Overheard in the cereal aisle…

// 2 September 2008

Slim, pubescent teen, approx. 13 years old, brandishes box of Special K under Mum’s nose:

“Can we get these ones? They’ll make me thinner”

Laura despairs.

Fucking Special K; so damn tasty, such damn shitty advertising and downright noxious packaging.

And is it just me, or would you have to eat at least half a dozen boxes to feel full?

Photo by Lucy A Little, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Comments From You

frombosa // Posted 2 September 2008 at 1:28 pm

Well she is one of many young girls out there who think like this. It’s so so stupid. It always makes me laugh though that to lose weight on those diets, you have to limit yourself to 25g of cereal or something daft like that. Which is absoultley nothing!

Soirore // Posted 2 September 2008 at 3:40 pm

I hate the adverts so much. The one where she has Special K for a midnight snack especially. I always think; why do you have a biscuit barrel if you’re not going to fill it with biscuits? And even worse you punish yourself for even thinking of eating biscuits? And it makes me want biscuits.

Yes I know it’s not real, but the whole post-it scenario makes me think of desperate, unhappy dieters (and people with eating disorders) and how companies like Special K are taking advantage of them.

Lizzie // Posted 2 September 2008 at 6:07 pm

I’ve heard a lot of simiar things in the cereal aisle myself.

Some of my friends (the 13 coincidentally…or not) even tried the ‘2 bowls 2 meals 2 weeks’ diet. The marketing drives me crazy. The cereal itself isn’t even that healthy, the ‘diet’ only works because you’re practically starving yourself.

Why couldn’t they just market a reasonably tasty cereal for what it is?

Robert // Posted 2 September 2008 at 7:44 pm

Never really understood where anorexia came from. I dont think it came from hetrosexual men we’ aint turned on by overly thin women.

Had this conversation with one of my flatmates she was convinced that men where attracted to skinny women. So i got a couple of my male friends online and showed them a picture of a skinny fashion model and asked “do you find this attractive?” none of them did. One of them memorably replied why are you showing pictures of a 12 year old boy?

Anne Onne // Posted 2 September 2008 at 9:13 pm

I like the taste of special K, especially the fruit one because it’s bland and I prefer light food without a strong taste of a morning. But the advertising is truly irritating, and I hate the implication that women should be (or are) constantly obsessed with staying skinny.

As a teenager, I promised myself that I wouldn’t guilt myself, that I would try to get a reasonable balance of healthy food and snacks and that I wouldn’t guilt myself every time I have anything ‘indulgent’. It’s not that I’d live on chocolate and cake, but rather that I’d let myself choose when to treat myself, and let myself enjoy it when I choose to eat something calorific rather than guilting myself and promising to starve myself later. It’s not always easy, especially if the company you’re in is really diet obsessed, but I’m lucky to have many friends who are as epicurean as me…

Robert, chances are, if you’re attracted to a mainstream female star, you’re attracted to women who are underweight and dieting to a an unhealthy extreme. * I’m not being flip here. The mainstream idea of ‘sexy’ IS underweight. Forget the extreme outliers of the celebrity world, and look at the majority. And they are underweight for a reason: the industry is fuelled by the idea that less fat is a good thing, and that the ‘healthy’ BMI range isn’t skinny enough. That’s what women pick up on. Women thinking men like skinnier women isn’t something they imagined or are being paranoid about: it’s what they see in every men’s magazine, it’s the narrative of the media itself.

And all that crap about men liking ‘curvy’ women when they actually mean someone who is 6 foot tall and a size 8 but with augmented breasts. That’s not actually an ounce of fat, nor is it a physique that is easily achievable, except for hours of dieting, excersise and surgery.

I’m not suggesting you and your friends are into really skinny women, but when a lot of men say they’re into curves, they don’t generally mean a size 12-14, which would be the ‘average’ BMI for a reasonably tall woman.

I’m just sick of the meme that women have it all in their heads, and that men all want some average Bridget Jones type woman (which would be great, if it were true), when any poll on who is the sexiest woman will feature mostly underweight women (large breasts don’t count as fat, sorry. Especially when they’re silicon), and the overwhelming narrative is that skinny IS better. Who cares if a lot of men say they don’t find someone like Kate Moss in her skinniest moments attractive, when the women men call ‘curvy’ and sexy are still underweight? This isn’t against you, personally, and I’m not suggesting you’re one of these rather hypocritical men. It’s just a very common theme among men I meet, and I’m sick of men in general giving themselves a pat on the back for liking ‘curvy’ women when what they really mean is a slighly-more than very underweight woman with big breasts.

Women believe that men like ‘skinny women’ because that is the pressure the media gives women: be skinny or nobody will like you. Granted, women are women’s biggest critics, but the answer is not men having to reassure women that they would fuck them. It would be great if whether some random men would consider a woman attractive could be seen as irrelevant to it all, and that women should be happy with how they look for their own benefit.


Furthermore, anorexia and bulimia are complex mental issues that are about a whole lot more than slimming to appeal to men. The fact that you don’t unnderstand it isn’t a mark against you, but it just means there is a lot of things you are unaware of, particularly about how the media, society and individuals treat women (and men, too) that leads to complex problems. Consider it another form of privilege.

* I certainly don’t intend to blame celebrity women here, or suggest that they are unnatractive because they are underweight, or suggest they are all starving themselves. However, the industry being what it is, it’s impossible all of them have a supernaturally fast metabolism…

Chloe // Posted 2 September 2008 at 9:28 pm

“Never really understood where anorexia came from.I dont think it came from hetrosexual men we’ aint turned on by overly thin women.”

Uhh .. it’s not just women that are affected by anorexia. A lot of people with eating disorders crave attention and control over their lives, and enact this by starving themselves. For some people, it’s totally about becoming thin. But for others, it’s something deeper, where being thin is the consequence rather than the cause of an eating disorder.

Robert // Posted 2 September 2008 at 10:47 pm

The really bad thing is the women in these adverts that focus on dieting et al allready have really decent figures and are very attractive before they start the diet challenge thing. The message seems to be “you see this attractive woman, even she is overweight and most do our challenge”. Argh

robert // Posted 2 September 2008 at 10:53 pm

There has to be a piece of british or european law that forbids premoting such bad diets. They wouldnt get away with it if they told it for what it really is.

“Want to get below a healthy weight? Want to look like a stick insect thats being doing meth for years? Then try the stalingrad diet. 40gs of bread in the morning and at lunch followed by a bit of horse meat at dinner”

Disturbingly i think there are a few companies that would take that up

Robert // Posted 3 September 2008 at 12:30 am

@Anne Onne. Appologies for the possible crudness of past messages. Sorry if it came out as insensative and like i was gloating. I am not as crude as i may appear i just often dont fully engage the grey matter before speaking.Ps the last two comments went out before your replies went up.

Of course i can only speak of myself and to a lesser extent close personel friends who i chat to about stuff like this. But when i say i like curvery women i really do mean curvey women I.e around 12-14. Most of the girls in my social group are around that size and they are all very attractive. Only one of them is what could be considered skinny (though i hate the word) and that is because she is into ballet. To put it into perspective i would rather date a girl who was 2 stone over weight and happy with herself than a girl who was half a stone underweight and insecure.

I realise there are a lot of complex issues that go into eating disorders. I think it would help if more of the infomation was put into the public sphere.

Bee // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:11 am

It’s crazy, isn’t it. I’ve just calculated my BMI and it’s 21.5 – i.e. pretty much in the middle of the “healthy” range. Yet hard as I try not to, I feel I’m too heavy and could do with shifting half a stone. Not enough to actually consider dieting or anything radical like that, you understand, just enough to feel not entirely comfortable in my body. And of course I’m way too fat (not to mention old) for a career as a fashion model or TV presenter… not that I’ve ever aspired to be either, in fact I can’t think of anything worse!

I don’t read fashion magazines and I don’t admire or wish to emulate thin celebrities. But this stuff is weirdly insidious…

Soirore // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:18 am

Robert – Unfortunately there aren’t laws protecting us from idiot diets. Because of the way society values thinness the dieting industry has a free hand in promoting the unhealthy (of body, mind and spirit). As long as the media values images of slim or underweight people. As long as doctors determine our health by BMI (which is not an accurate indicator of general health) and as long as people believe in calories in and out as the way to eat (as oppose to the nutritional value or locality or variety of foods for example) then the diet industry will be an constant evil presence.

Plus only 5% of people who diet keep the weight of for a significant amount of time. How the industry survives with such an abysmal success rate is insane, but people still believe and still spend loads of money.

Anne Onne // Posted 3 September 2008 at 10:43 am

@ Robert: The women in the adverts are thin for the same reason women in ALL adverts are thin: the media shuns fat people, particularly fat women as unworthy of appearing on TV, because they just don’t look ‘good enough’.

The irony that you’d expect weight loss products to be sold with pictures of people who might have more reason to want to lose wight (whether to fit in, or simply be healthier) rather than skinnier-than-average models is entirely lost when society presses ALL women and girls to feel bad about their weight, whatever it is. I can only speak as someone who’s always been in the ‘average’ BMI range, but I can’t say I haven’t felt any pressure. Still do, though I know enough to understand where it comes from, and how to ignore it.

The fact is, even if you’re an average and healthy woman, even if you’re at the lower end of ‘average’ weight, you can always look at the examples of what ‘sexy’ is supposed to be like that are all around us, and remind yourself that they’re noticeably thinner than you. Not to mention there are plenty of men who don’t see anything wrong with going on about how their partner needs to lose weight, that she’s let ‘herself go’, that she doesn’t put enough energy into being feminine (which basically means makeup, expensive/skimpy clothes and dieting) etc when they are perfectly average or a bit overweight themselves. There’s more pressure on women to slim than men, and we can see this through the sheer volume of diet products aimed at women, which is more than all the diet and excersise products aimed at men I should imagine.

As for law, if there was one forbidding diets that don’t work (or are bad for your health *cough* Atkins bloody diet *cough*, there’d also have to be a law preventing cosmetics companies selling lots of ridiculously overpriced anti-ageing creams that are not proven to do anything. But alas, big bucks come from such quackery, and it’s just too ingrained in society to be easily removed.

It’s hard to judge tone on the internet, and it’s really easy to write whatever we think without really thinking through the implications, and we all do it from time to time. The great thing about a place like this is if there is another way to interpret our words, oor if we really weren’t thinking and wrote something offensive or stupid, someone will bring it up and point out why what we wrote is wrong or too simplistic. People don’t always point it out gently, which stings sometimes, but it gets better as we learn and listen more, and say less without thinking. Even I’ve put my foot in it once in a while, and I’m glad when it’s pointed out! :)

Some people can’t (or won’t) take the advice and think about it, and those who ignore all explanations and go round in circles are trolls, which basically just means they’re out to disrupt things. Others want to want to learn and improve, and slowly pick up more and more of how the arguments all fit together, and what the implications are. As a result, we learn how to express what we mean, and how to analyse what we think and write better. You strike me as someone willing to learn, so I have no problem explaining why I disagree.

As for the issue of what women men like (yourself included), as good as your intentions are, it does frustrate me sometimes that it is ALWAYS mentioned when a woman’s attributes, or women’s looks are brought up in general (which is a lot). It’s like we can’t get past the fixation that it should matter very much what men want in a woman’s looks. Every time when men’s appearances are mentioned in the media, we don’t get the same outpouring of ‘I’d hit that’ etc that women’s bodies recieve. The truth is, I think that in order to reduce the stranglehold dieting and appearance obsession has over women as a group, we have to learn to love ourselves for who we are, and what we want to be, and for that to happen, what any men personally like has to be out of the equation. It’s not that it’s not relevant in its own sphere, but the focus should be on what women want from themselves for themselves.

Danielle // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:01 am

What I hate is that advert, possibly Special K, where (pre-diet) the woman hides behind people or objects when a photo is being taken. Because she wasn’t even fat! In the slightest! And the “post-diet” image of her seemed to be exactly the same.

Also hate that advert where loads of women start dodging waiters and hiding their food so they don’t have to eat breakfast, portrayed as some kind of normal thing. As if eating a sustantial breakfast (and I don’t mean 10g of cereal) is a concept totally alien to your average women…

Robert // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:43 am

@Anne Onne. I realise my back and forth with you has seemed to focus on the physical attributes that men, myself in particular, find attractive. That is however only because it was relevant to the advert at hand, cos i felt it nesecary to point out a fair wad of men dont like thin women. All that said most of the blokes i know dont focus on womens physical attributes when looking for someone we may want to be with. Mostly we are intrested in what the girl is like. Decent blokes just like women who are confident, funny and a bit quirky. There was this oz comedian who said “all men are looking for is someone who likes us and has a favourite line from the simpsons”.

Sarah // Posted 3 September 2008 at 12:00 pm

Danielle, I hate that too. It’s actually portraying typical eating-disorder behaviours – avoiding food by pretending you’ve already eaten, being ‘busy’ at mealtimes, hiding food etc and presenting it as something cute and funny and even normal.

BareNakedLady // Posted 3 September 2008 at 1:09 pm

Bee – “I don’t read fashion magazines and I don’t admire or wish to emulate thin celebrities. But this stuff is weirdly insidious…”

Agreed. It is *incredibly* insidious. Robert – there are plenty of men who as you say, are attracted to women who feel good about themselves, are not trying to diet to the size of stick insects, etc. But (and my boyfriend doesn’t really get this either) it just gets in your head and doesn’t get out. It’s absolutely everywhere – sometimes obviously, eg in the Special K ads, and sometimes not – like the fact that you say you like women who are ‘size 12-14’. Even that is contributing, in its way. I realise that you don’t mean to be setting a limit on what dress size you prefer (and I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with having the preference, any more than being attracted to men with red hair/women with small noses/etc). But that’s my point – it just slides into the conversation. You actually have the idea, in the first place, of what dress size you would want a woman to be. Imagine women having that conversation about men – the equivalent term doesn’t even exist. I wouldn’t know what waist size to name as my preferred ‘this is what I’m attracted to’ standard.

And on a separate subject but to confuse the issue further, dress sizes aren’t a standard measurement. Size 12-14 can (and does) mean something completely different in Marks & Spencer than it does in Topshop. Which constantly gives women an experience of trying something on and finding it doesn’t fit, or having uncertainty/insecurity about what their body size actually is.

These are really just examples. But in so so so many ways like them, the issue of weight works its way into our lives.

Saranga // Posted 3 September 2008 at 1:13 pm

Do we know what the mother’s response was?

@ Robert, Anne, Soiroie, Chloe etc.

May I add to this debate that as I’ve understood it, and I could be wrong, but eating disorders aren’t just about wanting to be skinny, they are also about control, (of your body, your life, your surroundings) as much as wanting to be skinny. It’s a really complex area and I don’t think it can be boiled down to just one or two or even 3 factors.

Could I venture a suggestion that the person suffering from anorexia or bulimia may be wanting to exert control over their life, and fighting to be skinny is just one way of doing so.

Am I in the right way of thinking or am I barking up the wrong tree? Can anybody knowledgable in this area provide a response? Thanks.

sianmarie // Posted 3 September 2008 at 2:06 pm

right, putting a caveat on as i don’t want this to sound like a criticism of robert. but i am always surprised how men always respond to points on body image wih a “men don’t find skinny girls attractive” as if that was the point for and reason for women’s disordered body images and eating. it isn’t always a case of wanting to diet to be attractive to men, but dieting because that is what is expected, women are made to feel like they are meant to hate their bodies, we are always being told by media images/advertising/diet fads that there is something wrong with us and that we need to be changed. the pressure is immense. i am slim and confident with my body image, but still find myself considering whether i eat too much, whether i have put on weight, whether i should lose weight, because that is what i am made to think about everytime some stupid Special K ad comes on the TV!

And i totally agree with Anne One. curvy celebrity women aren’t normal weight, they are a size 10 at most. i saw an article the other day PRAISING Courtney Love for “shedding the pounds” to be a size 6. SIZE SIX!!!

finally i am sick of the whole idea of “curvy women are real women” and skinny women are unattractive, it isn’t true! a skinny or slim woamn can still be attractive and a “real woman” in the same way a women with curves can.

right, rant over. !!

SweatyBetty // Posted 3 September 2008 at 3:29 pm

With respect, I think that the fact that the fashion industry is largely dominated by gay men has a lot to answer for, particularly the fetishisation of skinny women. It riles me that womens appearances are still being dictated by men, not to mention by men who do not find the average female form attractive. Notice that the puported ‘androgynous’ fashion never includes muscular or challenging women, but the same emaciated clothes horses, in blazers.

aimee // Posted 3 September 2008 at 3:41 pm

Robert; I’m not sure why this has to be an issue of what kind of woman you, as a man, would rather be with, and why what she looks like should have any relevance to this anyway? Not everything about women is about women in relation to their attractiveness to men.

Seph // Posted 3 September 2008 at 5:03 pm

The Special K adverts do my head in “Zomg you’re not going to fit into that swimsuit you want! no don’t buy one that’s actually your size, buy one that’s 2 sizes too small and have half a spoonful of cereal and nothing else for 2 weeks until it fits you!”

Always makes me wanna reach into the TV and give the poor woman a bacon sandwhich.

Robert // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:34 pm

@ aimee. I was only expressing my opnion to try and show that myself and most of the blokes i know have no particular preference for the body shapes thrust forward in the adds. In one of my comments i did point out that what i, and most of my mates, look for in a women is that she is confident and fun. I realise a lot of eating disorders are about control. My two flatmates for the past two years have been women so i do have a fair understanding of how this sorta stuff can get under a girls skin.

@SweatyBetty. I think you may possibly have hit on an issue there. If fashion is ran by gay men it would make sense that they would put there preference for harder lines, rather than curves, into there work.

Robert // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:35 pm

Women should love there bodies. Dunno if i can put it any simplier than that.

Robert // Posted 3 September 2008 at 11:44 pm

Kind of a dangerouse question to ask. Possibly far to overly simplistic but here it goes. Who contributes more towards eating disorders men for demanding physical “perfection” or womens magazines for pushing this idea?

Soirore // Posted 4 September 2008 at 12:32 pm

Saranga – I mentioned that particular advert in relation to eating disorders because to me it did seem as if the model was using strategies to control what she ate. I’m not anorexic or bulimic but I suspect that such an advert, or any advert that implies that not eating something is desirable may be triggering to someone who is.

If someone without disordered eating is hungry they eat what they are hungry for, the advert is telling us to ignore our instincts and our bodies and let Kellogs tell us what to eat. That to me exemplifies a need for control over food intake that is disordered rather than natural.

Remember too that there is also binge eating disorder and complusive eating disorder which are a different form of disordered eating. Like I said the advert made me want to eat biscuits and the empty barrel was distressing to me. Someone with an over-eating disorder may have a similar but more extreme response.

Laura // Posted 4 September 2008 at 4:53 pm

Robert – Rather presumptive of you to assert that all gay men prefer harder lines. And, as others have already said, while many women’s concern about what men think of their appearance is an issue here (but certainly not the only one), trying to persuade women that they should embrace their curves because men don’t find skinny women attractive – while well-meaning – only perpetuates this male-centric concern. Our relationship with our bodies should be based on what makes us feel comfortable, not on how we believe we are perceived by men, be that in a positive or a negative light.

I only heard the beginning of the mother’s response, which is why I didn’t include it in the post, but it sounded like she was explaining how the diet worked :-S She certainly didn’t make any effort to tell her daughter that she didn’t need to lose weight.

Saranga // Posted 4 September 2008 at 5:28 pm

Soiroire: I was thinking more of your second post re Robert’s comments when I wrote mine, I failed to see your first one in fact :o Sorry bout that. Re-reading it I can see how that advert would be triggering and I agree with you, it does represent a form of control.

Thanks for pointing out other disordered eating, at the time of my post my brain failed to get past anorexia and bulimeia.

Alex T // Posted 4 September 2008 at 6:49 pm

There were adverts for Special K in the fitting rooms of my local branch of New Look in May – something about getting the perfect shape or fit or something. As with that pink Pritt-stick I took a photo and will upload it to the facebook group if Jess will be so kind as to open the photos again!

Robert // Posted 4 September 2008 at 8:21 pm

@Laura Woodhouse. I realise my comments may seem to focus soley on what men find attractive and how this relates to eating disorders. While i realise the issue is infinatly more complex than that all i can really do is bring the male prospective to the table. I still think it would help teenage girls and young women if they where given a better, more balanced, insight into the workings of the male mind when they where younger. On the straight lines thing it was an over simplification for a over simplified theory.

Kim // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:02 pm

Robert, your comments do show an appreciation for confidence and individual attractiveness rather than the media’s droning: “You will like thin-waisted big-chested women”.

I just saw the Special K advert with the biscuit barrel (and no biscuits) and my first thought was the same; why the hell would a woman of that size deny herself biscuits? If she loses weight, she’ll be unhealthy! They choose people of the optimum size and then show them attempting to become even THINNER. And it’s not pointed out by everyone, not even by many people. That’s what’s scary.

Qubit // Posted 5 September 2008 at 2:03 pm

I can’t help but feels comments like men don’t like skinny women seem to be designed to make sure that those women who are naturally skinny don’t get too happy with their body. It feels like saying ‘now we have made sure all women who aren’t of a really slim build feel bad let’s make sure those who are don’t get too confident’.

I know it isn’t meant like that but it does feel like you are trying to eliminate the acceptability of the only body type that is ever shown in the media thus making every women’s body inferior and unacceptable.

B // Posted 12 September 2008 at 3:42 pm

@Bee – 21.5 is in the LOW range of BMI. healthy is 20-25. It makes me want to cry, therefore, that you have internalised the messages and feel that you are too heavy. I’m glad you don’t intend to do anything about it, because depending on your height and weight, that could actually push you towards the ‘unhealthy’ range.

Anne Onne // Posted 12 September 2008 at 8:34 pm

Robert, the thing is THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL MALE MIND. Not only do not all men feel the same way as you do (many take great pains to remind us every day what they do or don’t like- the whole society’s set up so that men can judge and women can be judged), but whatever men say they want today is NOT some biologically-based absolute. What has been considered ‘attractive’ has changed dramatically through history, so there’s no immutable ‘truth’ that we can tell girls and women, because every person (in this case man) is different, and subject to a blend of societal expectations and personal desires.

As you say, women should love their bodies. But not because men find them attractive as they are. Women should love their bodies because they are theirs, because this collection of bones and muscle and sinew and organs is an amazing, beautiful work of art that is unique in every person. They should love their bodies because there is no such thing as a body which is not good enough. Sadly, the very reason many women do have problems loving their body is because they’ve been bullied into believing that their worth is based on how well they fit expectations and whether enough men find them attractive.

Also, you don’t mean to be irritating, and evidently have the best of intentions, but you have absolutely no idea just how often (even in a day) women are told they should care what men are thinking. Women’s magazines devote a huge amount of space to telling women how to get a man, how to please her man, how to keep looking good for him, what to do if there are problems in the relationship…

Only this week yet another relationship book was being publicised on TV that aims to ‘translate’ manspeak, and puts the onus of solving relationship issues, and communication on women. The problem isn’t that women are being given some advice, the problem is the advice expects them to take all the responsibility for their relationship

The very fact that there are relatively few books or magazines aimed at men in the context of encouraging them to pander to women in anything like the same way we are expected to do with men is telling. There just isn’t the same focus on men to please women, or even the same pressure on them to have to look good and spend a lot of money and time to look good and stay thin/athletic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: some pressures are wrong for both genders, but the encouragement to

work at a relationship, and take your partner’s feelings into account is something both genders need to practice, and in reality men aren’t encouraged to. Society doesn’t actually expect men to do anything in relationships apart from ‘bring home the bacon’,

This seems tangential, but when what you were talking about giving an insight into men, it feeds back into this whole multitude of ways in which women are pressured to try to please men and worry about what men will think. We spend half our lives having to second – guess men. Sometimes it’s because we’re afraid and need to figure out if that strange man on the bus or in the street will hurt us. Sometimes it’s because we’re expected to make all the effort and do all the compromises in a relationship.

Aimee // Posted 13 September 2008 at 6:33 pm

Robert… I’m still confused as to why a male perspective of a woman has to be concerned with what he finds attractive about her.

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