Dear WeightWatchers, Slimming World, Juice Plus, and other assorted commercial weight loss programs,
Hold the front page. Because I have come up with the most radical shake up to your advertising campaigns since that drum playing gorilla. And – because I’m lovely – I am reaching out (as an aside, isn’t that a terrible expression? I’m not reaching out at all. I’m typing these words into the screen of my phone. But, I digress) to share it with you.
You see, it seems to me, that pretty much your entire advertising premise is based on before and after photos. Before and after photos which essentially feature a very miserable looking fatter person, and a very delighted looking thinner person.
Now, I have to be honest with you. I take objection to this. And I think this myth that you are pedalling, that by losing a couple of stone we become inherently happier, inherently a better person, is just plain wrong.
Sure, there might be some people out there who feel better for losing a few pounds. And good for them. But your adverts…your adverts suggest that fundamentally, if you are in any way overweight, you must be both unhappy and constantly striving to become one of those ‘after’ photos.
Of course, I know why you do this. You do it because it sells your products. You pedal the dream, and millions and millions of people out there fall for it, line your pockets, and everyone ends up happy.
Except they don’t, do they? While I’m not denying there are a small minority of people who sign up to your plans, lose the weight, and are genuinely happy…they are vastly, vastly in the minority. And for the majority, you are actually having a seriously negative impact.
I know what you’re going to say at this point. That this is a health issue. That it’s important to be a healthy weight to avoid health problems. Which I would kind of get…if your adverts were filled with statistics which supported that. The difference your products have made to cholesterol levels. Blood pressure. Heart health. Etc.
But they don’t. They don’t do that because you know the best way to drive product sales is to play on people’s insecurities and inadequacies. Few of us feel guilty about our blood pressure readings. Almost all of us feel occasionally fucking shit about how we look. And the reason we feel like that, is because you and the wider media have gradually embedded this fallacy that to be happy you must be thin. That weight control equals success.
Oh, and can I pull you up on one other point when it comes to the ‘health’ argument. (Though I would vehemently deny that regular meal replacement shakes can have many, if any, health benefits.) What about people’s mental health? Isn’t that just as important as their physical health? Just think about the number of people out there whose mental health is seriously damaged by the perceived expectation that they should be ticking the many boxes they believe society requires them to fill. By their perception of themselves as a failure. How do you think your adverts are contributing to that?
Now, I’m not stupid. I understand you are highly unlikely to want to do anything which is going to negatively impact your billion pound empires. And so this isn’t an easy request I’m making of you. I understand that. But oh, the difference you could make.
Let’s lose the before and after shots. Let’s see some real – and I mean properly real, not madeover and photoshopped – people instead. If you believe there are medical benefits of your plans, then let’s hear about those. “Plan X helped control my diabetes.” “I was able to reduce my cholesterol levels without medication.” That kind of thing.
But let’s also be honest. Let’s show the people who tried it for a bit, then gave up. Let’s talk about those who are still several points over their allegedly ideal BMI, yet have used your exercise plan to take up a sport that they love. And let’s show some happy people that don’t conform to your stereotypical ‘after’ shot.
Happiness is not a belt size. Happiness is a state of mind. And look. I can’t guarantee my proposal is going to make you more money. It likely won’t. But what it will make, is the difference that we need to see in the world. And that, surely, has got to be worth so much more.