Cancer Research UK recently released an advert to raise awareness of the link between obesity and cancer. As a result, the advert inadvertently registered the convoluted understanding of body size and body image when comedian Sofie Hagen sparked an online debate with her tweet:
Right, is anyone currently working on getting this piece of shit CancerResearchUK advert removed from everywhere? Is there something I can sign? How the fucking fuck is this okay? pic.twitter.com/b7eU7lulms
— Sofie Hagen (@SofieHagen) February 28, 2018
Other people had also voiced their opinion on how the advert made them feel by issuing a hazy link between the advert and fat shaming. Moreover, the reaction grew to the extent of others encouraging to stop donating to Cancer Research UK by also tweeting:
I have to pass it three times on my journey to and from work and one of them is a house-sized billboard. I'm stopping ANY support of @CRUK_Policy until they quit shaming me.
— Beyond Chocolate (@beyondchoc) February 28, 2018
Charged reactions such as these show the need for people to have a clearer understanding of the differences between addressing body image or body size, health or societal ideals, and, links of facts or links of connotations.
To clarify, fat shaming is the practice of humiliating a person judged to be fat, and, body image is the perception a person has of their physical self and the thoughts/feelings that result. Hence by Cancer Research UK addressing a factual link between cancer and obesity, their advert is not in relation to body image or societal ideologies. However, considering the large amount of advertisements that have communicated messages of fat shaming, (particularly towards women) you can understand how people may be predisposed to reading into a mention of obesity in this way, and, reacting with haste.
For instance, in the Fashion industry a plus size model is a size 10. This size is not a reflection of the consumer range of plus size clothing, or a reflection of the terms of weight defined by the NHS. To then make matters more difficult, associations with health are tied to these incorrect messages of size we are regularly shown. Health as understood by an advertisement selling a product is interpretative – it’s a notion suggested through slogans and images which typically tell us that certain amounts of fat in certain places is wrong, unattractive and undesirable.
However, the Cancer Research advert doesn’t feature an image at all. With reference to a clinical term for being overweight to the extent that the health of your body is in danger, it is not providing an image of obesity to measure yourself by. The advert has no focus on aesthetic appearance of the body; it is conveying a fact absent of intentions to conjure an emotional response linked to body image. It is clear then that other forms of advertising must stop presenting clouded suggestions of health and idealistic body images so that when an advert is released to raise awareness of real and severe health issues it can have the positive impact it should have.
And so, for people who are currently dealing with body image issues, I hope the understandings of body size and health are improved so that the Cancer Research UK advert doesn’t make circumstances worse for you. For those who are improving their condition of obesity, I hope the advert gives you the insight, motivation and determination to better your body with a clear understanding of your health in mind.
Finally, as a result of people tweeting to stop ‘any support’ of the organisation I feel it should be made clear that it’s imperative to continue to donate to Cancer Research UK. Their advert, irrespective of individual interpretation, should not create discourse on whether or not to support such a cause.