THE SKINNY ON SKINNY MARKETING
July 1, 2014 — “Why can’t we accept the human form as it is?” screams no one. I don’t know why, but we never have. That’s why people wore corsets and neck stretchers and powdered wigs.
— Tina Fey, Bossypants
There are a number of definitions of what constitutes the perfect female body. The difference between models’ weights and the weight of the average American woman has grown from 8 percent in 1975 to over 23 percent today. The truth is that there is a persistent and noticeable gap between the bodies of idealized women and everyday people.
Why do marketers persist in hyping this gap? Apparently it’s good for business. Companies like Skinnygirl (brainchild of Bethenny Frankel of Real Housewives fame) claim to be empowering women. Skinnygirl — which sold to Jim Beam in 2011 for close to $100 million — has grown from offering its signature margarita to over 16 varieties of “no guilt” cocktails that urge women to “drink like a lady.” Nestlés’ Skinny Cow brand took in a two-year revenue of $125 million by selling candy, packaged as diet food, to women. The list goes on: Diet Pepsi’s Skinny Can, SkinnyVine, Skinny Pop, Lean Cuisine, ThinkThin, Skinny Buns, Skinny Sticks, Skinny Pasta.
Reality check: “Skinny” has become an alluring catchword that can be placed on any product without regard to nutrition facts. Reality just left the building; what-the-what is Philosophy’s The Big Skinny self-tanning cream or Paul Mitchell’s Super Skinny hair care? I don’t want skinny hair. Clothing brands like Abercrombie and Fitch market to thin women only. And there are hundreds of so-called health blogs with the word “skinny” in their titles. These websites claim to be helping women reach their own best versions of themselves. But for many, “skinny” is a term often associated with a lifetime of diet, sacrifice and unhappiness.
Wanna be a hero and still win? Steps toward healthier, more positive messaging have been popping up slowly. “Strong is the new skinny” messages have become prominent in social media, having originated from organizations like Crossfit. Companies like Tone It Up focus on positive fitness, lifestyle and nutrition training. And though it’s had its share of criticism, Dove’s Real Beauty campaign seeks to promote women’s self-esteem by showing females of all shapes and sizes in its ads. By focusing more on “strong” rather than “skinny,” we will be sending a message that we should focus on being happy in our own skin.