day (or the accomplishment of your life) really diminishes the much more astonishing achievements one is capable of.
Losing weight can be a healthy goal for a lot of people if they are at risk for complications like diabetes, heart disease, or high blood-pressure. But it isn’t everything – which is what most media messages seem to think it should be. If you’re trying to lose weight, talk to your physician about nutritional guidelines and an exercise plan. And first, clarify if you need to lose weight at all. I suspect that many of you don’t, but have been informed by a bear sheriff that you do not meet the specifications of his ideal woman.