Special K Stirs Up "What's a Real Woman?" Debate

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Special K has decided to do something very interesting with their newest “K Girl” campaign – they’re using real women.

What exactly that means is open to interpretation.

According to a company spokesperson, Special K plans on using a group of women with a body mass index (BMI) of up to 29 in its newest promotion. Because medical experts consider BMIs between 18.5 and 24.9 to be healthy, and 25.9 to 29.9 to be overweight, every media outlet around is now championing the notion that Special K is using “plus-size real women” in its advertisements.  

At this point, it’s important to stop and note that Special K has made no mention of “plus-size” that we can see. This is purely a media thing. Here is how the company actually described its “What will you gain when you lose" campaign:

"We want to encourage a responsible attitude when it comes to body image and to show that losing weight isn't just about the way you look or a certain size you need to conform to, but more importantly about the way it makes you feel.

"The fact that we are using real women for the first time of a variety of shapes and sizes is the perfect way to encourage women to think differently about losing weight and not just focus on the numbers on the bathroom scales.

"The Special K girl will still be used in other advertising as she is a long-standing icon of our brand but we still insist she has a BMI of at least 21, as we only want to use healthy body images."

Fair enough. So the company looked at what a healthy BMI for women is, and pledged to only use women who fit into the appropriate category in their campaign. (Sort of. We’ll elaborate below.) That’s very admirable.

Here are a few photos from the promotion:

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(via Daily Mail)

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(via Daily Mail)

Those are your average-sized women. Both in appearance and BMI, those ladies are mostly right where healthy, fit women theoretically should be. So why are certain media outlets referring to Special K’s new campaign as “plus-size” then?

Here is just a taste of this morning’s headlines:

Special K replaces models with plus-size real women in new ads‎

Special K Using Real Plus - Size People As Models

Attention, cereal dieters: Healthy breakfast brand Special K uses 'plus-sized real women' in its adverts for the first time

Plus-sized women? Really? Those lades are plus-sized women?

This completely uncontroversial new ad plan has also led to folks asking some interesting, more-difficult-to-answer-than-expected questions.

One of those questions: why is it okay to promote women who are above the BMI levels that they should be at, but not below? Why is this campaign open to the 25.9 and up crowd when, in reality, it promotes a body type that’s also not good for young girls to look up to?

The other (and more important) question is: what is a real woman? Why are skinny women who promote an unhealthy body type any less real than fat women who promote an unhealthy body type? Or healthy women who promote a healthy body type, for that matter? Why does falling into one category or the other make someone less of a real woman?

Is it because majority rules?

In the United States, one out of every three people is obese. Does that mean when we see commercials featuring folks who are not obese, those people aren’t real? After all, they don’t represent two-thirds of the country, so how can they be, right?

If you’re a woman, do you need to see a direct reflection of yourself in a promotion in order to consider the person on the other end real? How does that work with people of different races?

Are there varying degrees of how real men are, by the way? Seriously, can guys claim that Brad Pitt is too good looking and his abs are too toned, thus he shouldn’t qualify as a real man? Real men don’t look like that, after all. Real men are fat, bald and broke. They don’t have six packs. They don’t work out.

Stop perpetuating the myth, Hollywood.

At what point can we as a society acknowledge that skinny women are no less real women than their larger counterparts? Being an abnormally skinny woman is unhealthy. Being abnormally fat woman is unhealthy. But neither of those things changes whether or not a woman is a woman.

Let’s give a lot of credit to Special K for launching a campaign where they went out of their way to appeal to women who like to think of themselves as real women. But that’s all this is. A campaign where a company is trying to sell its product to women who want to perceive themselves as being real. Not healthy women. Not real women. Women who want to perceive themselves as real women.

Once you understand that the promotion is about that and that alone, you can decide its merits for yourselves.



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