Thursday, February 20, 2014

Is this eating disorder ad too sexy?

Via Ads of The World

It's a serious question. This woman has the typical idealized body of a model, and despite the scary body painting, the portrayal is undeniably drawing attention to her curves and bare skin.

When I think about eating disorders, I try to imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a funhouse reflection of myself that is always bulgier and heavier than reality.  That's the really scary thing about dysmorphia, as opposed to just wanting to lose weight: it's a chronic mental illness that can kill, because people who have it can't see what they're doing to their bodies:

That's a corporate social responsibility billboard that No-li-ta posted in Milan during the city's 2010 Fashion Week. Shorty after the campaign was shot, the woman, French model, actress and blogger Isabelle Caro, died at age 28.

So there are a number of things to consider here:

1. Is the sexualized presentation of an idealized female body just adding to the problem of media-influenced body image problems?

2. Is the statistic misleading or confusing? While the US National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Eating Disorders says that "91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted 'often' or 'always'," they give the statistic for the actual mental disorder of anorexia at "an estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of women." So how are we defining "eating disorder"?

3. What does the Enosh ad want the viewer to do, be aware that eating disorders are bad? There is little here to help those suffering from EDs, or to help their loved ones understand or intervene.

It may seem mean to criticize a well-meaning ad like this, but as a career social marketer I struggle with these same questions in every new campaign I approach.

Cross-posted at Osocio


  1. I think that the two approaches used are very different and need to be judged differently.

    The No-Li-Ta work is powerful and impactive - whilst the composition of it mimics what we understand as sexual advertising, the picture of Isabelle Caro breaks through the notion of sexualisation, instead causing us to reflect on the effects of the disorder, and the gap with the notion of the "normal" female form (where the over-perfect form presented in the media, or the actual normal, healthy, female form).

    By constrast, Enosh are playing it far, far safer. Same idea, just not so extreme and, probably, far more likely to be screened out by the viewer because there isn't that jarring factor.

    While neither contain an actual call to action, we can see what happens if the copy is removed.

    No-Li-Ta still shocks.

    Enosh looks like an ad for Settlers or Wind-Eze.

    So, in answer to your question: Yes, it is possible to use the processes of sexualisation to convey a different, shocking, message - if the creative it up to it.
    Enosh's work just isn't. No-Li-Ta, on the other hand, compels thought and action, even without the explicit CTA...