Okay, you know what? I am going to talk about the ad that pissed me off, because I saw it again today.
It was a Kaiser Permanente ad, on the side of a bus heading down Market Street. I think that was the biggest surprise, because Kaiser’s ads are almost always innocuous and cheery. It was an articulated bus, with the accordion middle, and the ad was spread cheekily on either side: a headless male torso, heavily overweight, with his stomach bulging over the too-small waistband of his jeans, straining fruitlessly to button the fly across the two halves of the bus. Caption? “COME TOGETHER.”
“Kaiser Permanente. Thrive.”
See, here’s the thing that gets me. I understand that overweight and obesity are real medical issues, especially in the US. It makes sense that a company in the business of providing medical care to an increasingly heavy population would want to encourage prospective patients to view weight maintenance as part of staying healthy. It makes sense that they would take out advertisements as part of that strategy. I don’t begrudge them that.
But really? Did it have to be another headless fatty? Was there nothing else?
When journalists and pundits and politicians and, yes, advertisers, are talking about obesity as a public health issue, they’re picturing this kind of thing: the headless, faceless, voiceless, shapeless human inner tube who’s outgrown his pants at a laughable speed. They don’t acknowledge the people living that reality every day. They don’t mention that medical issues can stem from weight gain (or loss, for that matter) at just about any size. They certainly never point to people like me, whose bodies aren’t striking or grotesque enough to make a good story.
There are people, real people, who struggle daily to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, and people for whom a healthy weight is not the tight-muscled slenderness we are encouraged to strive for. The medical care providers at Kaiser Permanente surely encounter a rich spectrum of these people. They could advertise for their real patients. But it’s easier to make a cheap joke.
I do not look like the man in that ad. When it comes to weight–what I carry and how I carry it–I’m on the bare upper bound of normal. Yet I have had more medical intervention on behalf of my weight than most people I know. Most days these days I’m all right with that. It’s a hard fight to get there, but I’m all right with it.
But then I see something like this ad, and I remember that I don’t exist. Only the headless fatties exist. And they need to get treatment right away.