AdvertisingBody ImageHealth and BodyOn The PulseWeight Loss and Diet Industry

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

By January 22, 2012 7 Comments

Will this woman have to lose weight to gain zeal?

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