Panel blames female eating disorders on media, ads

(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A “plus-size” model, the director of communications for Kellogg USA and a marketing executive at Anne Klein were among the panelists at a public forum Tuesday that blamed the media for promoting eating disorders.

Speaking to a mostly female crowd of more than 200, the panelists talked of their own experiences with body image in their diverse media roles.

Karen E. Kafer, director of communications for Kellogg USA, which makes Special K cereal, said her company has changed the way food is marketed.

The “reshape your attitude” campaign, which Kafer presented to the panel, includes the award-winning “bar guys” spot, which features men in a bar who satirize the traditionally female obsession with body weight and image.

Panelist Jean Kilbourne presented ads that equate food not just with body image, but with sex. She said such ads treat food like sex, causing people to associate it with their own sexual appeal.

Kilbourne, a frequent speaker at college campuses and a visiting scholar at Wellesley College, said the $36 billion food industry uses such connections to sell more food. She said the industry’s tendency to photograph food items in a close-up, sensual manner gives the products a mystique once afforded only to illicit affairs.

“When food is advertised with sex, eating becomes a moral issue,” she said. “The menage a trois that we’re made to feel ashamed of, is now with Ben and Jerry’s,” she quipped, referring to the popular ice cream maker.

Panelists said clothes also are sold by presenting the body image women overwhelmingly desire. Laura Wenke, senior vice president for marketing at upscale women’s clothier Anne Klein, said her company’s new advertisements feature professional women, rather than models, because many customers think models are too thin.

Wenke presented slides and video footage from the group’s newest ad line, which she said used women with larger dimensions. The ads present groups of women – diverse both ethnically and in terms of body size – all wearing Anne Klein clothing. The “heavily credentialed” group, Wenke said, includes former Texas governor Ann Richards and Broadway actress Bebe Neuwirth.

Despite such attempts to reform the image of a beautiful woman, the U.S. media still makes it difficult for women to accept their less-than-perfect bodies, said Kate Dillon, a self-described “plus-sized” model.

As a young girl, Dillon became obsessed with her weight because of taunting and developed “walking anorexia.” At 16, she entered the fashion industry as a “skinny model,” only to quit at age 20 because of her constant struggle to stay thin.

“I couldn’t help but recognize that I was a player in my destruction,” she said. Two years later, Dillon resumed her career as a “plus size” model. Her story drew sustained applause from the crowd.

-by Scott A. Resnick, Harvard Crimson

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