SUCK IT FLAT TUMMY: WHY MARKETING EATING DISORDERS TO "BABES" IS HARMFUL AF


If this billboard strikes you as vaguely familiar, it's likely because you either saw something similar last month while in Times Square or read about the colossal internet controversy it’s generated since.

The original billboard (photographed by Sophie Vershbow) hosts a smiling model's face—placed in one of one of the world's most visited tourist attractions—holding two lollipops with the text "Got Cravings? Girl, Tell Them To #SUCKIT!" bookending her grin on a trendy, Millennial Pink background. This advertisement belongs to Flat Tummy Co., a business which, in addition to selling "tummy flattening" tea and smoothies, seems to delight in calling consumers "babes" as often as possible. In May, they launched and quickly began peddling their new “Appetite Suppressant Lollipops” orif we were to stop mincing wordseating disorders for just $49 per month.

The pushback against these lollipops—and this billboard in particular—has been both widespread and thunderous. Pushbacks have ranged from a Change.org petition demanding its removal signed by close to 100,000 people to dozens of articles pointing out how encouraging customers to not eat adds to the already pervasive issue of eating disorders that affect approximately 70 million people worldwide.

When you take into consideration that:


… those who rail against Flat Tummy Co. have every right to be appalled. This type of advertising campaign isn't casually controversial; it's deadly.

Here's what companies like Flat Tummy Co. will never tell you, so I will: We are born with an inherent connection between our minds and our bodies—a glorious communication channel that is then systematically stripped away by our ubiquitous diet culture.

The solution to this monumental problem is NOT to suppress cravings or our appetite; this not only causes mental and physical harm, but also perpetuates the cycle of internal disconnection. Rather, the solution is to relearn how to trust ourselves and how to listen to what our bodies are telling us they need—to slowly rebuild the beautiful relationship with our bodies and brains. A relationship that was intentionally removed by companies who profit from a $66 billion dollar weight loss industry.

In light of everything mentioned above, I'd like to offer an antidote to this Baffling Billboard Bullshit.

If we are going to be posting advice-dispensing billboards that start with, "Got Cravings? Girl, ...", here’s what they could say:





The backlash against Flat Tummy Co. and their marketing choices isn't new by any means. Before the arrival of the infamously damaging billboard, preexisting criticism intensified almost a month earlier when Kim Kardashian West endorsed the newly launched lollipops.

Kim Kardashian West is, for the record, the "Top 7th Influencer" in the country and 14th largest influencer in the world, with over 114 million followers on Instagram. It's important to point out that more than 77% of her followers are under 25 and if you're wondering why this particular percentage matters, simply read on my friend. It definitely matters.

A not so fun fact: 95% of people with eating disorders are between 12 and 25. With some simple math, we can quickly deduce that, with every image she posts, Kim reaches more than 87 million people within that high-risk age bracket—87 million people who "coincidentally" are the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to disordered eating and body image issues.

It's almost as if the CEO of the company that owns Flat Tummy Co., Jack Ross, stood in his office one day and thought, "Hmmm ... I wonder how we can cause the MOST harm to a group of people who are already the most vulnerable? ... Oh, I know, Lollipops. And let's be sure to hire Kim Kardashian to tell her young followers that they're ‘literally unreal'!"

I don't actually know who developed the lollipop pitch; but regardless, I'll be the first to acknowledge that this calculated collaboration was a powerful and brilliant business decision that hit consumers with alarming accuracy.

I also will remind you (repeatedly if necessary) that these types of sponsorships are potentially fatal to the millions of young people who inadvertently receive this dangerous messaging while scrolling through their feeds—messaging that easily could stay with them the rest of their lives.

In short and if we were to use their words? Suck it, Flat Tummy.




When I invited the "girls" (or "babes," take your pick!) to model in these “antidotal” replacement ads, I asked them one simple question before they arrived for the photo shoot: "What is your favorite food?" The question, shown clearly throughout the images, was answered very differently by each person, but I adored the enthusiasm that it was met with by all.

I was intentional in both asking this question and in leaving it open-ended—I wanted to offer the opportunity for each person to check in with herself without limitations. Being inquisitive about what we enjoy, want or need when it comes to food is not only culturally uncommon, but discouraged (see toxic lollipop campaign mentioned above).

Hunger, also known as cravings, is our body's fundamental way of communicating that we need to eat— that we need food and nutrients to function. Food can serve other purposes as well, like addressing meaningful mental needs that we often disregard as frivolous. How I wish we would stop insisting on treating mental and physical health separately when they couldn’t be more connected!

Our cultural norm may encourage deprivation, restriction and dissociation, but it’s important that you know that there is a brilliant alternativeoften referred to as Intuitive Eating. This holistic substitute prioritizes the individual and encourages the practice of making peace with food, respecting our emotions and honoring our bodies’ unique needs. Relearning how to approach food after dedicating the majority of my life to following diets is (still!) hard as hell. But I've come to find that the road to recovering from diet culture is more than worth it.

Fortunately, there are more and more educational resources available every day to support intuitive eating, flexibility and body trust! I highly recommended these 12 starting places if you happen to be looking for a more comprehensive and balanced way to approach health.

There is power in educating ourselves about how our bodies work and what they need, and then deciding how to best work towards understanding and respecting their requests. There is power in making decisions based on what is ideal for you, not what is best for someone else. There is power in looking at an eating disorder waiting to happen, packaged as a stylish piece of candy and saying “Hell. No.”

I am SO ready for this to become the new norm.

You are welcome to join in on the fun! We would love to see a picture of you enjoying your favorite food (or whatever you're currently craving!) with the hashtag #SuckItFlatTummy! You are also welcome to stay current on other cool conversations alongside an awesome group of bad-asses that all hang out here.

P.S. Flat Tummy Co., if you ever decide you'd like to rectify your billboard mistake and host something healing instead of harmful... I've got plenty of images you're welcome to use.

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