London weight management ad insults all women, everywhere

From ‘Weight management ad draws ire’, article by Pearly Tan, 24 Sept 2011, TNP and ‘Controversial slimming ad sparks debate’, article by Liyana Low, sg yahoo news.

FURIOUS netizens have been slamming local slimming company London Weight Management for its insensitivity depicting women and suicide.

At scrutiny is the company’s latest television ad – which begins with what appears to be a woman crying atop a building with her baby in a pram next to her.

With the murder-suicide of Madam Tan Sze Sze and her 3-year-old son in Bedok Reservoir fresh in the minds of people here, anger erupted with many calling for the banning of the ad.

….TV host Anita Kapoor wrote and published an open letter to London Weight Management on her blog on Friday, saying, “You have insulted all women, everywhere.”

Noting that she had never experienced such a “deep, almost physical response” to anything as she had when she saw the ad on TV, Kapoor said, “You, and all who supported you to produce it, have colluded to portray women as pathetic, unworthy individuals. Losers on every level if they are overweight; winners at every level if they are slim.

“This is irresponsible, vile, atrocious advertising, and in every scene you have gone ahead to make many claims,”  she stated before outlining seven scenes she did not agree with.

The company’s view of women, as shown in the ad, is “extremely troubling” and should warn women to “avoid your services entirely”, she added.

Different woman, same baby

Coming from a hugely profitable institution that relies on dubious methods of slimming, one shouldn’t put much WEIGHT (hur hur) on such ads, even if it were based on a ‘true story’. We’re used to the gross exaggeration of results from  such ads in the past which strain credulity, but London Weight Management has probably crossed the line here by associating weight issues with unemployment and marriage problems. They don’t just want to make you slimmer, but happier, which has always been the mantra of slimming centres.

In 1969, a company named Joanne Drew used Christmas as a ploy to entice customers to ‘get in shape’ and ‘look their best’ during the year end festivities within a guaranteed 7 weeks. Nothing was mentioned about staying trim thereafter, which gives the impression that it’s OK to be a bit fleshy on every other day of the year, but just make sure you can fit into your Xmas dress when the time comes. It became a ‘weighty problem’ in the late seventies, with the Hilton Health Club promoting the use of sauna, ‘special treatments’ and a ‘keep fit course’ for busy working professionals. Which means women actually got to sweat and burn some extra calories during these sessions.

In the 80’s, it was name-calling that was usually the trigger for women to turn to these companies, and ads were more realistic (see sample below), though the grim  slim = happiness equation has since imprinted itself on the psyche of women everywhere. Any form of exercise class became non-existent, and the emphasis has tilted towards  ‘trim’ rather than ‘fit’. Supposedly the Woman of the eighties onwards has no time to juggle between work and any form of exercise. She was also perfectly happy looking like a nerd.

Celebrities were subsequently roped in to endorse such centres. In 2002, Michelle Saram was the pin-up girl for Slimming Sanctuary, who was probably never fat, or depressed, to begin with. Hence the trend of the industry paying out-of-work entertainers to basically tell women that they still need ‘slimming solutions’ even if their BMIs were perfectly normal. Gone were the plain Jane  ‘aunties’ of the eighties. It wasn’t long before post-partum celebrities jumped on the bandwagon in a bid by slimming centres to expand their clientele. They were also starting to sell ‘confidence’ in addition to ‘youth’ and  ‘shapeliness’, and it wouldn’t be long before the master stroke that is making the conceptual leap from confidence to better career prospects was made.

In the opening sequence of the video we see a client tossed out of a boardroom for her undesirable ‘image’, and then lapsing into depression before succumbing to the magic fix that is LWM. No one doubts that such therapy may help some individuals otherwise they wouldn’t be so successful, but aside from the predictable furore over discrimination and misleading claims,  the makers of the video also need a lesson on storyboard consistency. The first error is casting a totally different, and visibly younger, woman for the ‘happy ending’ scene, taking the viewers for complete idiots. Even monkeys would notice the discrepancy. The second is that the baby hasn’t grown one bit in 3 months since the 20kg -shaving transformation, though according to LWM’s website, clients get to lose 4-6 cm during EACH SESSION of treatment. But on a serious note, it also undermines the role of doctors’ advice. The first thing that any health professional would counsel knowing that his patient was at risk of heart disease was to diet and exercise. Instead, our protagonist signs up for LWM the moment she gets up from her wheelchair, with determination to ‘do something about it’ written all over her face. Even if everything about the alleged ‘Kelly Phoon’ were true in the ad, from the deranged boss to the mirror smashing, the least LWM could do was at least portray some attempt at diet and exercise instead of selling themselves as first-line therapy for all the problems plaguing your miserable existence.

LMW, of course, isn’t the only company to perpetuate the epidemic of body dysmorphic disorder affecting female professionals today, girls who look fine but think they’re overweight and pressured into skinniness by their peers and the media. You don’t need a raging feminist like Anita Kapoor to tell you about the deceit inherent in the business. With or without this ad, we should have seen through the false glamour and mumbo-jumbo a long time ago. The only reason why this ad exists, if not giving a screaming part-time actress a shot at fame, is because in the world of Photoshop, you can’t just rely on ‘Before and After’ pictures any more. LWM, by breaking the ‘fourth wall’ and venturing into dramatised narrative to sell the myth of slim=happy, has become an unfortunate case study of how NOT to market ‘slimming’ solutions’ in the digital age.

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