Slimful or Sinful?

It is no secret that women in America are under extreme pressure to be slim. Products like Slim-Fast, QuickTrim, and Hydroxycut are just a few examples of what women are buying to live up to this cultural expectation. I’ve seen these items and have simply written them off as another weight loss scheme. Nothing about them really struck me as odd, or even unhealthy. However, the other day I heard a commercial that made my jaw hit the floor. That commercial was for Slimful. Take a look for yourself.

I honestly thought it was a parody commercial that was making fun of how idiotic some products are, but, oh, how wrong I was! I immediately began researching this product to see if it was really as ridiculous as it sounded. The commercial ends with the statement “eating less is a beautiful thing,” and this is exactly what the product promises and promotes. The idea is simple: eat a Slimful chew, drink a glass of water, and you won’t be hungry for hours.

skinnyThere is no mention of combining the product with an exercise program or a healthy diet. The website does say that the idea is to eat less, not to stop eating at all. However, it is no secret that many girls and women struggle daily with eating disorders. What message is a commercial like this sending to those struggling with anorexia or bulimia? It sounds an awful lot like encouragement to me. The commercial blatantly says it is not only okay to eat less but that actually it is a beautiful thing to eat less.  Looking at this advertising campaign from a health communication perspective, it becomes increasingly hard to ignore how dangerous a commercial and product like this could be. In advertising, the meaning of the message is often defined by the audience receiving it. Ignoring the impression this commercial could make on someone struggling with an eating disorder is heinous. The campaign helps to perpetuate the idea that thinness, and therefore frailty is beautiful in women, not strength. The commercial also further extends the idea that eating less, rather than doing more is the way to achieve a desired weight or look.

Advertisements like this are just one of the many factors that play a large role in the creation of the cultural expectations women are held to. The rise of social media sites such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, have accelerated the spread of these unrealistic expectations to a new level. Media still sets the tone for cultural stereotypes, but social networking sites have the power to expand and develop them unlike any tool in the past. Individuals are able to chime in with their opinions and like-minded groups begin to form.

What troubles me the most about this advertising campaign is the life it could potentially take on in the Pro-Anorexia (Pro-Ana), and Pro-Bulimia (Pro-Mia) social media communities. This article from the Huffington Post begins to explain the debate currently happening on Twitter and in these online communities. The hashtags “#proana” and “#promia” are used on Twitter to indicate support and encouragement for those with eating disorders. These hashtags raise concerns because often the users are not trying to help each other beat the disease but rather they exchange advice on how to become a more “successful” anorexic or bulimic. As the article explains, this is truly a complicated issue. Some people are callingpinterest warning for a ban on this type of communication and support. Tumblr and Pinterest, which are largely centered around visual content, have already begun to take steps to slow down the spread of Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia content. However, censoring Twitter content quickly brings up arguments over the first amendment which will slow down any ban decisions in progress.

Additionally, as this article from the New York Daily News discusses, some people argue that these communities can actually provide support for girls trying to recover. This argument grew out of a study published in Health Communication. The study interviewed bloggers that write for Pro-Ana websites. The bloggers explained that the online communities provide a place where they can be understood. Eating disorders are a stigmatized illness that can often lead to feelings of isolation. If these online communities can provide emotional support for those suffering from an eating disorder that is unavailable elsewhere, how can destroying them be justified?

The Slimful commercial was released only a month ago and hasn’t received much attention yet. Only time will tell if the results will be as detrimental as one may imagine. There is no simple answer to the questions I’ve raised in this post. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. It seems that more vicious circles are being created as social media continues to evolve, and this could be just the beginning.

Alexandra Huss

16 thoughts on “Slimful or Sinful?

  1. Wow. Great artifact and very good read on the issues raised. Two thoughts came to mind as I read your post and looked at ad. First, they have what many unhealthy people and products do which is appeal to opposing weaknesses. Note the language of indulgence with “sinfully delicious” while marketing themselves as a product to assist in self discipline and restraint. Second, while the ad may arouse the wrath of enlightened viewers, it will likely sound logical and all too familar to most American consumers because of what is sometimes referred to as “overdetermination.” This is a concept from early cultural studies that tries to capture the cumulative effect of so many similar messages from so many different sources. Models, sitcome wives, biggest loser, and on and on all say weight is the enemy and to be slender for him, for them, for you and mostly for you because of the way he and them will look at you. So this will seem more like an affirmation of “common sense” (ideology) than an affront to it. But that’s why it is so important for college student to learn both critical perspectives and praxis so you can change the world while working in it.

  2. Wow. After reading this post I found myself feeling very disturbed and uneasy. As a woman I know that the majority of all weight loss products are targeted for individuals like myself who lead a busy lifestyle and are looking to be healthy at the same time. However, there is nothing healthy about eating less. It is very apparent that advertisers are only seeing dollar signs and not the fact that they are encouraging individuals, specifically women, that it is acceptable to not get the nutrients that they need. Does the company provide any information about what is in these “Slimful” bars? Do they have any testimonies reviews? As far as the social media aspect of this topic I think these groups are abusing their rights. I realize that what I just said is a very bold statement but social media can be a blessing and a curse and in this case it is a curse.

    I really appreciate and value your honesty within this post. I agree with Dr. Olsen’s statement about how important it is for college students to learn critical perspectives and praxis so we can change the world because this post is right on target with that! If we do not question what is being presented in front of us then what kind of consumers are we being? Well done, Lexie!

  3. Thank you both for your comments! I do agree, Dr. Olsen, that one of the most important values we can learn as COM students is that we have the power and education necessary to influence the world we live in for the better. The concept of overdetermination in relation to those suffering from eating disorders is interesting. I do not doubt that the perpetual waves of “thinspiration” messages make it all the more difficult for girls and women suffering with eating disorders to find the desire to try and recover.

    Caroline – the company does provide information as to how it works but I am not sure of what the chew actually contains. I did search for testimonials and reviews but there wasn’t much available. I think this is because the product is still new, I’m curious to see how the public responds. I do see what you mean when you say the groups are abusing their rights by forming these groups on social media. By creating these pro-ana groups, there is a chance groups concerning eating disorders could be banned all together. Banning groups based around eating disorders isn’t fair because some people are finding solace in discussing their struggle with people going through the same thing. The issue is just so complicated because even if the group’s intention is to provide support for those recovering, the content could still be used in ways other than intended. I’ll stop now because I fear I am drawing another vicious circle! Thank you for reading and commenting!

  4. I hate how much the ignorance of this commercial comes of no surprise to me. On the off chance that I have time to sit down and watch TV, I am bombarded with a mass of commercials centered on diets/products that enhance weight loss. An even more disconcerting realization is that weight loss brands are almost targeting younger generations. When I watch MTV, for example, commercials alternate between MTV shows/products and then weight loss products. Xenadrine, a weight loss pill, was a commercial that I remember having to sit through several times while watching MTV, and it was most distinct because the spokespersons were Ronnie and Sammie from MTV’s hit show “Jersey Shore.” It’s a fact that these people will be most identifiable with the teens/young adults that watch this show, so this is a prime example of a product targeting what I consider to be a highly inappropriate audience.
    I do understand that is it important, especially at a young age, to learn that exercise and healthy eating are pivotal to a long, healthy life, but I’m a firm believer that it’s these unnatural pills and products that will actually send us to the grave faster. My generation is growing up in an era of speed and convenience, we want things as soon as possible and we want to do as little effort to get them. Through the increasing amount of weight loss products/advertisements/sentiments circulating in our media, we are slowly creating the misconception that health can be conveniently achieved with little effort. Bodies don’t adapt to these physiological shortcuts that pills may provide and I do believe the repercussions will eventually show up with age. I hope that within my life time there will be a shift in societies “thin ideal” to a “healthy ideal” where people are active, eat well, and take time to enjoy life too and always have a little splurge.

  5. The commercial in this article was not only shocking but disturbing. As a healthy, normal sized girl who eats well and exercises regularly I was even offended by the commercial. The last sentence the girl says “Eating less is a beautiful thing” has got to be a joke. First of all, eating less is not a beautiful thing. Second, I have had friends that had eating disorders and a commercial like this is the reason girls feel like they need to be skinny and eat less. Third, the product “Slimful” may be intended for those who are overweight and trying to eat less, but the commercial makes every girl feel like they are suppose to eat less, even the ones who do not need to. After watching the commercial I almost felt as if I was not suppose to be eating as much as I do. Commercials advertisements like this should not be allowed to fill the media.

  6. I have been hearing about “full bars” for about a year now and I just see it as another hoax to weight loss. If anything, I feel that these types of foods shouldn’t be replacing a meal but serving as a snack. People abuse them are using them the wrong way. What I don’t get it why can’t people just stick to natural/healthy foods instead of resorting to a bar full of ingredients that you couldn’t even define. It is about what they promote and promise to their consumers that if you eat this you will lose weight, be skinny, and have a happier life. I like how you point out how Slimfuls commercial almost sounding like it is encouraging the people who are already struggling with eating disorders. It is not okay to skip meals and eat just a full bar; there is no beneficial nutrition whatsoever. I don’t use Twitter and the reason for that is because honestly, I never hear anything good come from it. I am unaware of these hashtags symbolizing eating disorders (#proana and #promia) and quite frankly I am not surprised. They speak nothing more than of supporting females or males with these deadly illnesses. Media has taken skinny way too far and the obsession in this country to look a certain way is disheartening. Great artifact and research!

  7. I think that advertisements such as this are ones where it truly needs to be analyzed whether the communication you put out there is ethical or not. The guidelines of how much you do need to eat to maintain a nutritious diet are just assumed to be known by the viewers of this commercial. When in reality, people who are susceptible to eating disorders or have a harsh body image in mind don’t realize that they are not getting the nutrition they need, ads such as this tell them they are doing the perfect thing by eating less. I think that although social media can be a place for people experiencing eating disorders to form support groups, I definitely agree that they somewhat encourage the behavior as well. Another hash tag I see that encourages this is “thinspiration”, with pictures that show how thin someone wishes to become. These images can be quite extreme. It is definitely something that society needs to pay more attention to.

  8. Thank you all for your comments! I am glad to see that I am not alone in worrying about the ethics of this commercial.

    Briana, I wouldn’t go as far to say that nothing good has come from Twitter. For example, many charities have been able to raise awareness for their causes by using hashtags. If you are interested in pursuing advertising, marketing, or public relations as a career I wouldn’t disregard the influence Twitter can have (positive or negative).

  9. After watching this commercial I was also completely shocked. It is unbelievable to think that companies actually promote these kinds of products without even thinking about impact it can have on the public. Like you mentioned, what kind of message are they trying to send out to people, particularly young women who have weight-loss issues. The company’s logo is obviously “eating less is beautiful,” but in literally the meaning behind it is more like “starving yourself is the solution to weight loss”. I am not use if the company is even aware of the health complications this can have on a person. The average person needs to consume about 2,000 carioles a day; however, this product is telling person they should only eat 90 calories for the next few hours! This is totally unhealthy and can lead to more serve health problems.

    It was mentioned that this commercial has only been out for about a month; however, the saddest part is there are people out there that WILL buy into this. This actually remembers me of the weight loss product “Sensa” – how ridiculous is that! I can see how it can work on “healthy foods,” but definitely not on French fries and burgers. The reality is that Americans are lazy when it comes to exercising and making healthy food choices; therefore, they will invest in pretty much any weight loss product in order to avoid doing physical activity. If America does not react now we could literally end up like the fatties from Disney’s animation Wall-E moving around in power-electric chairs.

  10. The comment about how eating less is beautiful stems from the “halo effect” that our society has come to accept in many ways. We tend to believe that people who are generally good looking possess positive character traits, while at the same time assigning negative character traits to those who are unattractive or physically deformed. For example, we tend to identify people who display a good physique as moral, because of their apparent self control over what they eat and the discipline it must take to maintain that body image. On the other side, we see people who are overweight and automatically characterize them as lazy, weak, out of control, and even inherently immoral. Our society demonizes excess body fat, so this mantra that eating less is beautiful captures this idea of self control and self discipline. This Slimful product is practically screaming the need for self control, since it claims to curve hunger and cause consumers to eat less. That’s the driving force behind these diet craze messages. If you can’t discipline yourself to exercise or control your own food portions, then use this product to help do it for you.

  11. I actually saw this commercial and thought it was a parody as well. And as people stated before the sad part is that people WILL buy into this because of the advertisement. As many people who are more informed will know that this is not something that is healthy or good to do. Eating less is NOT a beautiful thing, that’s like endorsing girls to not eat anything. Nice. As others stated it didn’t really surprise me in a way because there are so many ridiculous advertisements out there that people still fall for just because of what they promise and make sound good at that moment in time.

  12. Wow. I am in shock that an advertiser would stoop so low as to say that “Eating less is a beautiful thing.” This brings up the question of boundaries- when do we, as a society, know when to draw the line? Are we more concerned with making money, even though we know that it might put someone’s life at risk? I know I am maybe making things a bit dramatic, but as someone who has once struggled with an eating disorder, I know the effects this commercial can have. Seeing this commercial would reaffirm my beliefs that eating less is okay, and that television agrees it is actually beautiful.

    Also, call me pessimistic, but I don’t believe that censoring twitter will do much good. If someone wants to look up pro anorexia or bulimia websites, they will do so, no matter if it’s on twitter or not. There will always be pro-ana websites out there, but it is our job to try to convince society that being super skinny is not beautiful. Ads like the one above are doing nothing but making our culture take a step backwards.

  13. This advertisement was extremely shocking and disturbing to me as it was to many. However, this wasn’t the first weight loss product that upset me. The first product that came to mind was Sensa. Basically all you have to do is shake this salt-like substance on your food and you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. That’s not healthy, its all about moderation and none of these weight loss products seem to advertise this. It comes to the advertising issue of whether its more important to present something that is harmful or to just focus on selling the product. How can someone advertise something with the thought “eating less is beautiful” when there are obvious issues with eating in today’s society? People want a quick fix or an easy solution and it just brings to my attention how lazy we as Americans are. We need to quit being lazy and work for what we want rather than put our money into these products. Especially ones that promote things such as pro-ana and pro-mia. The spread of these things are so much easier thanks to social media but I don’t think that it is solely social medias fault.

  14. That is a terrible commercial. I haven’t seen it personally, but it just seems awful. I am learning how difficult it must be to be in charge of marketing/advertising at a company, because yes everyone wants to make money, and you do have to consider a lot of people and unique experiences/viewpoints to be able to predict what kind of reaction a commercial will get. But even still, it’s not like anorexia or bulimia is an elite, unknown group in America. It seems like, especially with an ad campaign as blunt as that one, someone would have picked up on how an anorexic person would have percieved that advertisement. It’s also interesting to realize that there are no commercials like this catered to guys, not really. Ax body spray has some pretty bad ads, but I don’t think those are as triggering as this one could potentially be. I wonder what will come of this ad in the future, and if the creators will realize their mistake.

  15. As I read through your blog post I found myself to feel more and more disturbed, as I imagine many other people felt as well. You brought to light many things I have never heard of before, the first being this Slimful bar. The commericial is a bit ridiculous to me…I also thought it might have been a joke, but sadly it is real. The ending statement, “eating less is a beautiful thing” is borderline crazy (in my opinion) to put in a commerical that is available for anyone to see. Like you mentioned, I feel that those with eating disorders would see this as encouragement and maybe even make them feel like what they do is fine. The commercial also surely has the potential to sway people’s opinion on eating, maybe this is the one thing that pushes person A over the edge into a new eating disorder. On top of all of that, of course the commerical features a female who is pretty much skin and bones, and portrays her to be the ideal and beautiful female. Obviously, I do not agree with the message this ad gives off.

    Futher down in your post you also enlightened me to the ProAna and ProMia social media communities. It came as a shock to me that such things existed. What came as even more of a shock to me was when I did some research and actually looked at what some of these websites have to say. Many sites post pictures of “thinsporation” to help people lose weight, these pictures are of girls who look like they walked straight out of a concentration camp. Some sites offered tips of how to avoid eating. They were so ridiculous that I have to share two that I came across,
    1. Wear a rubber band on your wrist, and whenever you’re tempted or go to get something to eat, snap it on your wrist, you won’t be tempted for long.
    2. Hit your stomach when it grumbles, it stops it making a sound and your stomach will hurt too much too eat.
    These are ridiculous. What I’m trying to say here is eating disorders are extremely sad and unhealthy and they should not be encouraged. The Slimful commercial seems to be quite controversial in relation to eating disorders. Thank you for sharing this!

  16. Before watching the ad I thought I probably misinterpreted or misunderstood what I was reading in this blog. However, after watching it, I could not believe that was actually true!! I felt very impressed and shocked about how we still could have this kind of advertisements, which are harmful for health. I believe it should be some regulations for ads, because I am sure many teenage girls have watched the video and are convinced that that product is good for them. And more if it is sold in a popular place; Walgreens. I think one of the most important issues about advertisements (positive and negatives) is that they spread fast along the entire globe. Now that we live in a digital era, (where information is transmitted and is accessible for almost everyone and everywhere), I think that there should be more control about what kind of ads are presented in the media. As I watched in a movie called, “The Greatest movie ever sold”, we can only avoid media when sleeping. Therefore, we need to be aware about the influence of these advertisements in our lives in order to have control about them and not let them controlling us. In this case, I think teenagers are the most vulnerable to this kind of harmful persuasion.

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