Warning: This ad could make you fat

October 30, 2012

There was an article in the Fail on Sunday by Dr Ellie Cannon which basically raised the concept that this ad from M&S, which does, to my eyes, show women of all different shapes and sizes, promotes obesity:

OK, so I’m looking at the ad again and I can’t see how it would promote obesity, but that’s Dr Ellie’s opinion.

Yesterday she and I had a discussion on twitter. ‘Fat is not a feminist issue,’ she tweeted. ‘It’s a health issue. Forgetting that is a grave mistake.’

I pointed out that being slim doesn’t always = healthy (particularly if someone smokes) and she agreed.

But she also tweeted that ‘they could have celebrated women of all shapes and sizes.’ Er… the ad does celebrate women of all shapes and sizes, doesn’t it?

I’m looking at it again and I still can’t see how it promotes obesity. Dr Ellie’s argument (I’m calling her Dr Ellie because that’s the name she uses to write her various magazine columns) is that a couple of the models are ‘clearly obese.’

Are they?

I see one model (far right) who could be described as curvy. The others, to me, look slim, and two of them look very skinny.

If young women are given the impression by a doctor that the woman on the far right is obese, and unhealthy, what is this going to do for their self-esteem if they don’t have the same body shape as the model in the middle, or the one on the far left?

The fact Dr Ellie’s original article appeared in a newspaper not known for its love of women of all body shapes, says it all to me. Of course women need to know that their BMI should be healthy, but encouraging them to believe that women with big busts and tummies are unhealthy isn’t sensible medical advice.

It’s dangerous.

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  • Jennifer Howze November 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I remember seeing this ad and thinking, they didn’t really use women of all sizes, only one is truly curvy! So it’s surprising to hear someone say that it promotes obesity.

  • Mama and More October 31, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Oh yes, I can definitely feel myself getting fatter by the second. In fact I am completely overwhelmed with the need to gorge daily on MacDonalds and Coke. As ever, The Fail is more about provocation than sense, and completely overlooks the psychological benefits of demonstrating that curvy can be attractive. Moreover, the term obese automatically conjures image of someone who is unhealthy. As Kate says above, the model on the far right (who incidentally is stunning, that’ll be why she’s a model) is tall, and I am betting that if she is “classified as obese” then she may be just on the edges (which is where at 5″1′ I am for underweight). Far more relevant is maybe a question of ageism, but honestly an ad can only do so much. I would be far more concerned that perhaps the majority of the models have an unhealthily low bmi

  • kate October 31, 2012 at 5:00 am

    I agree. The model on the far right, who isplus size model Candice Huffman, is a size 16, but it must be said she also pushing 6ft tall. At worst, she may be overweight. The rest are not overweight at all as far as I can see. I mean they range from UK sizes 8-16 (US sizes 2-12). This is your typical range of sizes, there isn’t much else unless she wants 6ft size 0 models promoting ads like this???

    The size 16 model is not more promoting obesity any than the size 8 model is promoting anorexia! Dr Ellie’s comment makes no sense unless she was looking at another picture altogether. Otherwise all I can conclude is she thinks any ounce of flab makes you fat/obese, thick thighs, wide hips, or just not be small and petite = fat, which is ridiculous and is a typical mindset of many of those with distorted body image issues.

    To be honest, this article has messed with my head. Being a healthy BMI of 21 and a UK size 8/10 (US size 4), I look like a much shorter version of the one from last model (Rachel Boss). I wonder if she thinks she’s fat because she has wide hips *rolls eyes*. I wish she had at least elaborated on who is supposedly obese/overweight rather than being so ambiguous about the whole thing.

    Anyway, that’s my rant over. I agree obesity is a massive issue around the western world, but the way she approached the subject by making this ludicrous claims basically lost her any credibilty before she even reached the important issues. I guess it was just a way to pull in readers. After all most of her articles have only 1 or 2 comments. It was a cheap shot IMO.

  • Fiona October 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    I’m so pleased you wrote this. I saw this also and really wanted to write about it but couldn’t get the words together – you have written exactly what I think – all women should be celebrated and this advert does just that.

    I am worried for the teenage girls of today who have the media portraying that thin is beautiful – it is not always. I love a good curvy woman and I think we all need to stand united against such professional people being able to say such harmful things like this.


  • Beryl Reva October 30, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Of course all these young, healthy women look lovely; they have been primped and primed for hours by stylists and make-over professionals…….that’s what advertising does, try and convince us this is how we “can” look! Interestingly, these are all YOUNG WOMEN! Did M&S choose not to use some larger,older ladies, warts and all? In their adverts, the older generation are also usually airbrushed to look amazing! The truth is, as we all well know, that in the real world overweight women just do not look like this…..take a look around your local supermarket,or are you all too busy shopping online? Come off the fantasy conveyor belt and realise that this advert is simply that…..an advert, to persuade us to buy. We are now the nation with the greatest obesity problem in Europe, and it needs to be solved. Looking beautiful is not the answer!

  • Mme Worthington October 30, 2012 at 7:54 am

    Well said Liz & Kara my daughters curvy and her eyes she is fat even though compared to curvy lady in ad she’s much slimmer. I’m glad the likes of Dove & m&s use real models, far more positive role models for women young or old

  • Luckylauraq October 30, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I absolutely agree! I am on a mission to give my two girls enough understanding and confidence about their health & body image so ridiculous statements like this don’t contort their views. The ladies in this ad are what I spend 5 hours a week in the gym a week aspiring too and the thought that one day I will feel good enough about myself to do what they’ve done inspires & drives me. Lets forget about fat & thin and talk about healthy & happy or unhealthy & unhappy.

  • Brett Gaskin October 30, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Definitely not.
    I can’t see one obese woman in the picture (curvy, yes, but not obese).

    In addition, I think curves look womanly and sexy in comparison with some women who proceed to diet well past the point of “slim and slender” and become unhealthily skinny.

  • Zoe October 30, 2012 at 7:39 am


    I have a BMI of 26, am about a 14 at the mo. I was told by my GP the other day that I am perfectly healthy and that accepting that would improve my mental health no end.

    Dis-ease with your body is more likely to cause disease than anything else.

  • Kara Guppy October 30, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Well said. This article really got my back and women come in all shapes and sizes.
    I think BMI can be misleading in some cases but it can be a useful tool. Like you I think this ad is a great reflection of today’s women and they all look beautiful.
    I think if you are happy and healthy then do what best for you but if weight is causing an issue then do something about it!

    • Barbara Greenwood October 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

      The trouble with waiting until weight is causing an issue is that a) it is harder to lose weight you’ve been carrying a long time; b) by the time you notice an issue, a lot of damage could have been done which is irreversible (like smoking and excess alcohol, actually)

      Please understand that, for a doctor at least, “obese” and “overweight” are terms which have a precise definition based on BMI, and in the case of obese, also body fat percentage. We don’t know for sure that the model on the right is obese unless she stands on a scale, but given some familiarity with the shape of women at various BMI’s, I think she probably is.

      Whether the picture *promotes* obesity is another question, and personally I’m not sure that it does…. but please don’t slate Dr Ellie for commenting that some of these models appear to her to be overweight or obese.

      I write as someone who has recently lost over 6 stone, but is still obese. My health is much much better already…. and will be better still when I’ve lost some more weight.