"Results Not Typical" is one of my favorite retorts to diet mongers. Its really all you need to say when someone tries to "refute" Fat Acceptance with a diet success story.
Results. Not. TYPICAL.
It doesn't matter that diets work some of the time. That's not the issue. The issue is that they don't work reliably or consistently. A "success" at dieting as not typical. That diet companies have been forced to append this message on their ads has been a humiliation. Unfortunately, its also a humiliation no one seems to notice. I mean, no other product needs to keep announcing its ineffectiveness in its ads. iPods don't have disclaimers announcing "product does not produce sound". Yet, no one seems to care. The diet industry has quite efficiently gotten everyone to ignore their admission of futility and continuing selling their product. They do this because on some level, every knows that diets don't work. They are actively engaged in self-deception from the get-go. "Oh, sure, diets fail. For other people. Not me, though. I'm gonna really try." Our culture is so involved with fat shaming that the failure of diets is never blamed on the diets. Its ALWAYS blamed on the dieter. They must not have wanted to be thin. Its preposterous, but its what our culture does.
So, I'm not exactly encouraged by the word that the FTC is going to require even stricter standards in diet ads. Now, companies can't just qualify their testimonials with "Results Not Typical." They will need to actually show typical results. I figure there are three reasons to expect this won't change things and might even make them worse.
The first reason is what I've already discussed. The failure of diets isn't exactly a secret, but its still one the diet industry has remained effectively blameless for. I'm not sure this will ultimately do much to challenge those prejudices. But ultimately, I don't think its even going to be an issue because of a combination of my last two reasons.
First, is that presumably, this will only apply with a diet company wants to use a testimonial. While these "I did it, so can you bits" are a cliche, we should remember that its not like they are a legal obligation either. Look at the recent "Hunger" spots from Weight Watchers. They make no specific claims. They don't show you any success stories. Rather, they talk about dieting in abstract, experiential terms. Their marketing department is savvy enough to know that people don't need to be sold on wanting to lose weight. This is an implicit desire for virtually the entire population. So, they let this work for them and shield themselves from explicit promises and let the viewer fill in the rest. So, "counter testimonials" might just not be an issue if advertisers just move away from testimonials. I'm not convinced they need the testimonials to promote their wares. The market is just too willing. Put up a road block, and the companies will just drive around it.
The other concern I have is how we are going to define "typical" results. This actually worries me more, because it gives the companies an incentive to move backwards. I mean, they all insist the testimonials are typical now. No diet company willingly instituted "Results not typical". This will ultimately come down to diet peddlers doing more to justify their fantasies. They'll cook the books, exclude failures, etc. to "prove" that the atypical is actually typical. Thus, the result of the stricter standards actually relieves them of any restrictions because it gave them an incentive to push back against something that ultimately has little political will to resist. It sounds nice, but I don't trust it. Advertisers will just offer bogus substantiation and now their still false claims will have a veneer of truthiness. "Why, it must be true if they don't say 'results not typical'" It will be just as much of a fraud as before, only now companies have a substantial incentive to defend that fraud. Frankly, I don't think there will be any substantive resistance when diet makers pretend their magical stories are true. They never proved any of this in the first place, and everyone still thinks its all true. I just don't think the bar will be very high for them to justify false expectations and all of this will just further fuel the culture of fat shaming that blames dieters and not diets. Then we'll have lost even the small counterpoint of "Results not typical". Count me as worried about this. I don't trust the diet industry for a second, and I trust our fat shaming Society just as little.
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