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Jessica Pearce Rotondi

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Skinny Fat: Does This Equinox Ad Go Too Far?

Posted: 03/12/2012 7:39 pm

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If a fat cell grows and no one can see it, is it still there? A new Equinox ad wants to answer that question for you by causing even more anxiety about your body.

The gym's new ad features a rail-thin, nude model whose torso is hidden behind a red circle asking "Are You Skinny Fat?" "Skinny fat," referred to as "normal weight obesity" by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, describes someone who make look fit on the outside but has an unusually high ratio of body fat in comparison to their weight. In colloquial terms, or at least on Urban Dictionary, "skinny fat" is "when someone is thin and looks great in clothes, but is all flabby underneath."

Though the risks of skinny fat are very real -- ABC reports that the high ratio of fat to lean muscle can interfere with the liver's metabolism and put individuals at higher risk for diabetes and hypertension -- the issue is one of context. In associating fear about an unseen peril with a thin body without further explanation, Equinox is setting up women already concerned that they aren't thin enough to feel even worse. In a country where 31 percent of female college students have eating disorders, this added level of worry and comparison -- you may be skinny on the outside, but you may be hiding an inadequacy on the inside -- isn't necessary. As Jezebel's Doug Barry wrote, "While the ad does hint -- feather whisper, really -- at preserving actual good health, concerns about serious health risks stemming from something like an abundance of visceral fat are things for people to discuss with their doctors, not with some former Nordic bodybuilder named Fjord."

This isn't the first time Equinox ads have drawn ire for the way their ads depict women's bodies. Its January 2012 campaign shot by Terry Richardson featured sexualized, very thin female models with muscular men and prompted the public to take to Equinox's Facebook page in protest about the ideals of "fitness" the gym was promoting.

SLIDESHOW: Gym Ads Gone Wrong

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  • Sisterhood: Lucille Roberts

    The predominance of pink and the overly-enthusiastic announcer promising "A mind-blowing Latin inspired fitness party!" makes the entire ad feel like one big exclamation point. Between the hoola hoops and groups of euphorically smiling women bouncing around, the commercial gives the impression that Lucille Roberts is essentially a Jazzercize-themed slumber party for grownups. If you don't have women friends in real life, join the moon goddess circle at Lucille Roberts.

  • Brain Power: Equinox

    While science has shown that <a href="http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/what-sort-of-exercise-can-make-you-smarter/" target="_hplink">some types of exercises may actually make you smarter</a>, it's hard to see how being straddled by a preppy muscle man improves your mental acumen. (It's not like they're reading a book from the well-stocked shelf behind them.) After this ad ran, Equinox gym members took to the company's Facebook page in protest, arguing that the overly-thin physique of the female <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/equinox-ads-slammed-by-members-2012-1#-7" target="_hplink">models in the campaign didn't represent fitness or health. </a>

  • Guilt: Gold's Gym

    Don't feel enough guilt in your daily life, especially about the state of your body? Get a healthy dose of guilt from your gym! While this statement -- and the other ad from this campaign: "<a href="http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/golds_gym_pears" target="_hplink">You Are What You Eat</a>, which is odd, because you obviously don't eat pears" -- is a little more honest than those showing women, say, balancing a giant birthday cake and multiple men (I'm looking at you, Equinox!), this ad doesn't exactly make me want to rush out and give Gold's Gym my credit card.

  • To Be Photographed Naked: David Barton

    David Barton's slogan has promised its faithful a better clothes-free appearance since the high-end chain opened in 1992. While I'm all for feeling great about your body in the nude, they seem to think that women taking photos of each other in the steam room is a selling point for us (and last I checked, stilettos are a no-no in the sauna). If I'm entering a steam room, the last thing I want to worry about is being photographed. Let's not bring cameras into my relaxation time, David Barton!

  • To Lose Their Diamonds: Gold's Gym

    This image of a bride is devoid of any facial expressions that would indicate how she really feels -- all we see is her waist and folded hands, her diamond ring about to slip off, presumable because she's lost so much weight between the time he proposed and the wedding. I understand wanting to be fit for your wedding, but emaciated? Give me a happy bride, a blushing bride -- but not a hungry one.

  • Cake And Vampires: Equinox

    Equinox's "Happily Ever" campaign from media relations agency Fallon is all about sexual fantasy and the desire for eternal youth. We see a woman in an evening gown blowing out a hefty number of candles on an oversized cake -- while being hungered after by men (vampires?) of all ages. The message I suppose is that Equinox can help you attract your prince(s) at any age. But is the tagline "what's your after?" paired with sexy images of post-workout soirees going to feel at all relevant to the woman whose ideal "after" gym activity is settling onto her couch for a nice healthy dose of reality TV? Not likely.

  • Better Sex: New York Sports Club

    While fitness can lead to better endurance in many physical activities, this ad's tagline -- "OhMyGod Better" -- seems to equate regular gym membership with increased sexual prowess. Is it bad if my immediate response to their question "What do you want to do better?" was to think of organizing my iTunes library?

 

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