The MBTA should not allow advertising from crisis pregnancy centers

The MBTA is where you’ll usually find ads for Jamba juice and Jansport backpacks, local research studies, and public health campaigns. Currently, though, much of this highly-coveted space is occupied by ads for Daybreakinc.org, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. The ads don’t tell you that Daybreak has an anti-abortion agenda; they claim to offer “compassion,” “empowerment,” “hope,” and most inaccurately, “options.” This is in fact the major criticism of crisis pregnancy centers—that they misrepresent themselves as neutral parties. They are not, and they should not be allowed to advertise their heavily-biased and manipulative services on the MBTA.

The point of a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) is to keep pregnant women from having abortions, often by delaying them with offers of pregnancy tests and ultrasounds until it’s too late. What is truly sinister about CPCs is their use of untrue or misleading information to scare women away from choosing abortion, with false claims such as: abortion causes breast cancer, abortion is psychologically damaging, abortion can lead to sterility, and birth-control pills cause abortion. A 2006 Congressional investigation found that 87 percent of the centers surveyed provided false or misleading medical information.

Daybreak is guilty of this type of misinformation, although they are careful not to appear so on their website. It’s no wonder they are covering their behinds—legal action has been taken against CPCs in a number of states regarding their deceptive advertising in New York, California, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota.

According to their website, Daybreak claims to provide “accurate information about pregnancy, fetal development, lifestyle issues, and related concerns” as well as offer “accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.” They say “our advertising and communications are truthful and honest and accurately describe the services we offer.” But when you dig in deeper, you will find a sample if misleading and just plain untrue “facts” on their website:

  • Daybreak claims: “[Plan B] It may alter the uterine lining which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting, resulting in an early abortion.” (This is wrong—the dissolution of a fertilized egg is NOT “early abortion.”)
  • Daybreak claims: “Complications may happen in as many as 1 out of every 100 early abortions,” when according to the Guttmacher Institute, “the risk of abortion complications is minimal: Fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization.”
  • Daybreak claims: “Women who have experienced abortion may develop the following symptoms: guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty bonding with partner or children, eating disorder,” when the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion reported that “the best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”
  • On the particularly appalling “For Men” section of the Daybreak website, they write: “Many women who have had abortions report that they were waiting for their boyfriends/husbands to stop them. Some even say that they sat on the table hoping the father of their baby would ‘rush through the door to rescue me and take me away somewhere safe.’” (Um, citation needed?)

I’m not trying to make the argument that free pregnancy counseling is a bad thing or that the people at Daybreak are “bad” people, but pregnancy counseling, or any counseling for that matter, should be unbiased and informative. No where on the Daybreak MBTA ads are women informed that the the “free pregnancy counseling” is actually anti-abortion counseling, and that is dishonest, manipulative, and ultimately wrong. Women facing unplanned pregnancies need to know all their options, without the implication that one is better than another, and they need real medical information, not the “facts” listed above.

The MBTA is currently under fire for proposed fare increases and service cuts. They may be desperate for funds, but that does not excuse this moral misstep. CPCs are a growing threat to women’s health and the MBTA is the last place Bostonians should be exposed to anti-abortion propaganda.

“Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging” on Huffpost

Today my op-ed on shame and blame in health campaigns was published on the Huffington Post. Check it out!

Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging

A solemn black and white poster shows a picture of an obese girl with copy that reads: “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Another poster displays a woman’s naked legs with her panties around her ankles and the word: “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” The first is part of the Georgia “Strong 4 Life” campaign to prevent childhood obesity; the other is part of the Pennsylvania “Control Tonight” campaign to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. Though the campaigns are unrelated, they have one thing in common: disregard for the effects of shame and blame — the frequent unintended consequences of health campaigns.

The promotion of health and social welfare is one of those noble causes that attracts people who want to “do good.” Physicians are taught to “First, do no harm,” but health communication professionals take for granted that their work is “doing good” without considering that it might cause unintentional harm. For example, stigmatizing sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention messages may make people with STIs too embarrassed to seek treatment or too ashamed to tell their sexual partners. Not only can health promotion messages lead to such negative health outcomes, they can also promote destructive social values, like fat stigma and rape culture.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Nike sells addiction: “Just Do It”

The tragic death of Amy Winehouse reminded the world of the gravity of drug and alcohol addiction. One of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S. (even surpassing car accident deaths in New York and 16 other states) overdose is a serious problem affecting tens of thousands of Americans and their families. Yet, Nike had the audacity to trivialize addiction by conflating it with running: “the only addiction good for your body,” in its creepy, new ad.

In Amy’s words, “What kind of fuckery is this?”

It’s not entirely clear what Nike is trying to do here. It’s possible that the company is trying to convince the most serious runners that Nike “gets” them. It could also be promoting running addiction, hoping that increasing the number of running “addicts” will increase demand for unethically-made sneakers. Or, it might just be an attempt at edginess that missed the mark. Even though running is often thought of as “addicting” and “runner’s high” has been scientifically documented, an addiction to running isn’t the same as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. As Gabriele Beltrone said in Adweek, “Sure, sprinting is kind of like shooting up. Except for, you know, some minor differences.”

Besides the obvious insensitivity of trivializing drug and alcohol addiction, the ad itself is potentially triggering for those in recovery. With imagery reminiscent of gritty heroine movies and lines like “You start slowly, thinking ‘I can stop whenever I want,’” “In no time, you completely lose control,” and “Praying to get out, forget it … I have never met an ex-addict,” this ad is more likely to trigger cravings for hard drugs than a jog around the neighborhood. Considering the high risk of relapse, this ad isn’t just insensitive, but dangerous.

Another serious problem with this ad is that it completely disregards the reality of exercise addiction. A behavioral addiction, like compulsive gambling, sex, or shopping, exercise addiction is often connected to eating disorders. For those with eating disorders who are not getting the proper nutrition to sustain vigorous exercise habits, compulsive exercise is an unhealthy behavior with serious medical risks. In these cases, a running addiction is not “good for your body.” While I’m sure Nike wouldn’t purposefully try to encourage or validate this behavior, the company’s ignorance of the issue is blatant and unfortunate. For people suffering from exercise addiction, this ad is also insensitive and triggering.

According to AlterNet.org, in 2007 more than 27,000 people died from accidental overdoses in the U.S. alone. Organizations and activists are working hard to change the stigma surrounding addiction and get people the help they need. And yet, Nike thinks it’s appropriate to use addiction to sell shoes. When it comes to behavioral and substance addiction, a company who’s slogan is “Just Do It” has no place in the discussion.

What would you write for Klondike bar?

I was watching TV the other day and saw a commercial for Klondike bar that made me spit out my drink. Then, in the next commercial break, I saw a second Klondike ad that made me want to hurl. The ads were part of their well-known “What would you do for a Klondike bar” campaign, but they were just awful.

In the first ad, the thing that this guy would do for a Klondike bar was listen to his wife for five seconds.  No, really.  He listened to his wife speak for five seconds, a feat of endurance so bold and daring that he deserved a Klondike bar as a reward. In the second ad, two men held hands for five seconds. Another feat so bold and daring that they deserved a reward. What was going on here?

You can watch “The Good Listener” and “The Hand Hold” on the Klondike website.

I did some quick scanning on Youtube and found some older ads along the same lines:

(Note: Why is this woman reading a magazine standing up in the kitchen? Is she allowed to leave?)

And this one.

Really, Klondike?

I grew up eating Klondike bars. They were my dad’s favorite, and since my dad was pretty much the coolest person I knew at 6 years old, I figured they must be pretty great. Watching these ads now, as a Klondike-lover and self-actualized woman, I feel betrayed. How long has Klondike been peddling sexist, homophobic drivel before I noticed?

The most frustrating part is that “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” is potentially a really great ad campaign idea. Think of all the wacky things that people might do for this tasty treat! But instead of taking advantage of the many creative ways you could answer this question, Klondike is falling back on tired stereotypes, trying to “reach” their male audience by portraying men as  boorish oafs, insensitive jerks, irresponsible babies, or homophobes. Nice, real nice.

I don’t really have much else to say. Criticism of these ad tropes is out there and available (check out coverage of recent yearsSuperbowl ads) and I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said before by Sarah Haskins.

Instead, I’m writing this from a place of  disappointment and betrayal. Brand loyalty is a real and powerful thing, and it hurts when a company you always liked lets you down. Of course it’s naive to expect that companies will be ethical, or that their branding choices will align with progressive values. So I guess this is just another one of those “innocence lost” situations. The glorious ice cream bar of my childhood is now forever tainted.

What would I do for a Klondike bar today? Nothing.

Think scrubby shower thingies are gender neutral? Think again.

Yesterday on a mission to buy a regular old bar of soap, I came across the Dual Sided Shower Tool from Dove’s line of shower products for men.  If you look past the packaging that looks remarkably similar to that of power tools, it’s just a loofah.

But Dove wants you to think it’s more than a loofah.  And they’re right. It’s not just a loofah, it’s the real-world embodiment of this cartoon from Hyperbole and a Half. Here’s an excerpt:

 

Here at Sueeve, we understand that showering can be one of the most boring, shame and confusion-filled parts of your day and we’ve made it our mission to fix that!

— If the mere sight of a loofah sends you into a gender-confusion-driven, psychotic rage, you need the Shower Hammer!

You no longer have to endure the fluffy, girly bullshit of loofahs. Fuck loofahs.  The Shower Hammer makes you clean with violence!

 

Luckily for us, the cartoon inspired this video:

They’re funny because they’re so ridiculous and unrealistic.

Er…. crap.

More and more advertisers are using restrictive ideas about masculinity to target men the same way they have used femininity (pink-ifying) to target women. (See: Target Women.) This is a feminist issue, even though it’s about men.

Feminism is about choices and the freedom to be however masculine or feminine or gender-neutral you want, no matter your biological sex or gender identity. Feminism is about not having to choose between “manly” or “girly” shower products. Feminism is about calling out ridiculousness like the Dual Sided Shower Tool, in addition to things like Bic pens “for her.”

 

Medicalization and Machines: Is Bad Breath a Disease?

I’ve been doing some readings for my course in health communication and I have been thinking about the idea of medicalization – how it has changed how we think about our bodies, health, and its implications for health communicators and educators.

In The Body and Social Theory (1993), C. Shilling identified “the body as a machine” as a common metaphor we use to think about our bodies and health. From this perspective, our bodies are a collection of parts that, when functioning properly, work like a, er, “well-oiled machine.” If a part breaks, it can be fixed. For every malfunction, there is a scientific solution. Regardless of whether this metaphor is a good one, it certainly plays a role in what we call “medicalization.” In a medicalized society, the mechanics are doctors who use medicine to repair the body when it malfunctions. So when we talk about medicalization, we’re talking about the idea that every physical “malfunction” has a treatment or remedy. And that works oh-so-well with another hugely prevalent force in our society: consumerism.

If every ailment has a remedy, then someone is going to get rich off of selling remedies. A doctor once pointed out to me that the more options there are to treat an ailment, the less effective the treatment is likely to be. I guess that’s the difference between a “remedy” and a “cure.” When we’re talking about something curable, there’s usually only one cure. If it’s just “treatable” like the common cold, there are likely to be more options. And none of them really “cure” anything, they only treat the symptoms.

Viral illnesses like the common cold are great for people selling remedies; they are malfunctions of the body-as-machine that need fixing, but they aren’t really “curable” so we shell out money hoping for that “magic remedy” to fix the problem and get our bodies back in working order. Rather than put a hole in the body-as-machine metaphor, we accept the remedies as necessary, just as necessary as medical “cures.” The body-as-machine metaphor transcends the reality of the common cold as something that can’t be “fixed” and instead legitimizes our need or demand for products like Advil Cold and Sinus.

But what if you have a product for which there is no medical need? If you’re Listerine, you invent one. Ever heard of halitosis? It’s a term for “bad breath,” which is not, by the way, an actual “disease” or “illness” of any kind. Halitosis is a term invented by Listerine as part of an epically successful ad campaign.

Joseph Lister developed antiseptic at the end of the 19th Century. A similar but less potent form was developed by Jordan Wheat Lambert, who asked the famous Lister if he could use his name to market the product. Thus, Lambert’s Listerine was born. It was used for sterilization, cleaning floors, and even treating gonorrhea. In 1895 it began to be marketed towards the dental profession as they discovered it was good at curing oral germs. And then, Lambert hit on the best idea ever: medicalize bad breath and sell Listerine as the cure.

He and his copywriters all but invented the term “halitosis” and used it in an aggressive ad campaign designed to make everyone self-conscious about our smelly breath. Remember, at this period in history, there were different standards of oral hygiene. This ad campaign is in part responsible for the difference in standards today. The campaign asked, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride?” or “Could I be happy with him in spite of that?” and stated plain and simple, “Halitosis makes you unpopular!”

(I know there were a few ads directed towards men, but I can’t find them online. It seems as though the majority of these ads were aimed at women.)

Do you remember a time before we had to carry mints or gum, talked about “coffee breath,” or just spoke freely without worrying about the smell of our words? Well, Listerine killed it. James B. Twitchell, author of Twenty Ads that Shook the World (2000), names this advertising strategy “generating constructive discontent,” and Listerine wasn’t the only company to use it successfully.

Body odor came from Lifebuoy soap; athlete’s foot came from Absorbine Jr.; “five o’clock shadow” from Gilette; tooth film from Pepsodent; and split ends from Alberto V05. Americans today spend almost $4 billion a year on products whose only purpose is to alter natural body odors, odors unsmelled a generation ago!

(I wonder what Twitchell would think of vaginal rejuvenation surgery and the Va-J-J Visor…)

The halitosis ad campaign was so successful that most of us know the word, and understand it to be the “medical term for bad breath.” We also consider athlete’s foot a medical condition, and can buy “prescription strength” deodorant that costs over $10 a stick. They say that “sex sells,” but I think health may sell more directly. And as these products are labeled as health remedies or medical treatments, they expand the medicalization of our society and reinforce the idea that our bodies can run like machines if we maintain them properly.

It makes me wonder about my own so-called “health condition”: eczema, or “dry skin.” While some have more extreme cases of eczema, or psoriasis, my eczema is mild. It’s just dry skin that gets worse in dry weather. In a worst case scenario, patches of dry skin become itchy and feel rough to the touch. Yet, I have seen a dermatologist and I have been diagnosed with mild eczema. I was even prescribed a steroid cream to use during “outbreaks,” and it was recommended that I use a “dermatologist approved” moisturizer like Eucerin or Cetaphil every day. A bottle of Eucerin costs nearly $15, compared to something like Jergens, which costs $4. But then again, I think Eucerin is in a different class than “regular” moisturizers, and does a better job with my eczema. Or do I just feel that way because I have developed brand loyalty, and enjoy feeling like I have a medical condition with a simple, successful, medical treatment?

So is my eczema a disease? Or is dry skin, like bad breath, just an occasional annoyance of being human? Would I feel differently about my skin if I had never been diagnosed by a dermatologist?  Would it change the fact that I find comfort in the routine of, literally, “oiling” my body-as-machine?

And if eczema, like halitosis, is just a made up word in order to medicalize a normal physical thing, is the deceit harmful or benign?