Dissecting This Eating-Disordery Yoplait Commercial

Why eat actual cheesecake when you can choke down a really disgusting artificially-sweetened approximation of cheesecake in semi-liquid form out of a plastic cup instead?

Jun 17, 2011 at 10:02am | Leave a comment

This commercial was recently pulled by Yoplait, with apologies, after the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) complained that it was awfully.... eating-disorder-y. In the ad, a woman stands looking at a giant cheesecake in what appears to be an office fridge, bargaining with herself on how she might be “allowed” to eat some of it and still keep her Strict Moral Code of Dessert Consumption. Maybe she could, if she only eats celery for the following week as repentence. Or maybe if she consumes the cheesecake while wearing a hairshirt and whipping herself as she repeats “SINNER, SINNER” between bites.

While this woman agonizes, some smug coworker comes in and quickly grabs a nearby container of Yoplait in Raspberry Cheesecake Flavor. EPIPHANY! Why eat actual cheesecake when you can choke down a really disgusting artificially-sweetened approximation of cheesecake in semi-liquid form out of a plastic cup instead?

I don’t get these commercials. For one, I have never worked an office job where one could find a full-size cheesecake in the fridge, at least not without some sort of note on it saying “EAT THIS AND I WILL MURDER YOU IN THE PARKING LOT TONIGHT” or “WHOLE CAKE HAS BEEN LICKED.” My experience is that office-working people are pretty territorial about the food in the community fridge. And if the cheesecake was meant for everyone? Unless this is the fridge at Vogue, it’d be reduced to a scant few graham-cracker crumbs before the Agonizing Admin could spare two thoughts about busting out the flogger.

Shaky premise aside, I mostly don’t get the idea that flavored yogurt is a solid replacement for an actual dessert. I’ve tried some of Yoplait’s offerings. They might be tolerable if you’ve never actually eaten cheesecake, but as someone who knows what dessert tastes like, I find them a poor substitute.

NEDA’s gripe was that the commercial could trigger people with eating disorders to do the eating disorder thing, and that it makes eating-disordered behavior seem normal. And they‘re right. But this behavior IS common, if not “normal.” I hear the Agonizing Admin’s internal monologue from real-life women every day.

“I had pizza for lunch so I need to spend extra time at the gym tonight”; “I had fried chicken and a slice of pie over the weekend so I’m trying to eat ‘healthy’ this week”; “I was ‘bad’ and now I need to be ‘good.’”

Food itself is not moral. Food is not a vile temptress bent on seducing you into aberrent behavior you will later regret, nor is it a mythological siren beckoning you to your own destruction. It’s just food. Why do we invest it with so much intent, even in jest?

I’d argue that our whole food- and body-obsessed culture is a trigger for eating disorders.

I’m only a middling consumer of popular media and even I can’t go 24 hours without hearing about how fat and unhealthy and BAD we all are at least five times. Yoplait is just one offender of many. And yet NEDA is unlikely to go after commercials for Weight Watchers or any other profit-driven diet program, even though they’re in the business of teaching people how to think like the Agonizing Admin: I can eat X amount of this if I eat Y amount of that for the rest of the day. Too often, the only measurable difference between a diet and an eating disorder is a certain number of pounds.

Yoplait’s commercial is definitely preying on the jacked-up thinking of millions of women for whom this sort of bargaining mentality is totally normal, but it’s no worse than the standard for food ads aimed at women. This is the company also responsible for those insufferable “so good” commercials of a few years ago, in which two of the most annoying female characters ever devised would trade examples of how “good” their yogurt was, comparing it to a long massage, a private island, or winning an Oscar.

“This is like, favorite-song-on-the-radio good!” “This is like, zen, wrapped in karma, dipped in chocolate good!” Is this what we want out of our lives, ladies? Tasty yogurt we can eat instead of dessert? Tell feminism it’s all over! We have finally arrived!

I’m sure there are people out there who like their Yoplait for its natural yogurt properties and flavor. I am not one of them, but hey, if you dig it, knock yourself out. Yoplait’s not the enemy, but it’s not the hero either. I’m just suggesting we’d all benefit from thinking a little more critically about why we label some foods as “bad” and some as “good”. I also wonder what would happen if we focused a little bit more on what we’re truly accomplishing with our lives, and a little bit less on what we’re eating and how we’re shaped.

That’d be like, subverting-the-dominant-paradigm good! Does Yoplait make that flavor yet?