Before beginning this blog post, I think it’s important to say that I am not a doctor, nor do I have any qualification that allows me to say for sure what is “healthy” or “unhealthy.” The following post is not meant to say what is a healthy or unhealthy body or body image, nor is it meant to be critical of anyone’s physique, or the physique to which they aspire. Rather, the following is merely an observation of advertisements I have seen while living in the Philippines, a forum for me to express my own thoughts and ideas regarding advertising practices and its impact on the appearance, thoughts and actions of the public.
A number of countries across the world have come under fire in recent years for ad campaigns featuring airbrushed to perfection images of ultra-thin women and muscular-but-not-too-muscular men, which have the potential to negatively impact the body image of the audiences for which they are intended. This body negativity can manifest itself through participation in fad diets, restrictive eating and eating disorders, and unhealthy obsessions with the shape/weight/size of one’s thighs/stomach/buttocks – usually in hopes of attaining the coveted (but not always attainable) size two.
It’s safe to say that this type of advertisement is not unique to the aforementioned regions. Metro Manila is no exception. Harmful advertising permeates this city just as much as any city back home. One feature of advertising here that I have found to be very different than that in Canada is its portrayal of children.
This difference is exemplified through an advertisement for processed cheese. In this commercial, a young boy struggles to pull his shirt down over his stomach. Cut to the next scene, and this child is upset to see that the sandwich his mother made him has only one slice of cheese. Luckily, as this commercial points out, the cheese is easy to slice, so his mother has no difficulty adding two more pieces to his sandwich.
I’m not sure if this type of advertisement is a commentary on beauty and body standards, using cute kids to sell products or perhaps an attempt at body-inclusive advertising. Whatever the reasoning behind it, images of chubby children are used to sell everything from food, to clothes, to laundry detergent – but this same body image standard is not embraced by advertising agencies portraying adults.
I won’t argue that using images of chubby children to sell products is any more or less harmful than using images on the other end of the body image spectrum. (The fact that there is even a discussion regarding body image issues in children due to advertising shows a deep flaw within society – but we shall save that discussion for another blog post.) What I will say though is that the “cute-ifying” of indulgence in processed food has the potential to negatively impact more than just body image – I think of heart disease, cancer and diabetes to start (three of the eight leading causes of death in the Philippines).
Add to that the implication that I interpreted from this commercial that a “good” mother should cater to her child’s dietary whim, regardless of nutritional value, solely because he fits the societal standards of an adorable child. To me, this commercial creates implications regarding body image, health and good parenting practices – all in the name of selling cheese (the word cheese used loosely).
Body image, parenting practices, trendy products and the advertisements that depict them differ from country to country around the world. What does not differ as much though, I believe, is our ability as members of society to ignore these advertisements in favour of doing what’s best for ourselves, our families and our wallets.
 Department of Health (2010). Mortality: Ten (10) Leading Causes. Accessed at: http://www.doh.gov.ph/node/2573.
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