The Big Business of Losing Weight as a New Year’s Resolution

I noticed them the day before Christmas, when I turned on the TV. Blaring from my screen, in quick succession, the barrage of weight loss advertisements, clearly designed and intended for women who are feeling a bit bad about overindulging at the holidays, or who have chosen weight loss as their New Year’s Resolution. It seems like the advertisements start earlier each year. They play on the fears, and the guilt, that so many of us have been conditioned to feel around the holidays.

It isn’t just advertisements on television, either. This careful, deliberate marketing happens all over the place. A quick visit to Walmart the other day to exchange a gift resulted in my walking past several displays geared towards women who want to make a change for the New Year. Gone were the end caps full of Christmas chocolates, cheap stocking stuffers and bottles of wine; they had all been replaced with displays of the weight loss drug Ally, stacks of Fiber One Products, and cases of Slim Fast. The marketing is so subtble in some cases that we don’t even notice it. The normal two aisles-long display of chips and snacks that usually boast bags of Doritos and boxes of Cheez-Its had all been replaced with “healthier” snacks like reduced fat Kettle Chips, Triscuits, and a new low-fat dip product. Manufacturers and stores know that we’ll have that deep-seated desire to “diet” after the holidays, and they are all very careful to put these products at eye level with us, so we fall for the gimmick and continue to spend money with them.

A quick glance at the checkout line showed magazine after magazine, freshly replenished after Christmas, full of weight loss tips, quick and easy exercises, and low-fat recipes, to help us lose weight after overindulging.

The television advertisements are brutal in their assault of the average woman – they play on all her fears of being overweight, out of shape, and not in keeping with the ideal figure. Mariah Carey dances around in half an outfit, showing off her tight stomach after having twins last year. Jennifer Hudson dances beside her former fat self, illustrating just how much weight she has lost and how much “better” she looks now. Janet Jackson’s advertisement seems to go on forever, with the singer/actress talking sincerely and somewhat sadly to the camera about her lifetime struggle with weight issues. All three advertisements are designed to leave the viewer feeling depressed, dissatisfied and motivated to change whatever part of themselves they’ve been convinced needs to be changed. As if that isn’t bad enough, subtle cues are everywhere, from the strategically placed cases of Slim Fast on the store shelves, to the segments on your favorite daytime televisions hows and news broadcasts, to the subtle change of articles in the magazines you’re reading. It is everywhere. The holidays are over – now it’s time to lose weight.

The period between Christmas and Valentines Day is a carefully constructed “holiday” all its own – manufacturers, stores and marketing companies all work together to put the idea into consumers’ heads that they have overindulged in some way, and that now is the time for change. Sales of diet aids, health and beauty products, quitting smoking aids like Nicorette, and even things like cleaning supplies and household items soar this time of year. Everyone is convinced that they have to better their physical health, their physical appearance, as well as the appearance of their homes, their pets and even their kids. Most people never even notice that these ideas are carefully put into their heads by advertisements, magazines and television shows. We just think we’ve come up with a great New Year’s Resolution.

In reality, we’re all subscribing to yet another form of pressure from the media. Sure, a great number of people over-indulge at Christmas time (a small glance at my dining room table, collapsing from the weight of all the delicious chocolate and treats people gave me as gifts will show you just how much I’m overindulging these days), but isn’t that one of the best parts of the holidays? Enjoying family, friends and good food/drink without guilt? Of course there is nothing wrong with trying to quit smoking, resolving to clean your house of clutter and junk, or to lose a few unwanted pounds. Those are all great things to aspire to, if you really want to aspire to them. There is something inherently wrong, however, with having the idea that you should change planted in your head by the media. We shouldn’t have to be bombarded with ads of our celebrity counterparts showing off their newly acquired abs and toned arms while we still have leftover Christmas cookies in the kitchen. I strongly dislike the marketing strategy of making consumers feel inadequate in order to sell products, especially when these marketing strategies are careful to cling to the coattails of the holiday season. We’re barely even finished with our limited edition Christmas coffee creamer before we’re feeling fat and unhappy again.

There is nothing wrong with businesses like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers, if clients get something positive out of them. Different things work for different people, and there are people out there who have resolved to get healthier or lose weight who have seen incredible results with these programs. My problem doesn’t lie with the companies themselves, but rather their way of advertising. Playing on the guilt of the holidays, and the fear that we are somehow inadequate as people and must “resolve” to lose weight/tone up/stop overeating. For me, the holidays are a time to count your blessings, be thankful for what you have and who you are, and enjoy life. How can you do that if your TV is telling you you’re fat?

Image Courtesy Weight Watchers

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Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

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