I've talked many times about the fact that the media plays a H U G E role in how we see ourselves—both our bodies and our behavior. Of course, we all know the American obsession with thinness and dieting is largely influenced by the media, and that until the way women are depicted in the media changes, our collective perception of our bodies won't change either.
That's why I'm thrilled to report that General Mills pulled a Yoplait commercial last week (see video above) that makes it appear as if having an eating disorder is normal, even desirable.
In the ad, a thin woman is standing in front of a refrigerator eyeing a cheesecake with raspberries on top. She wants to have a piece but clearly feels guilty doing it, so she tries to talk herself into it by first telling herself that she's "deserves it" and that she'll have a "small slice."
But then her internal monologue goes haywire as she tells herself she can have "a medium slice and some celery sticks and they would cancel each other out" or that she could have a "large slice and jog in place while I eat it." And then finally she wonders, "how about one large slice while jogging in place while I ate celery?"
Watching this woman try to convince herself that it's all right to have a piece of cheesecake is honestly frightening.
Maybe the woman is just a good actress or maybe we're all just a little too familiar with this kind of internal justification process.
Either way, it's scary to see her longing for the cheesecake and trying to convince herself of some way it will be acceptable to eat a piece. It's kind of like watching a healthy person descend into the land of lunacy. No, she's not completely nuts, but she's going to a place that is not healthy or happy, which is what makes it so hard to witness.
And this is the reason why the National Eating Disorders Association complained about the ad, saying that it "felt like a 20-second look at the mind of somebody with an eating disorder."*
Jenni Schaefer, author of Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life, added that "a commercial showing a thin person anxiously doing mental gymnastics in order to justify eating dessert—and then denying herself the treat because she wants to be even thinner—could reinforce the idea that such deliberations are healthy and normal,"* and I completely agree that's what makes the commercial so problematic.
Not only does the ad seem to make light of this woman's eating disorder in order to sell yogurt, it also models that behavior for viewers, which is exactly what we don't want our commercials to do.
Schaefer adds that an eating disorder "often starts with that voice in your head saying 'Eat this but not that... The commercial just reinforced that voice. It made that inner dialogue look normal. It let you think, 'I'm okay. I do the same thing.' But that's not normal. You don't have to open that refrigerator and hear that voice."*
Not only does the ad normalize this unhealthy justification process, it also reinforces the message that thin is better by showing this woman complimenting an even thinner woman on her body. The message is clearly that thinner = better, which is one we get far too often on our television and movie screens.
General Mills ultimately apologized and removed the ad from the airwaves.
I have to say I'm thrilled General Mills didn't try to rationalize their depiction of a woman clearly struggling to maintain a healthy attitude about eating, and I'm equally pleased that they pulled the ad without hesitation. I like it when someone, or in this case something, accepts responsibility for its actions. I'm not even unhappy that the ad is probably getting more air time now than it would have without this controversy because it gives people an opportunity to talk about why this message is so unfortunate.
In fact, if every corporation was as conscientious as General Mills, then maybe none of us would ever engage in this kind of unhealthy behavior again.
I'm allowed to fantasize, right?