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Adfail, diet edition

July 14, 2010

Discusses an advert encouraging drastic weight loss; could be triggering for those who have or have had eating disorders.

Saw an advert in the window of a Boots yesterday for some sort of weight loss product; I have no idea what, because the brand name was cut off by the bottom of the window. The picture and slogan, though, were clear, and once again I found myself confused by an advert that seems completely counterproductive.

Picture: a … youngish middle-aged? I guess? white woman on the thin side of average, dressed in a green T-shirt and jeans, holding up another pair of jeans of indeterminate but evidently larger size.

Slogan (in big, cheery red letters): “I’m less than half the person I used to be.”

First off, this advert is selling a product and indeed a mindset that’s de facto insidious and damaging, with long-term nasty consequences both physical and mental. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a given. What was particularly arresting about this specific ad wasn’t that it’d lost me from the word go, but that it’s such a colossal fail even looking at it from the point of view of its target audience (much like the La Senza adfail.)

In what strange idiolect of English does “I’m half the person I used to be” carry positive connotations? I realise that in this case they’re trying to use it in an ironic fashion, but you’ve got to have something to work with, and “half the person I used to be” is unequivocally used as a negative. The narrator of ‘Yesterday’, singing Suddenly / I’m not half the man I used to be / There’s a shadow hanging over me / Oh, yesterday / Came suddenly . . .

It’s a phrase that we use to describe someone who’s wasting away, literally or metaphorically a shadow of their former self. Most often, used pityingly or disparagingly of someone who’s lost their verve, their spark or even the will to live.

Incidentally, compare those three phrases: ‘half the person I used to be’, ‘wasting away’, ‘shadow of  my former self’. They all borrow the same image, figuring some loss of health or happiness in terms of physical depletion, and it’s no accident. Until very recently, being severely ill – with all the unhappiness and loss of energy that implied – was pretty much the only reason why someone would lose a substantial proportion of their natural weight, and so idiomatic English yokes the two together.

Regardless of their personal relationship to their weight, any native English-speaker’s first reaction to ‘half the person I used to be’ is surely going to be a negative one. The idiom is entrenched; nobody wants to be half the person they used to be, in its common sense, because it implies you’ve got boring, or burnt out, or for whatever reason you don’t feel you’re as interesting or having as good a time as you used to.

So yeah. “Buy our product, and you will become unhappy and possibly also dull!” is a slogan for the ages. It baffles me that people in the marketing department for whatever this latest diet is have apparently failed to get what quite a common English idiom means. Marketers tend to be paranoid in their avoidance of anything that could be interpreted as making their product look bad – in any way – and I’m amazed that this one got past. Perhaps they thought that they were being cool and ironic.

With Adfail: Connotation Section out of the way, there’s also the small matter of Adfail: What It Actually Says section to be dealt with before we finish. And this is where I start blathering incoherently at the screen because Christ on a bike, half your bodyweight? They are trying to sell as a good thing losing half – or more than half – your weight?

Now, I suspect one of the reasons this fills me with horror is because to get me down to half my adult weight would probably require removing vital organs,* but let’s put that aside – my perspective isn’t representative, and it certainly isn’t representative of the people at whom the endless stream of diet-themed shame is generally directed.

But even taking my personal jeebies out of it, god. Have I just not been paying attention? When did the sort of general low-level “lose pounds for the beach/the wedding/because we say so” thing switch into public encouragement for the kind of weight loss that usually accompanies life-threatening illness? That’s just scary.


*I’m 5′ 5” and 160lbs-ish, and the last time I was in the 80lb region was before I hit puberty. (For comparison, the average British woman is 5′ 3”/161.7cm and 153lb/69.7kg according to the 2007 Health Survey for England, which is the most recent set of figures. Data from the Adult Trend Tables here.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Seamus permalink
    July 16, 2010 10:54 am

    To lose half my weight and still be considered healthy, I would have to be the same height as you, at most.

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