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Kellogg’s Special K tells women their lives could be better, if only they were thin

Given that Kellogg’s Special K basically markets itself as a diet food, my expectations for their advertising campaigns were already low. However, they have really outdone themselves with their new campaign, based around the question: “What will you gain when you lose?”

In the commercials, women stand on bathroom scales that reflect buzzwords back at them: “Joy.” “Shine.” “Freedom.” Special K’s web site for the campaign has more examples, with women holding up signs stating what weight loss will give them.

(By the way, does this scale concept remind anyone of Marilyn Wann’s body-positive Yay! Scales that About-Face has taken to the streets many times?)

I can’t decide which is sadder—the women apparently waiting for weight loss to feel good about themselves (“Pride,” “Self-Belief,” “Contentment”) or the women who seem to believe that not being thin is prohibiting them from having a personality (“Moxie,” “Pizzazz,” “Sass.” Girl, if you think thin ladies have a monopoly on sass, we clearly do not run in the same circles).

These women are in the thrall of what Kate Harding called “the fantasy of being thin.” The fantasy of being thin is the idea that, if you could only change your body, everything in your life would fall into place. According to this fantasy, being thin might give you more friends, a loving significant other, and even the personality you’ve always wanted.

The problem with this fantasy is that it will never come true. Getting thinner doesn’t change who you are—it just makes you thinner. It’s this type of fantasy that makes weight loss a game that’s impossible to win. If you’re supposed to have more “pizzazz” when you’re thinner, then if you reach your goal weight and still don’t feel pizzazzy, you’re clearly not yet thin enough.

I fell into this trap myself as a teenager. My own personal fantasy was that, when I was thin, I would finally love my body. I eventually reached my goal weight (through decidedly unhealthy means), but after obsessing over my appearance for so long, I was far from self-acceptance.

My conclusion was that, since I still didn’t like how I looked, I needed to lose more weight. In the end, the only way I learned to love my body was by accepting that weight loss wasn’t important. I gained back every pound I lost, but I also gained a sense of self-respect.

You don’t need to lose weight to gain confidence, sass, or happiness. Special K’s campaign actually encourages women to invent their own fantasy of being thin, and to place all their hopes and dreams on that last twenty pounds. Maybe it’s cynical of me, but I can’t help but think that this strategy will ensure a dissatisfied, self-hating customer base for Special K for quite some time.

I took the liberty of crafting some of my own slogans to add to Special K’s campaign:

“When I lose weight, I gain the belief that my self-worth is completely dependent on my appearance.”

“When I lose weight, I gain shallower friends.”

“When I lose weight, I gain the annoyance of my family and co-workers when I can’t stop talking about my new diet plan.”

“When I lose weight, I gain a tendency to compulsively compare my body to other women’s.”

“When I lose weight, vapid Special K commercials might actually start making sense.” (But probably not.)

Feel free to add your own. And Special K’s contact info is here if you want to let them know what you think. Before you do, check out our tips for writing a great complaint letter.

— Magdalena

7 thoughts on “Kellogg’s Special K tells women their lives could be better, if only they were thin

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  1. I suffered from an eating disorder for years… severely starving myself, purging, and over exercising. I am in recovery now, and have been for a few years, but I still struggle with my body image. Some days I am okay accepting that I am a bigger woman and other days I hate my body and have huge urges to starve myself, but most of the time I win the battle. Anyhow, I had written this a few years back and reading this article made me want to share it:

    “Right Sized”

    I just sat down and typed this up. I heard someone say right sized (talking about their ego not getting in the way and making them think they are better than they are) and it made me think of how right sized is something so different for me. I decided to take that thought and write tonight, this is what I came up with…

    I wish I knew then what I know now. That when I first looked into a mirror and thought that I was too big and that the answer would be to eat less and lose weight that I would end up losing so much more than weight.

    These are some of the things that I have lost: money, friends, my health, my smile, my interests, my soul, and my self. I have lost the ability to look in the mirror and like who I see. I have lost the ability to love myself. I have lost the ability to look at food and choose to eat whatever looks good. I have lost the ability to eat without feeling guilty, fat, and worthless. I have, almost, lost my life. I have lost so much externally, and so much more internally. Ironically, no matter how much weight I lost it was never enough and I was so transfixed on getting to that “perfect” illusionary number that somehow I failed to notice everything else that I was losing.

    Food became my life. Even today, food has so much more meaning to me than it was ever meant to have. Food was meant to be nourishment for my body, something I need to eat to keep going. Food was not meant to be my world, my life. Food was meant to give me power, not to become an entity with a power of it’s own. Something which was meant to nourish me and give me power somehow gained a power all it’s own, and left me powerless over it.

    I want to be “normal.” I want to eat and then forget about it. I want to spend less time obsessing about food and weight and whether or not I am acceptable. I want to look in the mirror and love, at least like, at least not abhor what I see. I want to buy clothes and not hate myself because the number is not the one that I want it to be. I want to get dressed in the morning and not change my outfit numerous times trying to make myself feel like I look okay enough to leave the house. I want friends and I want to pursue my interests. I want to smile, and I want to live. I want to be okay. I want to realize that I may never be happy with what I see and that I need to love myself for who I am today. Not for who I want to be or for who I will be at that unattainable perfect number. Not for who I was yesterday, or even for who I will be tomorrow. I want to love me, as I am, now. I want to break free from the mold, which I created, that smothers my soul and threatens to kill me. I want so much, yet sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to truly let go and begin to live.

    I have spent my entire life trying to fit in, trying to be something that I am not; trying to fit in to a mold, which was not created for me. I have wasted so much time trying to get down to the perfect size, trying to feel like I am acceptable. I have lost many pounds, and many years, chasing that unattainable number, chasing that perfect size. I may still hate myself today. I may still look in the mirror and want to cry. I still have intense urges to lose weight, to obtain that perfect size. Food still holds entirely too much power. I still feel weak and unacceptable at times. Sometimes I still hate myself. There are times where I want to go back to starving, purging, cutting, and dying.

    Yet, today I know. I know that the perfect size is unattainable. I know that nothing external will ever be able to fix the internal. I know that if I continue to chase the perfect size that I will die. I realize that if I am dead it won’t matter how much I weigh. I realize that it doesn’t matter how much I weigh while I am alive. I realize that I am so much more than a number, if I only allow myself to be. I realize that there is so much more to life than counting calories and finding ways to rid my body of the calories which have managed to slip past my lips. While I may never be able to truly love myself today I realize that I am lovable, and the only reason that I find it impossible to embrace who I am is because my head has so long been consumed by the lie that I am not okay, small enough, or good enough. I realize that the hatred inside of me is a lie, and that I am beautiful, even if I don’t think so. I realize that the pounds, that I was so consumed with losing, were not at all what was important; that the things that are important are all of the things that I didn’t even realize I was losing. I realize that life is hard and painful yet also equally rewarding and wonderful, and that, no matter what, life is worth living.

    I wasted so many years trying to be the perfect size and somehow I never realized that I am not meant to be the perfect size, I am meant to be right sized. I was created to be who I am, not who I may want to be. I was created right sized. I am perfect, just as I am. In losing pounds, I was throwing away my self. I was throwing away the beautiful creation that I was meant to be. Today I realize that I will never be the perfect size, but that it is okay because I am who I was meant to be, I am right sized.

  2. Amy, this is just wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m glad that you’re recovering now, and good luck!

  3. Oh, please! It’s natural for people to edge out parts of their own personalities as normal adaptation to society’s expectations! That’s not really a big deal, right? I mean, men have the same things to have to deal with. Just look at the guys from Knocked-Up, Hangover 1 and 2, Old School, Family Guy, countless commercials, and everyday reality. Oh, wait… it’s the WOMEN in all those situations who have to deal with being incredibly forgiving…
    Well, let’s look at how great we get to look, instead: I just got this amazingly hot new shirt today! Sure, it cost half my paycheck despite being so stupidly thin that I have to layer it with five more, but what else would I rather buy than beauty?? Since I have all these skinny shirts on right now, I’m probably just so chilly because the leggings I wear with my tiny skirt don’t do much to keep me warm. But I just threw on some $10 blush to give my cheeks some color instead of that pesky circulation, and also some $20 eyeshadow, just because it makes my eyes look so good! See, as soon as I turned twenty, I understood that I was becoming an old woman, so I had to run out and get everything on the market to keep me pretty. And it works! …Well, sort of.
    See, I’ve started gaining some weight lately – since I’m so old, my metabolism is garbage – and I’m really kind of bummed. I mean, really really. I’ve been throwing things up after eating since I was, what, 13? 14? But nowadays, it seems like I just can’t get enough of it out, y’know? And my teeth have been horrible for years, and that’s okay, but now my nails and hair have started sort of… I dunno, falling out, I guess. I just wish it would affect all the hair I always have to wax, tweeze, shave, trim, and have removed with a laser! Right?!? But anyway, there are all sorts of great products out there to volumize, not to mention all the extensions I’ve been having put in, and I have to get a manicure every couple weeks anyway. Yeah, it’s a great, great time to be a woman – especially since we’ve come such a loooong way since that Suffrage Movement!
    Ah, I love my life… I feel so empowered when I see female comic book characters with their wisdom to wear as little into battle as possible so’s not to get their costumes caught on anything, and those beautifully bendy spines! Oh, it must take such talent and skill to be able to twist in such a way that your chest is pointing in the same direction as your rear end! I hope to get there someday, but I have to admit, my heart breaks with all the rape origin stories… Those poor women. It’s a good thing the real heroes were always around to help them, y’know?
    So, anyway, I made a resolution to get back down to my twenty-year old weight, and I’m on my way – just six more pounds until I finally get rid of that horrible, horrible extra digit! Yay for women! We’re empowered! No more second class citizenry for us!

    No, none of that is true, but while I’d love to be sorry for going over the top here, it pains me to know that I didn’t. There’s much, much worse.
    While the girl explaining her views up there is unbelievably destructive, it’s also a completely rational response to the culture she’s been bombarded with since the day she was born.
    It’s only at the surface of an eating disorder that has anything to do with weight. The reason women – when compared with men – are so much more apt to develop a disorder with her body image is the desperate need to feel like there’s something she has control of.

    I’m begging anyone listening to help her out. Please. Be the woman you want these girls to become, and men, be the man who wants that woman. Since the problems we’re having are humanity’s, humans are the ones who have to fix them.


  4. Oh wow! I think the Special K slogan is a great slogan. I am a plus size woman and we all come in different shapes and sizes and I believe the slogan in no way suggest telling a woman that she has no self-worth unless she is thin. PLEASE! I believe the slogan suggest that when one chooses a healthier lifestyle one gains. . . You fill in the dots AND yes you will look better and feel better that is the real pay-off because YOU who is now HEALTHIER did it ! Yes, weight loss is difficult, especially the older we get but it’s not impossible and only we hold that possibility, if we choose. We need to try and look at the motivation of the one saying or doing instead of taking the defensive road. Kellogg’s is out to make money not offend the consumer. Renew Your Mind then Open It I say KUDOS to Special K for an excellent slogan. Keep Up The Good Work !

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