Should Happiness Be Censored?

18/11/2016 12:58 GMT | Updated 18/11/2016 12:58 GMT

The Guardian recently reported on a "socially irresponsible" TV ad from Diet Chef being banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ad portrayed the character "Cheryl" as being happier when she lost weight. A "future, happy, leaner Cheryl" was seen discussing the benefits of weight loss with "former, unhappy, over-weight Cheryl".

The ad received 26 complaints stating it was offensive to women and irresponsible for exploiting women's insecurities about their bodies by implying they needed to be slim to be happy. Those who complained also said the ad implied overweight people did not take care of themselves or how they looked. The ASA's ruling stated the ad focused too much on the negative feelings of "former Cheryl" and implied weight-loss was the only way to achieve happiness. The ad was banned in its current form.

As a result of this decision, several questions immediately spring to mind. Firstly, implication is subjective, therefore how many women did not agree with the complainants' perceptions of the ad? Secondly, are the 26 complaints reflective of the views of the majority of women who viewed the ad? Thirdly, are we, out of some sense of political correctness, censoring the scientifically-validated route to improved physical and psychological health that weight loss represents, simply to appease a certain section of the community? And ultimately, should we as a society adopt the wholesale approach that should someone get upset with what we say or do about bodyweight, we stop saying or doing it??

Image courtesy of TRAINFITNESS.

To start, we should first determine the medical definition of "overweight". Overweight is defined by the NHS as a body mass index over 25; Former Cheryl had a BMI of 27.4. According to the medical literature, it is inarguable that losing weight and moving from the overweight range to the healthy weight range can bring about physical and psychological improvements. Physical improvements can include reduced risk of a variety of diseases, having more energy, increased mobility, decreased cholesterol and lower blood pressure whilst psychological improvements can include better body image, decrease in depressive symptoms, increased self-esteem and increased vitality. With this being the case, don't we have the obligation, if not the right, to communicate this message as widely and as quickly and as clearly as we can? After all, according to NHS, obesity-related heart disease is one of the top five reasons for premature death in the UK...and 64% of the population is now classified overweight or obese. So given the seriousness of the problem, should we allow one's feelings to get in the way of this at best life-saving, at worst life-enhancing message?

The subject of feelings is a complex issue, but at their core feelings are subjective and personal and unique to the individual experiencing them at that particular moment in time. What you smile at, I might not. What you smile at today, you might not smile at tomorrow.

The makers of the ad claimed the ad showed the frustration of "former Cheryl" who had been unable to make a change in her lifestyle, and the sense of achievement of the "later Cheryl" having now done so. "Later Cheryl" achieved her goal and was happy about it.

In the end, it seems it was decided by the ASA that a message refuted by the creators of the ad but deemed implied by the ASA was more important to the public's health than the scientifically-validated message that weight loss can improve physical and psychological health.

Just who is being socially irresponsible?