Friday, November 7, 2014

Be Curious, Not Judgmental

Because we're pretty used to companies like Victoria’s Secret marketing products in the way that they did in their recent The Perfect "Body" campaign, it takes a lot for many of us to 'get our panties in a bunch' over such ads.  However, Victoria's Secret's response to complaints about their The Perfect "Body" ad was rather thought-provoking, so we wanted to share with you a few thoughts in case you saw their "response" to consumer complaints about the campaign. 

We are not here to say that the women in the original The Perfect "Body" advertisement are healthy, unhealthy, unrealistic, or anything of the sort; after all, we cannot, and should not, judge a person's health or un-health just by looking at them (ever). Were they airbrushed?  Yes, likely they were. And you know we, and many of you, take issue with that. But that's not what we take issue with today.  What we take issue with today is that Victoria's Secret's response to several impassioned complaints, was to edit their advertisement slogan to read, "A body for every body"...all-the-while this amended slogan accompanied 'models' of similar height and shape as in the original advertisement.  The Founder of +Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), +Chevese Turner, called the edited slogan, "Insulting."   We agree. However, we also found one good thing about their insulting response, and that is: they really missed the boat with any attempt at fooling us with any uber-subliminal advertising; because it's actually really blatant. Right? It's not like they fooled many people into thinking: "Gee whiz, Victoria's Secret REALLY cares about promoting a healthy body image for every body. What an awesome new slogan and diversity of models!"  And yet, the sad fact remains: they probably did fool a lot of people in to buying their "Perfect Shape" product.  Our hope is that this response by Victoria’s Secret might serve as a wake-up call to everyone who spends their money there: you get what you pay for, including rather shoddy responses to a call for less perfection and more body diversity.  But if Victoria's Secret is where you choose to spend your money, we’re not judging you or telling you to stop.  We’re simply calling your attention to, and asking you to pause and consider, the way this company responded to the voices of many concerned advocates

The purpose of this blog isn’t only to shine light on Victoria’s Secret’s most recent ‘no-surprise-there’ advertisement.  We also wanted to bring up something over which eating disorder advocates and activists have voiced concern more and more lately and goes hand-in-hand with The Perfect “Body” concerns and complaints: Many companies seem to ‘promote’ a certain body type via their advertising (and it’s generally the body of a tall, thin, white woman); and many companies like Victoria’s Secret and La Perla lingerie use mannequins and models that have ribs showing.  Many of us activists and advocates do not, in the least, like what we see when we see these ads and mannequins, if for no other reason than because we are all too aware that the dissemination of unrealistic body standards has been linked to eating disorders.  So we find ourselves wanting to DO SOMETHING about these mannequins and models, and our gut reaction is often to scream, “OMG! Are you nuts? Pull that sickly looking mannequin with the ribs showing out of your store now!”, or “Hello?! Use more models of darker skin tones, because um, gee guess what: not everyone is “white”!”   As leaders in the field of eating disorder advocacy, we have been giving a lot of thought to what kind of advocacy action and message we can create (short of calling for Congress to ban size “000” (triple zero), mannequins with ribs showing and/or celebrities who “look anorexic” selling products), to constructively address these issues.  What we need to consider is that if we as advocates begin judging a person’s or mannequin’s health by his/her/its appearance, then we perpetuate the myth that you can tell if someone is healthy, ill or has an eating disorder, just by looking at them.  If we say one ‘extreme’ size is not ok because it “promotes eating disorders,” we also suggest that the opposite extreme is true --which is size discrimination at best, weight-bullying at worst.  Our field, including you as EDC advocates, has worked long and hard to dispel the myths that you can tell the health of someone by what they look like/what size they wear, and we don’t want to undo that worthy work.

Therefore, our call to action is this:  We will advocate to encourage the promotion of healthy bodies and healthy body images, and honor the fact that healthy bodies come in a variety of colors, ages, genders, shapes and sizes!!  We will advocate to urge caution that you cannot tell by looking at someone if they are healthy or ill, or if they have an eating disorder.  We will advocate to educate that being judged by weight or appearance is a long-standing and harmful battle that millions with (and without) eating disorders and their loved ones have faced, and that far too many patients have gone to their doctor to report their behaviors and symptoms, only to be told they look “fine,” their doctor “wishes I had more patients as thin as you,” or, “you don’t look underweight,” rather than their health concerns being taken seriously and looked at objectively.  Finally, we will advocate to encourage all people that we must not make judgment calls about what a person or mannequin looks like on the outside, or what size clothes they wear; we must look beyond what we see on the outside, lest our good intentions serve to perpetuate the myth that you can tell just by looking at someone whether or not they are ill, healthy, or suffering an eating (or other ‘invisible’) disorder.
As advocates linked by a cause, we have power.  Let’s raise our voices together to “Speak Out and Speak Up!”, each in our own unique way, and let’s do so with a kind and enlightened approach, including by appreciating all bodies and striving for health for all, regardless of size.

Lastly, we just want to say to each of you: please don't ever let anyone’s marketing influence you to believe anything less than the truth that YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE YOU ARE ALIVE!! ...and part of being alive is being uniquely you, aging, having a body that isn't in need of airbrushing, and not comparing your body to the body of anyone else. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL BECAUSE YOU ARE ALIVE!! That's not a slogan designed to sell you anything. That's a 'slogan' to simply remind you of the TRUTH :-)

~Thank you for your advocacy.  We look forward to seeing you soon at National Lobby Day, Spring 2015 to "Speak Out and Speak Up!" ~

(ps; we'll announce the date for spring Lobby Day just as soon as the Congressional calendar is released)

blog written and edited by: Kathleen MacDonald and Sarah Ohanesian