Monday, July 30, 2012

"Get skinnier than all your friends"

Update 30 July 12:54: I'm not alone. Found articles on the Daily Mail and HuffPo that contain quotes from medical professionals the book quite concerning. And an article on ParentDish that says the book itself contains good and sensible advice.  Oh, and Venice A Fulton's real name is actually Paul.

I haven't blogged in a while, which is odd considering I've had so much going on.  But something has got me so incensed, I had to write about it.  And it's nothing to do with radio, interactive media, or campervans - just an advert I keep passing on my walk to the tube, which makes me furious every time it catches my eye.

The poster is for a book called "6 Weeks to OMG" by Venice A Fulton.  This is the poster for it, which I have presumed is showing the cover of the book.  The phrase that offends me is "Get skinnier than all your friends".

Admittedly, I'm not target market, and by way of a disclaimer, I'm generally fairly sceptical about diet books, and the dieting industry in general.  But I recognise that being fit is a good thing, and that being fat can be a bad thing, indeed a dangerous thing.  But I'm gob-smacked that a book cover and a marketing campaign in 2012 would encourage you to aim to "get skinnier than all your friends".

It goes against every positive body-image message I've ever heard.  Shouldn't dieting be about health and personal well-being?  About having a target healthy weight/BMI/body fat percentage, aiming for it, then maintaining it?  Not about comparing yourself to other people, and not about being skinnier than those people regardless.

Of course, we all compare ourselves to other people, whether it be celebrities or our own friends. This strapline taps into those personal insecurities, and reinforces them in 4-inch high letters.  Imagine I'm a woman (and let's not get technical; this is targeted at women) who is friends with a whole bunch of size 8 women.  This strapline is encouraging me to get to size 6.  What if one of them gets to size 6 before me?  Then surely I have to get to size 4?  Down that route I suspect huge body-insecurity and eating disorders lie.

Since the poster also encourages me to engage with Venice Fulton on Twitter, I challenged him and Penguin Books to explain the strapline and stand by it.  Venice Fulton would not (Penguin have not replied as of yet).  He did encourage me to read the book, and insisted that within it I would find positive, healthy messages, and he asserted that he felt weight-loss is entirely personal.  Which makes the strapline even more baffling.  I persisted, and asked him three times if he stood by the statement that it was acceptable to aim to "get skinnier than all your friends".  He would not stand by the statement, but suggested that if the poster offended me so much, I should "blink" to avoid seeing it.
"In the book it makes a HUGE point of comparing yourself to yourself, which is psychologically speaking, very healthy
"The toughest thing is to get people to open a book in an era where most are bored. It is a solid read, despite the hype. The title doesn't have 'diet' in it, because it's not one. There's no ! after the OMG, and there are no food recipes in it. As for the subtitle, I didn't choose it. It was chosen by a random group of 20 who preferred it to other subtitles. 'Get healthier' didn't work." (conversation with @hawkida)
"#6weeksToOMG (the book itself) completely answers ALL questions that the poster may have excited in the viewer's imagination! The only shame is to assume so much from so little. I stand by the book you admitted you haven't read.  Read the book and then see if it's likely to leave you, or anyone, offended. And if the poster is really a big issue: BLINK!"
Quotes from Venice A Fulton, on Twitter.  
Read the full conversation on Storify.
So what is happening here?  On the face of it, it would seem an author has written a book he believes to present a responsible approach to weight-loss (I don't know, I haven't read it), but with a subtitle/strapline that does not represent the message of the book, and which he is unwilling to standby.  The strapline is certainly provocative, and it has stuck in my mind, so perhaps it works.  But in someone else's mind, could it be dangerous?  Could it reinforce the idea that dieting is a competition, with goals determined by other people's weights?  I'm not an expert, but Venice Fulton apparently is, and he is unwilling to standby the strapline on his book and argue in its favour.  So I don't have anything to go on here.

I shall just have to "blink".