In a surprisingly mature move, Yoplait agreed to take down a commercial that eating disorder awareness groups claimed had the potential to trigger harmful thoughts and behavior in people suffering from eating disorders. The yogurt company and its parent, General Mills, were commended by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)’s president, Lynn Grefe, who said, “I believe the company had no intent to harm and gained insight into a very serious issue that we hope will influence their marketing decisions in the future.”
The ad was clearly problematic: it depicted a woman standing in front of a refrigerator, obsessing about whether she could have a slice of raspberry cheesecake. Running through her “options,” the woman debates whether she has been “good” enough to have a small slice, whether sticks of celery would “cancel” a larger slice out, and whether – most absurdly – she should jog in place while eating the cake. A thinner coworker then stops by the fridge and grabs a raspberry cheesecake Yoplait Lite, showing the first woman what her choice should be.
This kind of thinking is familiar to anyone who has struggled with eating disorders. As Jenni Schaefer, an author who wrestled with anorexia and bulimia in college and now writes books about her experiences, is quoted as saying in a piece by Laura Stampler, “When you live with an eating disorder, you divide all foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories, like the yogurt versus the cheesecake [in the commercial]. Pretty soon everything moves into the bad category.”
Yoplait and General Mills claimed innocence. “The thought had never occurred to anyone, and no one raised the point,” said a communications VP. “We aren’t sure that everyone saw the ad that way, but if anyone did, that was not our intent and is cause for concern. We thought it best to take it down.”
The fact that a large company like General Mills would be responsive to advocacy by an eating disorder association is certainly hopeful, although surely they shoudl have seen in advance why this ad could be damaging. Even for women who don’t suffer from eating disorders, this encourages a way of thinking about food, not as nourishment, but as an enemy. Real corporate responsibility would have been to refrain from running the ad in the first place.
Photo from sweetfixnyc's Flickr photostream.