Irresponsible Advertising: Preying on body image

CW: eating disorders, discussion of body image

From the Bruegger’s website

In high school, I ate Bruegger’s Bagels like it was my job. Friday mornings were for siracha, egg and cheese bagels and taking a breather before inevitably hectic days full of meetings, classes and practices began. I noticed then that they had an option to make their bagels “skinny” but never gave it much thought beyond the odd, “who would want less bagel?!” 

Last weekend I found myself craving a bagel and nothing could satisfy that itch quite like a Bruegger’s run. But as I was ordering, I noticed that Bruegger’s seems to have expanded their “skinny” options. Or at least ramped up the advertisement for those options. 

Looking up at the menu made my skin crawl. 

Plenty of people want less caloric options at their favorite restaurants but calling it a “skinny” option? That’s irresponsible advertising. 

Studies have shown that only about a quarter of men and women are satisfied with their bodies. Almost everyone has something big or small that they would like to change about their body. This can lead to a fixation on dieting, working out excessively or purging. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders ,30 million people in the US are dealing with eating disorders. That’s almost ten percent of the entire US population. 

But despite society clearly struggling with body image, Bruegger’s Bagels presents their lower calorie option as “skinny,” a word that is steeped in preconceived notions and internal and external biases that are hard to understand. At their core, the words “skinny” and “fat” have absolutely nothing to do with health. They are both descriptive words that have been consistently misrepresented and manipulated in public to convince people to buy the latest diet book, gym membership or gimmicky product. 

The Cheesecake Factory online “Skinnylicious” cocktail menu

I can’t just let Bruegger’s take the fall for this one though. The Cheesecake Factory also uses “skinny” as a marketing tactic. They’ve even copyrighted their lower-calorie menu option: Skinnylicious. This menu even includes cocktail options that are just regular cocktails with the word skinny thrown in front of the cocktail name.

Then there are companies like FlatTummyCo. Much worse than just calling low-calorie options skinny, they exist to sell “detox” teas and appetite suppressant lollipops. And even worse, people like Kim Kardashian promote them on Instagram to tens of millions of followers. 

It’s endlessly frustrating to see companies and people perpetuate and take advantage of the public’s mental health. As consumers, it is important we call companies out and hold them responsible. 

Just seeing an option being called “skinny” can make a person question everything. Is what they are ordering now inherently unhealthy? Is this the only place they can go if they want said product with fewer calories? Are they making the wrong decision? 

The simple answer? No. But it isn’t simple. 

It may seem silly but just seeing an option being promoted as “skinny” really can affect someone that much, even if they aren’t already struggling with their body image. 

The issue of body positivity can’t and won’t be fixed by just removing the word “skinny” from a menu but it’s certainly not a bad place to start. People are going to struggle with how they perceive themselves and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it. Let people choose the lowest calorie option or the highest calorie option without being chastised by menu messaging. Cater to everyone without calling them out. 

Irresponsible advertising is found everywhere and a lot of times is intentional. Everyone is groomed by media to be on the chase for the younger, hotter, skinnier version of themselves. It’s not just the food industry, it’s the fashion industry and it’s in the general underrepresentation of all types of bodies in almost all media.

And there is no easy fix. Just diversifying body sizes in ads won’t fix the issue. If companies advertise inclusivity, they need to consistently make their products cater to everyone. No more ad campaigns that showcase a curvy model without actually making products in higher sizes. Inclusivity cannot and should not be a cash grab. 

I often describe the media ethics course I took my junior year of college to be a 16-week lesson in not being a shitty person. And since corporations are pretty much people in the eyes of the law I would like to take a moment to look Bruegger’s, The Cheesecake Factory, Flat Tummy Co, Everlane and almost every other company and corporation in the eyes and say, “Don’t be shitty people.” 

Note: If you want more information about the media’s influence on body image, the documentary series “Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women” is a pretty good place to start.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, information can be found at https://anad.org/our-services/ or call the eating disorders helpline at 630-577-1330

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