Controversial slimming ad sparks debate


A slimming advertisement depicting an overweight woman's life in a downward has sparked a debate over its appropriateness.

The two-minute commercial by London Weight Management, aired on television and online, starts by showing a woman fired by her boss because of her looks. She grows depressed and quarrels with her husband, eventually landing up in hospital with high-blood pressure.

The ad, which is described as being based on the true story of Kelly Phoon who lost 20kg in three months, then shows the woman signing up for the centre's slimming programme and finding happiness in a slimmer body.

Uploaded on YouTube on 23 August, the clip, viewed 7,000 times, has received 168 dislikes and four likes as of Friday night. Many comments criticised the advertisement for being in "poor taste".

TV host Anita Kapoor wrote and published an open letter to London Weight Management on her blog on Friday, saying, "You have insulted all women, everywhere."

Noting that she had never experienced such a "deep, almost physical response" to anything as she had when she saw the ad on TV, Kapoor said, "You, and all who supported you to produce it, have colluded to portray women as pathetic, unworthy individuals. Losers on every level if they are overweight; winners at every level if they are slim.

"This is irresponsible, vile, atrocious advertising, and in every scene you have gone ahead to make many claims,"  she stated before outlining seven scenes she did not agree with.

The company's view of women, as shown in the ad, is "extremely troubling" and should warn women to "avoid your services entirely", she added.

Corrina Lim, executive director of the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), felt the commercial was unrealistic and exploited women's fears.

Kwan Jin Yao, co-founder of 'Food is not the Enemy' -- an Aware campaign that seeks to raise awareness of body image and eating disorders -- told Yahoo! Singapore that he felt insulted when he watched the ad because it seemed to imply that men cannot look beyond external appearances and a woman needs to be beautified before he could like her.

While the 20-year-old understands that the ad was designed to sell a product, Kwan said, "I think it manifests certain insecurities of women, and reinforces that notions of beauty are defined by appearances and looks."

He added the unhappiness over the advertisement "shows that Singaporeans are aware that the company is sending out such messages."

"It's a good sign that Singaporeans judge a person's worth beyond their appearance," he pointed out.

An advertising executive, who declined to be named, said it is common for advertisements to have a story with a climax that signals change to bring across a message.

But she felt the ad did not need to resort to portraying the overweight woman as a failure to get its message across. "This ad will be remembered, but it will be remembered for the wrong reasons," she said.

According to Tim Clark, an advertising lecturer from Nanyang Technological University, people can request for the Advertising Standards Authority -- an industry standard to control offensive advertising -- to remove the ad.

But he said the problem is that a lot of the ads that would cause outrage among women in other countries is shrugged off by most Singaporean women.

He also pointed out that MediaCorp has its own standards that have to be met before a commercial can be put on air.

"It makes me wonder whether there were women on the panel that approved this for broadcast. And is MediaCorp really that desperate to get advertising revenue?" he said.

Some Internet users have defended the commercial.

Commenting on socio-political site The Online Citizen, where Kapoor's letter was published as well, one user said that the ad might have a good message because it highlighted the health risks of being overweight.

Another user DC felt that this commercial, which targets people's emotions, was no different from many other advertisements.

London Weight Management could not be reached for comments.

Watch the video below.