Thinness and Other Forms of Heresy

A couple months ago, I was walking down the street when I saw this Pretzel Crisps ad campaign plastered on a bus stop. I was pretty upset when I first saw it. Women already feel enormous pressure to be thin; eating disorders are alarmingly widespread, and promoting excessive thinness in a snack advertisement contributes to a seriously damaging cultural dialogue about unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies.

I wasn’t the only person upset by these ads. In fact, they infuriated so many people that the company created a website to hear complaints. But the website wasn’t exceptionally sensitive either, so women are pretty pissed off.

While the (rightfully) angry masses are fighting this battle head-on, I’m going to take a detour to see what this looks like from a different angle. Bear with me while I look for the silver lining.

Recently, I read a great article by Paul Graham on what you can’t say in today’s society. Not the things we’ve simply disproven, but the things we find heretical because we fear, deep down, that they might contain a kernel of truth. (I encourage you to read the article, or what follows may just seem offensive).

Pretzel Crisps’ ad campaign is a glaring example of what we can’t say. But what is it, exactly, that we’re too shy to say? Let’s take a look at the ads.

First: “You can never be too thin.”

False. It is quite possible to be dangerously thin. I hope that’s common knowledge. But the heresy here is that far too many women believe, even if they won’t say it, that they could always be thinner. How often do you hear a woman say, “I could stand to gain a few pounds”? Never. But “I could stand to lose a few pounds”? All the time, no matter their BMI.

Second: “We’re thin and stacked, so lose the old bag.”

True fact: Some men do leave their wives for younger women. But when they do, they cannot say that they left their spouse because the alternative was younger. They might try all sorts of offensive euphemisms, such as: “She has so much energy! She’s so fresh and innocent! I love the way she looks up to me!” But they can’t even try to say it’s because she’s younger. Off limits. Out of bounds. The galleys are straight ahead.

Last: “Looks as good as skinny feels.”

I’m a little scared to tackle this one, but here goes my dignity. I’m stepping out on a very precarious limb to admit that my body feels good when I’m thin. Maybe it’s a mental trick, or maybe it’s physical fitness, but skinny does feel good. Even just writing the words feels heretical. I’m fighting the urge to click backspace.

So why don’t I? Does it do us any good to say these things out loud?

On the surface, no. The ads encourage excessive thinness and body image concern, which are already far too prevalent among young women today.

But skim the fat, and this might actually be positive.

Body image and weight have become such taboo topics that we discuss them on tiptoes, careful not to damage a girl’s self esteem, constantly avoiding landmines. There is so little we can say and so much we can’t say.

Our silence is our downfall.

Young women are left to decide on their own where the line falls between healthy or unhealthy, too heavy or too thin. With all the conflicting pressures in our culture, those are difficult lines to navigate and negative messages can have undue influence when they’re not part of a holistic conversation.

Ads like these open the conversation. They push us to our limit—openly offend us—and we’re finally compelled to talk back.

Above all else, we need to talk. If we can’t communicate honestly and openly, then we can’t protect, advise, and support each other as we learn to love and respect our bodies.

Mini snack bags (“only 100 calories”) have long been advertisements for weight loss, and are exclusively marketed to women. Pretzel Crisps just had the gall to publicize the subtext.

I say, good for them. Thank you for showing us what’s really going on, what all the other companies are already doing in more subversive ways. Thank you for making us fight back. Thank you for making us talk.

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