The Weight Watchers ad “All You Can Eat” features almost pornographic images of food: a toss of crispy, flaky onion rings, a close-up of a fizzy soda pour, the sugar of crème brulée crackling and browning under a pointed flame. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul narrates over the images with a tongue-in-cheek addiction metaphor, first asking the viewer, “Hey, want to get baked? Glazed, iced, fried?”
The quickly moving images are straight out of any food-related ad you can imagine, including a quick dash of Carl’s Jr.-esque objectification of women thrown in for good measure. Edvard Grieg’s frantic “In the Hall of the King” plays through the ad. It’s all too familiar. It’s the food imagery the average American consumes daily, and the end of the ad is a welcome relief from the oversaturation.
Weight Watchers’ obvious angle is to speak to the U.S. obesity problem (and make money off it) through the lens of our average uncontrolled media consumption. But, at a deeper level, the company is pointing out the guilt that can come with overeating and the shame of being overweight (and making money off it). Weight Watchers is trying to say, Hey, why wouldn’t you feel bad when this is what you’re bombarded with? But what comes out of the ad is the more damaging sentiment, You indulge but you and I both know it has to stop.
The biggest kicker of the ad comes at the end, when Paul asks the viewer, “You gotta eat – right?” as the commercial cuts to an empty plate. The underlying tone is sarcasm: You have to eat, but not all of that crap we Americans surround ourselves with; have a Weight Watchers meal. His words are also a threatening hypothetical: maybe you don’t have to eat.
After Paul delivers that last line, the text over the empty plate on the screen reads, “It’s time to take back control.”
Control. Perhaps an all-too familiar word for someone living with an eating disorder.
With this ad, Weight Watchers tiptoes on a line that glorifies disordered eating. Of course, a person who wants to diet (Weight Watchers target audience) will need control. But, why is this person dieting in the first place? Is it for health reasons, or is it an attempt to fit an unrealistic standard of beauty or combat the guilt associated with overeating?
We all want control over our eating habits and life choices and to be our best selves. But Weight Watchers is contributing to a narrow idea of what a “best self” can be. If society gets on a track accepting of all bodies, it will collapse the pillars of self-hatred, empty promises, misinformation, and big advertising budgets that Weight Watchers rests on. We’re on our way.
This blog post was sponsored by: RSP Architects