An ad in Britain for the delivery service Diet Chef has been banned for presenting a “socially irresponsible” approach to women’s body image.
The television ad featured a character, Cheryl, talking to her former self two months after starting Diet Chef, saying: “I know how you feel, you can look that good again you know,” “You look, amazing. I never dreamed I could be that slim again,” and “I bought a bikini last week, for the first time since this picture.”
The former Cheryl was shown wearing a baggy shirt and had messy hair and appeared distressed, while the current Cheryl had a more polished appearance and a happier demeanor.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received complaints from 26 viewers objecting that the ad was offensive and irresponsible for exploiting women’s insecurities about their bodies by implying that they needed to be slim to be attractive and happy and implying that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearance.
Diet Chef said the ad showed the frustration of the former Cheryl, who did not feel able to make a change in her lifestyle or to maintain a controlled diet and so was surprised that she had done so, and the sense of achievement of the current Cheryl.
They provided a document showing that when playing the former Cheryl, the actor had a BMI of 27.4, which was in the overweight category.
The company said the change of appearance reflected the change in her lifestyle and her “taking control”, and the overall approach of the ad was typical of the “before and after” genre of ads commonly used to advertise weight loss products.
The ASA said the former version of Cheryl appeared less polished than the current version but did not give the impression that she had neglected her personal appearance, and considered that viewers would be unlikely to find this part of the ad offensive.
But it said the character’s unhappy demeanour while talking about wearing a bikini appeared disproportionate to concerns about her weight, especially as she did not appear to be particularly overweight.
The ASA said: “We considered that viewers would understand that her concerns about her weight had had a significant effect on her general wellbeing. We considered that, overall, the ad focused disproportionately on the former Cheryl’s negative feelings about her appearance and implied that weight loss was the only solution to her problems.
“It therefore implied that those with insecurities about their bodies, and particularly their weight, could only achieve happiness and self-confidence through weight loss. We therefore concluded that the ad presented a socially irresponsible approach to body image and breached the code.”
It ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form and told Diet Chef “to ensure that their products were advertised in a socially responsible way”.