Subvertising on Facebook!

// 16 July 2008

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Today, I belatedly discovered an interesting project that my Facebook friend Corinna posted a link to a couple of days ago. Basically, Teresa of got so sick of complaining about the endless “self-serve” ads for weight loss products on Facebook that she decided to buy some ads to put out her own series of messages.

Like Teresa, I have to say I too am extremely irritated by the increase in targeted adverts on Facebook and find it hard to believe that they are even effective because, as a matter of principle, I would never respond to any of them (even if I wanted to lose weight). The personalisation inherent in these campaigns seems to be rooted in the idea that quoting a person’s age, alongside prompting her to wonder if maybe she could lose some weight, will give her a warm glow that is bound to lead her to hurriedly click that mouse so she can buy products from this wonderful company that has gone to such trouble to reach out to so many women of the same age at the same time. Because all chicks want to lose weight right?

I reckon Teresa’s idea is fantastic and particularly love the ad pictured above. I really hope the idea catches on (we’re certainly considering giving it a go here at the F-word!) and the only criticism I have is that, as far as I can tell from what Teresa says on her blog, only one group has been targeted: single women aged 18-30. Still, I can appreciate that Teresa is paying for the ads out of her own pocket and that covering all the groups who potentially get targeted with this trash would potentially be a bit much for just one person.

So if you can spare a few quid and a few moments, get subvertising!

Comments From You

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 16 July 2008 at 7:18 am

That’s so cool!

Though you could just delete your facebook profile… I did and since then I’ve been freeeeeeeeee!

frombosa // Posted 16 July 2008 at 8:35 am

Do ya know,this has got to be the best idea I have ever heard of.I’m so sick of these adverts assuming that the only way to be beautiful is to be thin,and tanned.Once pay day comes around,I will definately be subvertsing!

Anna // Posted 16 July 2008 at 8:56 am

That is absolute genius.

Saranga // Posted 16 July 2008 at 9:19 am

How wonderful! I look forward to seeing those floating around facebook. Unfortunately I’m too skint (tight?) to pay for own adverts.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 16 July 2008 at 9:34 am

I get paid next week and I will absolutely be taking out an ad on Facebook.

S // Posted 16 July 2008 at 9:55 am

As someone constantly concerned with my weight and shape, I sometimes find stuff like this patronising. I am not, and nor do I want to be, as large as that woman. Messages about the healthiness of weighing more than the average model constantly imply that those of us who are skinny are unhealthy. Furthermore, they considerably increase my concern about my own weight. I basically always think I’m fat, but I try not to do too much about it as I realise from experience that no matter how much weight I lose, I’m always going to think I need to lose more, and as long as others tell me that I’m healthy I’ll listen to them. But if others think that’s what healthy is? Maybe I *should* lose a few pounds.

eleanargh // Posted 16 July 2008 at 10:12 am

This is ACE. I’m so sick of the “Make Yourself Amazing” cosmetic surgery ads on Facebook. Fuck off, I’m amazing as I am.

I wonder if somebody with the time and skills to create ads but perhaps without the money would like to set up a donation scheme so others can support their ads reaching as many people as possible? I’d love to donate to that.

Lucy // Posted 16 July 2008 at 10:30 am

That is fantastic. I’m so sick of seeing airbrushed torsos with the tagline ‘Overweight at 19?’ – and I’m even more frustrating that it’s targeted advertising; no doubt it’ll turn into ‘Overweight at 20?’ soon. Those ads are a lot more damaging than people think. Good work!

Sarah // Posted 16 July 2008 at 11:05 am

S, there is no such thing as a single ‘healthy weight’ – yes, body weight can be one indicator of health, but people of very diverse weights and sizes can be healthy (or not). We don’t know who the woman in the picture is, and have no way of saying whether she’s ‘healthy’ or not, but her appearance/size certainly doesn’t imply that she’s not.

I’m sorry that you have concerns and problems about your weight – I’m sure many of us can empathise with that. That doesn’t change the fact that these ads are offensive and harmful to many women. No one is saying being thin is inherently unhealthy or wrong, or that you should weigh ‘more than the average model’, or that you should be the same size as the woman in the picture. The whole point is trying to be happy with your natural body type whatever that may be, without being bombarded with messages like this telling us we look ‘wrong’. Not easy, of course, but we can at least reject such obvious attempts to make profit by making us feel bad about our bodies.

Sian // Posted 16 July 2008 at 1:03 pm

That’s an amazing idea! If you lot do it and you need contributions I’d certainly do so.

lindabeth // Posted 16 July 2008 at 1:35 pm

This is the most brilliant thing ever.

Genevieve // Posted 16 July 2008 at 2:33 pm


I know I’ve seen instances in which thin was proposed to be universally unhealthy–models and actresses referred to as emaciated/anorexic, “give that girl a sandwich,” imposed BMI standards for runway modeling, et cetera. And that hurts me, because I am thin, I probably couldn’t get much bigger than I am now, and I do eat, and I like my size. But in my opinion, this isn’t one of those cases. They’re simply saying that bigger women can be just as healthy as smaller women, and don’t need to lose any weight.

S // Posted 16 July 2008 at 2:41 pm

Sarah, while I’m really glad that so many people seem to like this advert as a response, I’m not quite sure that the message adds up. If its point is as a backlash against advertisers who criticise women’s bodies as if they are public property, why does it contain its own judgement on the appearance of the woman in question? Conversely, if it is acceptable for this satirical response to make its own judgement about the size of that woman’s body, why should weight loss ads not do the same?

If I was that woman, I would think I was overweight. It is not necessarily a good thing to be happy with your body shape, even if it is healthy (in the sense that you’re not dangerously under- or overweight). Does saying that mean I’m not a feminist, or that I’m another cultural casualty suffering from socially imposed ideas about perfect bodies?

polly styrene // Posted 16 July 2008 at 2:42 pm

Surely the point here is that it isn’t up to anyone to criticize someone else’s body shape on the grounds of ‘health’ as health is a personal matter. Supposed concern for health is usually used as an excuse for anti fat prejudice (or sometimes anti thin prejudice). A particularly good example of this was the notorious article by Ruth Fowler in the Guardian’s comment is free a while back where she said that she was anti fat women because she didn’t want to look at ‘heart attacks waiting to happen’. Ignoring the fact that she herself is both a smoker and user of cocaine, both of which are massive risk factors for heart disease.

Lynne Miles // Posted 16 July 2008 at 2:57 pm

S – interesting point about putting our own (different) judgement on women’s bodies, but I don’t really understand what you mean by “It is not necessarily a good thing to be happy with your body shape, even if it is healthy“. It doesn’t make you not a feminist – I just don’t really get what you mean. When might it be good to be unhappy about your healthy body?

sianmarie // Posted 16 July 2008 at 3:08 pm

hi all

i totally agree this is a great idea! mainly because i am sick of the weight loss advertising on facebook – it is so irritating to feel bombarded by messaging in that way, and it seems constant – what is the deal with the pink patch anyway? And why should you be compelled to look at these ads anyway when checking messages? i have many many issues with facebook (i should leave i know) and this is one of the prevalent ones. so glad it has been highlighted.

Anna // Posted 16 July 2008 at 3:17 pm

I thought the point of the advert was that the woman looked overweight when she wasn’t because she was wearing trousers that were too small.. which I presume is what happens in weight loss adverts – thus therefore surely turning us off to the normal figure?

S // Posted 16 July 2008 at 3:27 pm

Lynne: Sorry, I should have been clearer, ‘happy’ was not quite the word to use. What I meant was, just because you are a healthy weight does not mean that your body is perfect or beautiful, nor that you cannot feel better about it if you try, and succeed, to change it. I suppose this is just a reaction to the slightly condescending sign-off to the advert. While I appreciate the intention, it’s my body, I’ll decide when I’m beautiful, thank you very much.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 July 2008 at 4:06 pm

S: I see what you’re saying about the sign-off on the advert. It kind of jarred for me too but I dismissed the thought as just my own personal preferences coming through. I’m aware I have a tendency to blanch at anything that seems like corny self-affirmation or self-help (which is often what people assume feminism to be about) but didn’t want to put a dampener on a good idea.

I agree it could seem condescending but also think there’s a strong argument that, actually, we could do with some very blatant messages to counteract the messages inherent in the adverts being subverted.

I do feel like a party pooper saying that though because I love the concept so much and still think drawing attention to the jeans being two sizes too small as the problem (as opposed to the woman herself) is spot on.

Lynne Miles // Posted 16 July 2008 at 4:30 pm

@S Aaah OK. I kind of take that point.

@Holly – agreed- the affirmation that ‘you’re beautiful anyway’ is both cheesy and doesn’t address the point that it’s OK not to be beautiful. As though the fault is the *content* of the beauty ideal rather than its existence.

But for a pithy few lines I still think it’s ace.

Anna // Posted 16 July 2008 at 4:31 pm

Can we get one to counteract the ‘one in three rape victims are drunk at the time of assault, know your limits’?

That advert infuriated me beyond belief.

Holly Combe // Posted 16 July 2008 at 4:45 pm

Lynne- Yes! I knew I had missed something there. After all, we’ll only really know we’ve made it when being “ugly” is seen as no more of a more terrible slur for a woman than it is for a man. We’ll only be free when every woman is liberated to be able to readily say things like “she’s an ugly bugger but she’s a damned smooth operator when it comes to picking people up” without the woman in question highly likely to be utterly insulted or “I’m as rough as a badger’s arse and life is sweet!” without the very real risk of someone completely missing the point by giving her a consoling hug and quietly suggesting she needs to work on her self esteem.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 16 July 2008 at 5:02 pm

Anna – did they have those adverts on facebook? I have seen the weight loss ads, but never those…

I would definitely support taking out ads to counteract rape myths. I think the Truth About Rape campaigners have a facebook group…perhaps they would be on board with taking out some ads? I bet they have some great copy.

Anna // Posted 16 July 2008 at 5:25 pm

Yeah, I was bitching to my friends about it but none of them could see the issue at all.. ‘it’s not victim blaming, it’s just telling women to be careful, because that’s what happens isn’t it’.. I can’t find the actual advert right now, but it’s an extension of the Home Office’s ‘Know Your Limits’ campaign.

Mentions the original.. Stupid advert. One in three rapes occurs when the victim is pissed?

Apparently over half of rapes occur outside the home, too. I’d better stop leaving the kitchen.

Saranga // Posted 16 July 2008 at 9:11 pm

Holly said:

I’m as rough as a badger’s arse and life is sweet!” without the very real risk of someone completely missing the point by giving her a consoling hug and quietly suggesting she needs to work on her self esteem.

Yes! Too many times do people think that knowing your fat or not too shit hot in the looks dept means that you’re fishing for compliments, or looking for attention. It’s bollocks. It’s perfectly possible to be fat and happy with your body shape. I know I was (for a good number of years too) yet whenever I dared to mention that I was fat I got shouted down by people saying I wasn’t and that there was nothing wrong with me. You know, I never said there was. I was making an observation about the real state of the body.

Grrr, arse.

Teresa Valdez Klein // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:12 am

Many thanks for the link love and for sharing this idea with your audience.

The reason I decided to advertise to the single women 18-35 demographic is because that’s the group I would guess that I fall into. I would encourage anyone who routinely sees “targeted” ads that unfairly stereotype them to post ads reaching out to others in that same group to subvert the messaging.

Jill // Posted 17 July 2008 at 1:25 pm

You know, I actually wrote a pretty long letter to the Facebook staff arguing about these types of advertisements. They never responded, but I still have the letter in the form of a Facebook Note on my profile. I really do hate how the ads are all pictures of size 2 women saying that they diet and only THEN feel comfortable with their bodies. Too bad the Facebook staff are so shallow and have such derogatory views of women.

leigh // Posted 17 July 2008 at 10:47 pm

How much do these ads cost?

Can the F word set up a paypal account? If we all contribute and then vote for a favourite message it could reach a lot of people.

Bonnie // Posted 9 September 2008 at 3:54 pm

Thank you for doing this!

FB thinks I’m either too fat, too single or too hairy. I’ve been writing down the most offensive ads appearing on my profile. What will I do with it? Haven’t yet decided.

Of course, the ads come from the information I’ve willingly given FB (single, female, watch way too much TV).

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