I’m not going to lie, I’m guilty of indulging in products such as SkinnyPop popcorn. I’m a lazy person who doesn’t like messes; so the appeal of yummy pre-popped popcorn in a family sized chips bag is obvious. However, I was cramming for my finals while chowing down a bag of SkinnyPop with my boyfriend last night when I started to think about the product name.
According to McLorg and Taub from their study on eating disorders,“Product names and slogans exploit the thin orientation; examples include ’Ultra Slim Lipstick,’ ‘Miller Lite,’ and ’Virginia Slims’…the notion of enjoying food is combined with the message to be slim.” This advertising strategy communicates to individuals that they don’t have to deprive themselves in order to achieve a slim body. This is problematic because it paints a slender body as an ideal one that everyone is or should be trying to achieve, as well as because it fosters an obsession with calorie counting and dieting when one should just be enjoying their ice cream, popcorn, or cheesecake.
We already know that counting calories isn’t the best measure for health; time and time again, studies show that “calories in, calories out” is a load of crap. Our bodies already tell us what they want, so nutrition labels shouldn’t have to. We need a mix of different macro and micronutrients in order to fuel our bodies. We need protein, fiber, fat, carbs, sugar, etc in our fuel, and measuring the amount of fuel we need through predetermined numbers instead of just listening to our bodies messes everything up in the short and long run. Restricting this fuel leads to a poor physical and mental state.
What makes this more problematic is the way in which these products are targeted at women. In almost all of the commercials for these skinny, low fat, low sugar, low calorie etc. products, cisgendered thin white women are the ones enjoying their low-calorie yogurt or sugar free ice cream, often in a manner that is sexualized as well. This creates the idea that female-identifying bodies should be conscious of the calories they’re putting into their bodies in order to appeal to the male gaze and generates the idea that people who don’t look like the women in these commercials aren’t appealing and should start utilizing these products in order to appear more like them.
We shouldn’t feel the need to buy into these products. In reality, skinny products are just a marketing strategy that reinforces fatphobia by pushing the idea onto us that not only do we need to look a certain way to be beautiful, but that these products are going to help us do that. I’m not saying we should necessarily boycott the “skinny” products, but buy them if you genuinely enjoy the food, not just because of the “skinny” branding. In this age of body positivity and acceptance, this sort of product branding should have ended a long time ago. Maybe I should switch to BoomChickaPop instead of SkinnyPop (they have a holiday edition in which the popcorn is drizzled with dark chocolate and sea salt. Please try it, it’s delicious!)
References: McLorg, Penelope A. and Diane E. Taub. “Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia.” Mapping the Social Landscape, edited by Susan J. Ferguson, 2018, pp. 219- 230.