Archive for January, 2011

new year, same body hang-ups

Posted in advertising, magazines, media, weight loss | 1 Comment »

People magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” issueWith every New Year comes a reliable deluge of obnoxious diet ads, “news” stories about how to blast away all of the fat camouflaging the “real” you, and pandemic diligence from somewhere on high that commands we all drop whatever we’re doing and take inventory of our bodies.

Because the New-You-for-the-New-Year weight loss message is so ubiquitous, remembering that revenue is the driving force behind the whole circus can be difficult. But yes, any media mention of weight loss isn’t actually about helping you at last make good on that years’-old resolution. It’s all about the benjamins.

According to Marketdata Enterprises, the three leading weight loss companies — Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers — raked in an estimated $3.2 billion in revenue in 2010. This year, I’ve spotted some clever spins on the standard weight loss ad campaign that seem aimed at exploring less-charted territories of potential dieters, such as an infomercial for a Christian-oriented diet and exercise plan and a TV spot for Applebee’s featuring young men ordering from the calorie-conscious menu. Many companies that have products unrelated to food or weight still find a way to capitalize on our New Year body neuroses. People magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” issue, for example, isn’t a beginning-of-the-year staple because celebrities decide to lie low during the first week of every New Year.

For me, the flood of “I-once-was-fat-but-now-am-found” testimonials in commercials and elsewhere this time of year is far more bothersome than the hundreds of pages of emaciated models I’m sure to encounter in magazines throughout 2011. Fashion models, at least, aren’t typically presented as an attainable, meaningful ideal for which average people should strive.

Most of all, I feel sad for the millions of people who will base their self-worth on the effectiveness of some mail-order meal plan or ab-blasting apparatus — and spend quite a bit of money to do so — only to have a good chance of finding themselves back at the start in 2012. To keep profits in the billions year after year, weight loss companies surely can’t bank on having no repeat customers.

And so, January after January, the same media-incited hypnosis will continue to zap many Americans into a hyper-aware state of food and their bodies that’s eerily akin to an eating disorder. As weight loss evangelism surges throughout these first few months of 2011, can we remind ourselves that money fuels the entire frenzied machine? Can we disengage and realize that the message to “lose weight” this time of year really has nothing to do with how we should view ourselves, set our priorities or expend our energy? It’s just a part of a business model — just a sentiment to be capitalized upon in true American commercial spirit, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and anything else that calls for big banners and blocks of aisles at Walmart.