Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yoplait's Pulled Ad

Recently, Yoplait agreed to pull one of its ads after the National Eating Disorder Association raised concerns that it triggered and encouraged disordered eating. I'm sure plenty of you have seen it, it's the one where a perfectly slender woman is standing in front of a fridge trying to justify eating a piece of cheesecake (saying she'll only have a little, exercise it off, she's been a "good girl," etc.), and another slender woman pulls out some cheesecake yogurt, saying that she's been waiting for it all day.

I first heard about this on the Huffington Post, where the comments were mostly from people who thought the whole thing was ridiculous. No, not the commercial, the fact that it was pulled. People were being "too sensitive," "every woman does that," just because it hurts a few people doesn't mean it shouldn't be shown, and my least favorite, "maybe more women should do that."

Why yes, many women do go through that thought process. Many women do obsess over what they eat; it's taken for granted as a part of womanhood. But it's also disordered eating. Just because an unhealthy relationship with food is normal doesn't make it any healthier.

The fact is, Yoplait and other food companies both prey on women with that mindset, and they encourage it in other women in order to sell their products. You see it in other commercials, like the ads where a woman wrestles with her dessert cravings, only to instead chew a stick of gum. There are ads for low-calorie desserts that say "hey look, now you can eat [cookies/ice cream/cake/pudding/whatever the fuck else] and STILL be a good girl!" as if "good girls" don't typically eat those foods.

I'll be honest, that was a big part of how I developed a disordered relationship with food a couple years ago. It wasn't that I wanted to look like a supermodel, but that I was bombarded with media messages - in commercials as well as "healthy eating" articles in magazines - that encouraged me to obsessively restrict my diet in the name of "health." Even WebMD had me convinced that any fat on my stomach was bad for me and that I needed to lose weight. For the record, I was 115 lbs at the time, smack dab in the middle of the healthy weight range for my height according to the BMI scale - which is a bullshit method anyway.

That's another major problem, people - mostly women, but men as well - assign morality to eating behaviors. Who hasn't wondered if they should be "good" and get a salad or "naughty" and eat real food. Let's be real, a bowl of lettuce is a good side dish but is hardly enough sustenance to be considered a meal, unless it comes with a decent amount of grilled chicken. People also tend to sexualize women's indulgence in certain food, namely chocolate - the idea is that it's "bad," but it's soooo good. Thinking about food in terms of morality is not healthy.

And yes, this country has an obesity problem. The problem comes from our culture of extremes, where we have this one limited idea of what a "healthy lifestyle" is, and it's not really appealing to most people, so many people decide being healthy isn't even worth trying. The answer isn't to encourage more people to obsess over what they eat and develop disordered eating habits, but to assure people that moderation is okay, that there are ways to exercise that are actually fun.

I hope this sets a precedent, and that other companies will reconsider using such a harmful method of advertising to market their products. And I hope that we find a way to empower women to, at least once in a while, eat the damn cake.

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