July 13, 2024
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Up in Arms About Weight Loss Ads—Or Are We?

There’s nothing quite like an angering ad to get people to come out of the woodwork. Within the past few weeks, a highly controversial ad was featured in a Jewish magazine promoting a weight-loss program geared toward seminary students. I cannot tell you how many people sent this to me—people with whom I haven’t spoken in years—sounding the alarm and asking me what can be done.

The ad itself played on the emotions of parents sending their daughters away for the year, noting that after the year away, marriage preparation is coming—and the ad warned against the students’ “growing in more ways than one.” There was a visual included in the ad, which promoted a machine that will “take the weight off”—a machine that looked like a compression chamber.

I wondered, when receiving the expressed concern and feedback from friends, clients and colleagues, why this ad angered people more than other ads tend to do. I think there was a lot of shock and disbelief, which is generally how I feel when seeing ads that promote the pursuit of weight loss, providing some promise for what will come if you lose the weight—whether that be happiness, confidence, marriage or self-love.

I brought this up in topics of conversation, on social media, within list-servs and in my personal life aking why people believe this ad is different. I was pleased to see some people almost having difficulty understanding my question, because they felt that any ad promoting this message is problematic. But I also learned and explored the factors that truly made this advertisement feel different.

It seems that typically when we see ads and messages promoting weight loss they are often—if not always—promoted under the guise and intention of “wellness.” People tend to argue that weight loss is important because of health—the argument and objection I receive most when speaking publicly about “health at every size,” as people simply don’t believe that one can be healthy in a bigger body. Research shows some correlation at times, but overall individuals tend to over-rely on weight as a predictor of health. Doctors sometimes ignore lab work and other markers of health, ignoring symptoms and important tests and instead telling patients that they must lose weight, that it’s solely about the weight. Life-threatening diagnoses have been missed because of this practice. I can share more research, about how people in a bigger body can actually be considered “healthier” as they live longer lives compared with those who are underweight. Or noting just how many people assume that they are unhealthy based on weight but who are in tip-top shape.

But I can also note that hiding behind health promotes the idea that worth is related to health—as opposed to the fundamental notion that I will continue to return to in this article—that we can be worthy by being humans, not based on our labs or a number on the scale. Moreover, if it were truly about health then shouldn’t people be more concerned for those in smaller bodies who engage in “unhealthy” practices? Juice cleanses and chemically based products and dangerous weight-loss surgeries would be banned because the science shows just how dangerous these practices can be. It’s not truly (most of the time) about health.

Secondly, this ad exploited the year in Israel after high school—a year about spiritual, religious and personal growth. It essentially tied this year—a year about developing further sense of self, practicing independence, fostering connection—to weight, shape and size in the context of upcoming marriage. It gave this year an agenda, noting that parents should be concerned about what could happen, Heaven forbid, to their daughters’ weight and that this should be a priority.

Furthermore, this ad showed a visual of machines that will magically cause someone to lose weight. It did not hide behind typical practices; rather, the ad was not shy about promoting a weight-loss practice that seemed dubious at best. But here’s the thing: Research shows that the pursuit of weight loss and diets in general does not work. They are all seriously problematic. Yes, some people lose “the weight.” NInety-five percent of these people will regain the weight in a matter of years and then believe that they are failures, seek out another costly diet and repeat a cycle resulting in low self-worth. The diet industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry that relies on people being taught to dislike themselves.

All the diet ads in the world point to the message that your relationship with yourself can change if you look different. I challenge this. Our relationships with ourselves cannot and should not rely on our bodies. This leads to a life of commitment to a scale, deprivation, loneliness, shame, eating disorders and/or self-loathing.

The ad was awful. There are specific reasons this ad was awful to people. And I truly hope that this may pave the way for more people to be critical of ads and the diet industry in general. That it can spark a general outrage and overall curiosity for the pursuit of challenging the diet world, exploring a place where self-acceptance can come at any size, and need not be dependent on health status or weight. Let us use this spark to blaze the way not only for the future generations, but for ourselves.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, please visit www.temimah.com.

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