An undefined struggle
April 11, 2011 —
I sell advertisements. Consequently, I have started looking at advertisements more and thinking about how effective they are. Billboards on highways get people’s attention. That does not mean they are a good fit for every advertiser, but getting people’s attention is step-one, no doubt. I just saw a billboard that got my attention, but I do not yet know how I feel about it.
The board read like this: “1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger.” Then, there was a URL that I did not have time to read. Poorly planned board, board planner. That is not the point, though. I read the board, and I was unsure of the message it was trying to send. I was at first sympathetic, leaning towards the notion that ad was calling attention to Americans who are underfed against their will due to poverty. I thought back to my days at Lincoln Elementary, where I once saw a boy a year younger than me sitting hugging his knees, crying because he owed too much on his lunch account and they had turned him away at breakfast. We thought this happened kind of a lot in Sault Ste. Marie, but my sister, a speech pathologist for Kalamazoo public schools, sees dozens of her students come to school unfed every day. If this is what the billboard was addressing, I wish I would have seen the URL.
On the other hand, if this billboard was referring to the possibly 1 in 6 people who are hungry because they have forced themselves not to eat in some misled attempt to look unnaturally thin, then I resent the tone of the message. A different kind of attention must be called to this madness. Whoever decided to conceptualize hunger as some force against which we must fight to continue looking like gangly teenagers is responsible for a great deal of the insanity and suffering of young women and girls around the world.
Despite the best efforts of Queen, Sir Mixalot and AC/DC, there is still far more pressure to not be fat than there is to not be a bag of bones. The origin of this tradition is most likely pressure to be attractive to the opposite sex (or to the same sex, if that’s who the object of your attraction is.) In the same way that men feel that their worth is connected to how attractive they are to women, women feel better if they are attractive. Women were long trapped into a role in society that caused their economic vitality to be entirely dependent on being attractive, and the sentiments passed down through generations even today were built on this situation. Consequently, women still feel a great deal more pressure to be attractive than men do.
But this cannot explain the degree to which women feel they must be so thin today. It has gone beyond wanting to be attractive. Men do not find boney bodies to be attractive. All the men who have encouraged this obsession with being as skinny as possible are in the fashion industry. The vast majority of men do not find the alien-like bodies tromping up and down the runway in costumes from Tim Burton movies to be attractive.
So stop fighting hunger and start fighting the idea that hunger is a bad thing. We should all take care of ourselves, but I am not about to start lifting weights eight days a week and taking steroids, and I hope that people realize that hunger is not a sign that they need to hop on a treadmill, it is a sign that you are still alive. Go eat a salad….with tons of ranch.