In the ever changing worlds of marketing and public relations, there are, somehow, certain things that never seem to change.
Take, for instance, our own failure as professionals to address the destruction of young women’s and men’s psyches and even their lives through the work we enthusiastically perform.
Twenty-five years ago, I handled public relations for the first-ever eating disorders treatment program in Wisconsin. And I did it well. I drew almost constant attention to anorexia nervosa and bulimia, always pointing to the media as one of the major culprits in a sinister campaign to prevent our children from ever developing a solid sense of self-esteem. I pointed to the seemingly unbelievable death of Karen Carpenter, the ridiculous popularity of Twiggy, and the fame of that most idealized of all bulimics, actress and work-out maven Jane Fonda.
Fast forward to 2007. The fashion industry, of all people, complains about overly thin models and even refuses to use them in some instances. Good for them, even though they’re probably only bowing to pressure. But, at the same time, visit any basketball arena or football stadium and look at the "cheerleaders." Cars are still sold by ads that boast very thin women. Parents give their daughters liposuction and breast implants as birthday and graduation presents. Paris Hilton becomes an icon to our daughters. Nicole Richie staggers her way through Hollywood, barely a shadow of her former self. “Barbie” has changed a bit, but she still has a figure that is totally unrealistic. The pressure to be thin just keeps on growing, and even little girls are feeling it. And by little, I mean 5-year-olds. And now, incredibly, researchers report that eating disorders and body image distortion are affecting older women, too.
It’s really up to us in marketing and public relations to do something about it. While we are hardly the sole source of the problem, we need to take a stand, do the right thing and lead the way. Those aren’t stick figures we’re selling to out there … they’re real women with real women’s bodies and, unfortunately, all too often self-esteem that we contribute to destroying. How jaded can we be? We need to be courageous enough to tell our clients that harming potential customers in the name of sales is wrong. We need to show them alternatives that will work. We need to recognize, ourselves, that ignoring the mental and physical health of America’s children isn’t worth the business of any client.
Eating disorders are all about control. When you feel you can’t control anything else in life, you can control how much (or little) you eat. You numb out. You turn away from life. In all too many cases, you die. It’s unbelievable … it’s depressing … it’s ugly to watch a human being die in the name of trying to live up to someone else’s standards of "beauty."
We all can help return that control to where it belongs … to each individual.
Just by being decent and doing the right thing.
Steve Gardner is a public relations account executive at Johnson Direct LLC in Brookfield. Additional information is available at http://johnsondirect.wordpress.com.