Don't mention the "D word"

Men are becoming much more conscious of their body image. But when was the last time you saw an advert for a diet product that featured men?

By: Dr Andrew Lindridge (Department for Strategy and Marketing)

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On a recent Saturday evening Channel 4 presented a programme aptly titled 100 Greatest Sex Symbols. Amongst the usual collection of beautiful or sexually attractive celebrities was the not unexpected appearance of Brad Pitt. Whilst not wanting to detract from him his acting skills or his large back catalogue of films (for example the superb science fiction thriller Twelve Monkeys) the programme focussed on why he was a sex symbol. Using a variety of female commenter’s, it would appear that Brad’s sexiness doesn’t lie in his facial features but his ability to get a six pack.

For those who are unaware of what a six pack is let me inform you. Rectus Abdominis,and the external and internal oblique are a group of muscles that collectively form the abdominal muscles or more popularly called “washboard abs”.

Quite simply the women commenter’s reduced Brad’s sexiness to his flat “six pack” stomach and how he used it so eloquently in a sex scene in the film Thelma and Louisa and a host of other films since. As a male viewer, seeing a highly skilled actor reduced to the muscles in his stomach area only served to remind me how body conscious we have become, regardless of us being men or women.

And here lies the problem for British men in the 21st century. We live in a consumer driven society where young, muscular male bodies are presented to us as a health and sexualized ideal. It is the stark contrast between an idealized fantasy of a six pack and the reality of increasing obesity amongst men in Britain that the diet industry aims to exploit. Cartoon man with beer belly from a shop window display Creative commons image djwhelan under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license An image of manhood from a shop window

Yet what stops men from dieting and slimming down? One issue is time. We live and work in a society where time is precious, where work dominates and valuing yourself often comes second. This lack of self valuing can lead to low self-esteem which may only heighten an individual’s denial over their body weight.

Compounding this denial is the association with dieting being for women only, a perception that maybe reinforced by the diet industry itself. An argument that can be illustrated by remembering the last time you saw a diet related advertisement featuring men? It is these associations that the diet industry needs to overcome and overcome fast, but how? The answer lies in how we perceive what is being sold to us.

In other words, marketing can tell us that a weight loss program may make us healthier, feed into our masculine need to compete against others and even make us feel sexier without using the D word.

And for those who don’t think men are so easily persuaded then just think that twenty years ago the idea of men moisturizing and cleansing their skin was something only women did. Twenty years later, thanks to marketing, the British male cosmetic industry is rapidly growing in size and value. The diet industry using a few carefully chosen words with some clever marketing can get men losing weight and getting healthier. Just don’t mention the D word.

Further reading

  • Competitive advantage – how can companies ensure they've got a lead over their competitors?
  • Fat Man ThinThe Money Programme investigates the companies trying to get men dieting.