Panelists Says Media Promotes Eating Disorders

A plus-size model, the director of communications for Kellogg USA and a marketing executive at Anne Klein were among the panelists at a public forum last night that blamed the media for promoting eating disorders.

Speaking to a mostly female crowd of over 200 that filled Askwith Lecture Hall in Longfellow Hall, the panelists spoke of their own experiences with body image in their diverse media roles.

According to Karen E. Kafer, director of communications for Kellogg USA, which makes Special K cereal, her company has changed the way food is marketed. Instead of marketing Special K as a cereal to eat in order to "look good," a new advertising campaign addresses complaints from women upset with this emphasis on the importance of a low-calorie diet.

The "Reshape Your Attitude" campaign, which Kafer presented at the panel, includes the award winning "Bar guys" spot, which features men in a bar who satirize the traditionally female obsession with body weight and image.

Panelist Jean Kilbourne presented ads that equate food not just with body image, but with sex. These ads treat food like sex, she said, causing people to associate it with their own sexual appeal.

"Whatever you're giving him tonight, he'll enjoy it more with rice," said one ad she displayed.

Kilbourne, a frequent speaker at college campuses and a visiting scholar at Wellesley College, said the $36 billion food industry uses such connections to sell more food. She said that the industry's tendency to photograph food items in a close-up, sensual manner gives the products a mystique once afforded only to illicit affairs.

"When food is advertised with sex, eating becomes a moral issue," she said. "The menage a trois that we're made to feel ashamed of, is now with Ben and Jerry's," she quipped, referring to the popular ice cream maker.

Not only food, but also clothes, are sold by presenting the body image women overwhelmingly desire, panelists said. Laura Wenke, senior vice president for marketing at upscale women's clothier Anne Klein, said her company's new advertisements feature professional women, rather than models, because many customers think models are too thin.

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