First watch the above video; it’s only about 30 seconds. It’s an ad spot from the US Coast Guard sent to me by Reader A. She writes:
I saw a commercial last night for the Coast Guard that blew my mind, and I’d love your opinion on it/other people’s opinions on it. Basically, the premise of the commercial is that this girl wasn’t born to sit at a desk, she was born to push herself, challenge herself, be a stronger person, etc. They show her running out of the office and cross country – through town, across fields and bridges and woods and finally across rocks until she stops just at the water. The whole idea is she is so strong, etc. Except the girl they use in the commercial, running long-distance and protecting her country, makes a lot of the celebutantes you see constantly accused of being anorexic look healthy. Honestly, one of the first things that popped into my head was the scene from the “THIN” documentary where one of the girls (in an eating disorder IP center) says she joined the Air Force to lose weight. The funny thing is they did the EXACT same commercial with a guy, and he looks fit. Not too big or too small, plenty muscular. (And I mean it’s the same commercial – same dialogue, same running out of the office and same running trail.) I still can’t quite wrap my head around the irony of a size -2 skeleton advertising hey-let’s-join-the-coast-
guard-and-be-physically-fit, especially while the guy version IS fit. Are they trying to appeal more to girls – trying to promote it as a way to lose weight if you join, like the girl in the documentary? Are they just buying into the “ideal” body? Could they just not find any healthy-weight models? I’m not sure what I think about it, but I’d love some other opinions.
A’s questions intrigued me on several levels. I have to admit that the first time I watched the ad, I was not particularly struck my the actresses’ thinness although A is right – she is definitely very very thin. There are two brief moments right after she runs through the river where you can clearly see her chest bones through the V in her top. I think this is because I am used to everyone from fitness magazines to TV shows to gym advertisements using women closer to fashion models than fitness models to sell their wares. I mean, remember this ad campaign from Men’s Health? The models are certainly not what I envision the epitome of healthy woman to look like (not to mention she might possibly be missing her legs?):
The second thing that was interesting to me about A’s question is that quite often the military uses weight loss and increased fitness as a selling point in getting people to join up. These days it’s definitely all about talking up the self-improvement aspects and downplaying that whole “you might die” part. In which case it makes sense to show thin, fit people in the ads – aspire higher right? Except that the actress in this particular spot may possibly be thin to the point of unhealth. And I’m willing to bet, knowing many military folk myself, that were she to do any sort of boot camp she would probably bulk up a little bit. In addition to the exercise, the chow halls are not exactly renown for their healthful food options – especially if you are stationed overseas. (Active military personnel feel free to correct me on this!) All of which makes this feel like a bait-and-switch.
The last thing that interested me in A’s question was the concept that “health” looks different on a man than a woman. With men, it seems like muscular definition is the first criteria for judging a man’s fitness. Weight probably doesn’t even show up in the top 5. Yet for women, weight is the number 1 factor people use in deciding whether or not a girl is physically fit – even though research has shown this to be an unreliable marker.
So what do you guys think of this ad? Does it make you want to join the coast guard? Anyone else not even notice the skinniness of the actress at first? How do you judge someone’s – or your own – health?