Last night I dropped in on the annual Garden Party for New York's LGBT community center, where restaurants and food manufacturers were giving away samples of their edibles. Pop Chips was among them.
In case you haven't tried them yet, Pop Chips are airy, puffed potato disks dusted with flavored powders in varieties like Sea Salt & Vinegar, Sour Cream & Onion and Barbecue. The Pop Chips booth was covered in its own advertising, which included a mini-billboard that read: "Love. Without the handles."
Surely, when Pop Chips settled on this phrase, they thought they were being cute. The creative department of their ad agency surely congratulated themselves on being adorable, too.
But the bottom line is this: Pop Chips has chosen to join the chorus of doubt-yourself demons that lulls Americans into a neurotic semi-sleep and spawns eating disorders. And those disorders include the explicit ones, the names and symptoms of which we're all too familiar, and the murky, muddy, subtle ones we don't even know we have.
When Pop Chips quips their products are "love without the handles", they're suggesting that "love handles" are something we shouldn't want -- neither on ourselves, nor anyone else whose bodies we might routinely look upon. They're advocating a superficial, snobbish, beach body-worshipping attitude, letting us know in their light, tittering way that love handles are an undesirable human feature.
Hey, guess what? Love handles are just flesh. Grabbable bits of flesh that you may or may not have around your abdomen. They say nothing about your underlying health, nor the strength of your body. When you whittle away your love handles, you are effecting something purely cosmetic.
And to each his or her own, where aesthetics are concerned. But when companies arrogantly try their hand at influencing larger societal attitudes in the process of selling their shit, they are crossing a dangerous line. There's more at stake than they're willing to admit or for which they're willing to take responsibility. And it's time they were held accountable for the fallout from those careless ways in which they wield their power.
Wait a minute, wait a minute, you may be thinking. This is just a stupid ad we're talking about. For potato chips. Get over it!
If that's what you're thinking, then you're kidding yourself too. They've got you by the balls, and bad.
I may be picking on one stupid ad. But it took decades of many stupid little ads working their collective mosaic evil to make us thee most eating-disordered splat of green on the planet.
Don't make the mistake of underestimating what these light, transitory ads can do.
They make kids ask, "Mommy, what are love handles?"
They make Mommies make self-deprecating jokes about their bodies to their impressionable children.
They make eight-year-old girls stand before their bathroom mirrors, squeezing and scrutinizing their middles.
An ad like Pop Chips' will make a fourteen-year-old boy hurl into a toilet somewhere. Yes, a boy. He'll be tearing up his esophagus, but he won't care. Besides, when he was six, he overheard his mother sharing her secret to puking noiselessly in a public restroom.
An ad like Pop Chips' will bore into the mind of a college freshman who's already terrified of getting fat -- terrified of the "freshman fifteen", a phrase and concept that's been so widely spread, I'm disgusted to have such handy recall of it. The ad will swim with the other sharks in her manipulated young mind and she'll come to believe that some thick flesh around her middle makes her patently unlovable.
On a grand scale, these "innocent", "clever", stealthy ads turn women into soul-less robots, too distracted by their love handles and muffin tops and cankles to make any real contribution to the world. They turn us into chronically unhappy, pill-popping counters of calories.
They make us our own worst enemies. They generate hatred in the world -- hatred of ourselves, and hatred of others who dare to flaunt their undesirable features in public, uncorrected.
Pop Chips does not want you to be at peace. They're selling you air-popped potatoes with a side of inner turmoil. Doubt yourself, loathe yourself, nit-pick, toss and turn.
But they'd like you to take the responsibility. For listening to them.
Even if you started listening to them at ten years old, before you knew any better. Even if the grown-ups in your world weren't aware enough to assure you those ads are bullshit.
Sometimes the people behind these effed-up messages are completely brainwashed themselves. Really, when they make a phone call to have "Love without the handles" shrinkwrapped onto the side of a city bus, they have no concept just how sick the underlying meaning is.
Take Tom Forsythe, Vice President of Corporate Communications for General Mills. When his employer was criticized for promoting eating disorders in TV commercial for Yoplait, he told the Huffington Post, "We had no idea. The thought had never occurred to anyone (that the woman in the commercial was echoing eating-disordered thinking), and no one raised the point. We aren't sure that everyone saw the ad that way, but if anyone did, that was not our intent and is cause for concern. We thought it best to take (the commercial) down."
General Mills had no idea. A woman battling it out inside her head while standing before the open refrigerator -- to eat or not to eat -- came across as completely unremarkable to them. They saw it as the American female norm.
And that's precisely the problem.
And these are the people in charge of what you hear and see every day.
Oh, but it's just a little joke. Right? "Love without the handles"? Ha, ha.
Well here's a catchy new phrase I think I like even better:
"Life without Pop Chips".
Without Pop Chips and the other mindless, heads-up-their-well-compensated-butts, we-don't-care-how-what-we-do-affects-other-people people and their dopey products.
I used to buy Pop Chips from time to time. They're weirdly addictive. The Sea Salt & Vinegar ones were my favorite. But it's been a few weeks now since it occurred to me to buy them. That proves to me I can live without them.
So I will.
Besides, I like Pirate Booty a heck of a lot better anyway.
-- Kim Brittingham
Author of Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large (May 2011, Random House Three Rivers Press)