Friday, 24 September 2010

Advertising Anorexia

Disclaimer: Dear Blog Readers – Please do excuse me if today’s blog isn’t up to my usual standards of sarcasm/wit or, in fact, makes no sense whatsoever. I am writing at the tail-end of a flu induced malaise. I have spent the past 5 days experiencing what I can only compare to the worst kind of drunken dizziness, stumbling into my furniture (even more than usual), or sailing around on a tidal wave of snot as it gushes, vast and untethered from my sore, protesting nostrils. I know - delightful imagery. The whole debacle has left me feeling about as energised/attractive as a 4 day old piece of dry toast that’s been lost down the back of a dusty radiator. However, this week saw the emergence of some important eating disorder related news so I felt compelled to blog:

This week, two awareness-raising advertisements, designed for an Iranian organisation to highlight the dangers of eating disorders, were released for the scrupulous assessment of the public.

The first shows a funeral procession, carrying a coffin as they walk through a bleak looking landscape with the message “15% of women who suffer from anorexia will die this year”. The second shows an emaciated mannequin in a shop window with the tag line “anorexia is not fashionable”.

As could have reasonably been anticipated, there was a horrified backlash as the easily-offended collectively gasped, huffed and tutted at the inappropriate use of ‘humour’ and shocking nature of the images.

Let us turn our attention to the first image, of the funeral. As I said to all my horrified mates when I was in year 10, as they bleated about being ‘traumatised’ by the music video for Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ (which we’d all stayed in specially to watch on Top of the Pops in the days before MTV) – “Bad stuff (in this instance, little baby seals getting clubbed over the head) happens and if you don’t like it, do something about it – Protest, give money to a charity, sign a petition – But don’t complain about the people who show the realities of life because it’s not quite palatable to you”.

Anorexia kills – FACT. It has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. I read that some 60% of anorexia sufferers die prematurely – That means it is more likely to kill you than not. Terrifying? Yes. True? Also, yes. Denying the right of awareness-raising organisations to show an image depicting death in relation to an illness which causes death is the equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying ‘lalalala! Not listening!’ Which isn’t terribly mature. So the simple message here is: Get over it.

Now, the issues relating to the second image, the mannequin, are more complex. Perhaps there is something seriously amiss with my sense of humour (although if the recent conference delegate who suggested I should be a stand-up comic after witnessing my seminar is to be believed then probably not), but I fail to see anything funny in the picture. I also fail entirely to see how it could be construed as such. I have analysed every nuance, every facet, every angle, willing myself to detect an iota of hidden humour and yet there the advert remains, being not funny.

Perhaps it was an attempt at capturing Irony, Humour’s cousin. Which would be a valid argument if it didn’t worryingly resemble the shop windows we see in our high streets on a day-to-day basis, but for a few protruding bones adding a touch of realism.

I do have a problem with the mannequin message, although not the prevailing ‘anorexia isn’t funny you sick bastard!’ attitude that it seems to have provoked. Saying ‘anorexia is not fashionable’ is like saying ‘there’s no such thing as propaganda’. In an ideal World, it should be true, and yet all the evidence points to the contrary. The fact is, the mannequin resembles your average straight size model and models are, by definition fashionable. The fact that anorexia is undeniably in vogue is the entire reason there needs to be a campaign in the first place. Perhaps something has been lost in translation.

Of course, you could argue that anorexia is a form of self-harm, induced by private feelings of emotional turmoil that have no cultural context. However, at the nub of all the lifestyle and beauty-based evil in the World is the idea that thinness provides an escape from life’s problems and that is something perpetuated by fashion, so it’s a mute point.

The mannequin picture didn’t need a slogan. It speaks for itself. The addition of a skeletal structure which would be present on a real human body to a plastic imitation the same size as we regularly encounter is an image worth a thousand words.

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