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Summer is Coming, Special K Wants You to Hate Yourself

May 8, 2011

I’ve posted before on my hatred for the food industry’s manipulation of our (especially women’s) emotions. But I have a special place on my sh*t list for Special K.  Pun intended.

I recently gave a lecture covering a study that demonstrated that when women view commercials that show a stereotypical depiction of women (for example, concerned about her weight) it has a domino effect in the mind that leads other stereotypes to be “activated.” This doesn’t mean they think “Oh yeah! And women are bad at math, can’t drive, should do all the cleaning and cooking,” etc.  But the thoughts bubble up closer the surface than they normally are. Mind you they are thoughts, almost like reminders of what other people think, not beliefs in what women are actually like.

This leads to VERY REAL consequences for these women, including being less likely to feel they are good enough for a leadership position in a later questionnaire that they don’t even know has anything to do with the commercials they just watched. It basically shook their confidence in being the strong, confident women they could be. Women who had watched counterstereotypical commercials had no problem feeling like they could take on leadership positions. If you want to see the research click here.

I have a feeling Special K is single handedly killing the confidence of thousands of women in this country.

Every summer, Special K rolls out their ad campaign that promises women that if they eat nothing but their products for two out of three meals for two weeks they WILL lose that inch that stands between them and…well…happiness. Above you can see the one from two years ago. This is what it looks like this year:


In case it’s hard to read the copy (whoa, I feel like I’m on Mad Men) it says: “Lose the cover-up/Show off your confidence.” However, the more problematic part is their guarantee: “Lose one inch from your waist in two weeks.

Sounds good right? But look at that woman!! The ad implies that two weeks ago she had one more inch around that abnormally-thin-but-still-photoshopped-to-be-smaller waist of hers. And with that extra inch of ugly, space-taking body she should NOT have lost the cover up. She NEEDED the cover up. Luckily, she was smart enough to use up her precious mental energy on the ridiculous task that is figuring what you can and cannot eat on this stupid challenge.

But really, I should be fair. Special K is by no means the only company taking advantage of women’s self-esteem. Jenny Craig has this ad out:

Sara Rue tells us that because she lost 50 pounds: “Now I can do anything.” Really Sara? ANYTHING? I was going to make a list of all of the things you CAN’T do simply by losing weight (e.g. perform brain surgery) but it was never-ending. To imply that weight loss is a gateway to some sort of true happiness is horrible.

But I will tell you this, running a few miles does release endorphins into the brain. Hiking 7 miles in 6K altitude makes you feel like you can tackle all kinds of challenges, physical and mental. Strengthening your core via pilates makes you feel like you have a solid foundation (literally). This list could also be never-ending.

Maybe if we begin an annual fitness campaign for women right around summer (Nike, Adidas, where are you?) we can gain back the future leaders that Special K and Jenny Craig are currently robbing from us.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    July 29, 2011 11:04 am

    I am amazingly annoyed with the Special K adverts. They are on UK tv all the time, often twice or more within one advert break. I don’t care how healthy/good for you Special K may be because it uses women’s body concerns (and helps create them) in order to sell a product.

  2. Lisa permalink
    September 21, 2011 12:25 am

    Hi totally relate with this, I find I feel inadequate around women who try to live up to these stereotypes and amazing around my friends who don’t play to these stereotypes.

  3. Clare permalink
    May 9, 2012 7:53 am

    I agree…and the stuff isn’t even good for you to base a whole eating plan on.

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