(More) Duplicity in the Diet Industry

Lipstick-on-a-pig marketing tactics are being utilized by yet another lady-focused company: like Special K and Dove before it, Lean Cuisine is getting all sappy and empowerment-y in efforts to dance around the fact that they sell diet food, that they are a company fueled by dreams of weight loss and slim physiques, and that many of their pre-packaged dishes contain a quarter or less of the calories most woman require at mealtime.

In a series of new commercials, Lean Cuisine’s #WeighThis campaign asks women to weigh their accomplishments instead of their bodies. In one video, hopeful pianos swell as racially and bodily diverse women approach a scale and extol their 24-year marriage, their love of weightlifting, their children, the bone marrow donation they made to their sister. They smile, they weep.

Another video showcases an installation the company created in Grand Central Station: a wall of scales emblazoned with accomplishments such as “Raising three kids as a TEEN MOM,” “THE TIMES I’VE MADE the BRAVER CHOICE,” and “CARING FOR over 200 HOMELESS CHILDREN.” More pianos, this time with sonorous “ooo”-ing in the background. More weeping.

“It makes me feel like I’m a part of a movement,” one woman says. “This is the beginning of changing how people think.”

Text rolls through at the end: “We’ve put what matters on the scale. Let’s keep it there.”

What if we fed these women a Lean Cuisine menu? How about two Canadian Bacon English Muffins for breakfast, Lemon Pepper Fish for lunch, an afternoon snack of Monterey Jack Jalapeño Stuffed Pretzels, and a decadent dinner of Fettuccini Alfredo? These items offer a total of 1,130 calories—70 calories less than the recommended daily intake for a sedentary four-year-old female, according to 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.

Ironically, the #WeighThis campaign is only partway deceitful. In American female culture, thinness is a goal; weight loss is an accomplishment. It’s easy for women to buy in to the dream that their future, thinner lives will be happier, more manageable, more carefree, more productive. With #WeighThis, Lean Cuisine continues to push this illusion by connecting weight loss and diet products with accomplishment and value, right in front of our faces.

It doesn’t matter that Lean Cuisine created the #WeightThis Diet Filter—technology that censors the word “diet” from commercials, articles, and social media—for TVs and the Internet, then donated $25,000 to Girls Leadership and “changed the conversation for good.” Lean Cuisine doesn’t want to change the conversation about dieting and weight loss. They want to distract consumers from the company’s place in the diet industry with melodramatic, sentimental bullshit. They want the female consumer to warm to their brand so the next time she loathes her belly or dreams of dropping a dress size, she’ll feel good and righteous in choosing Lean Cuisine diet products.

You’re worth more than your weight, Lean Cuisine says, then whispers: but not too much more.