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Geico’s new commercial makes it even more normal for popular girls to not eat

Date: March 1, 2012 | Posted By: Stacey

“It’s funny because it’s true,” is a common adage following the telling of many jokes. The familiarity of the characters in the latest Geico commercial, teenage girls, are likely to incite a lot of snickering for this very reason. Of course, despite these laughs that Geico hopes for (and likely will get), I’m worried about the message the commercial really sends.

In this particular spot, Geico abandons its familiar gecko spokesman in favor of a trio of three girls, portrayed as the “popular” crowd, who follow around a man who has decided that the best way for him to save money (given how expensive his car insurance is) is to not eat. And what’s the best way to stop yourself from eating? Why, shame, of course!

http://youtu.be/Knjf3ABPc0E

Enter the stars of the new commercial. As a man explains at the outset, he had the popular girls from the local middle school follow him around and comment on everything he eats. The next thirty seconds offer up a sequence of him getting disdainful looks from the girls and the withering repetition of “Ew,” “Seriously?” and “So gross,” as he gets a sandwich from his refrigerator, has breakfast at a restaurant, and finally, eats a cheeseburger one night in his car.

As we watch him second-guess his food choices, push the food aside, and look more than a bit defeated, during the last incident we see him finally cave, finishing the girls’ trademark “Ew/Seriously?/So gross” mantra himself, and letting their assessment prompt him to toss his burger back into his bag.

In this last frame, the girls are actually photographing him while he eats, capturing this “grossness” – perhaps to use as a reminder or a cautionary tale for others who may decide to… eat?

Geico should stick to the gecko.

So, what do we take away from this? Eating is shameful, embarrassing, and gross, and that message is true whether you’re at home, at a restaurant, or in your car.

But you know what else worries me? The trigger element of this commercial. Girls who have suffered from eating disorders and are in the process of healing, as well as girls who are just beginning to experiment with dieting, see this and think – despite Geico’s intent to frame it as funny – that their thoughts about eating being disgusting, shameful, and gross are correct. It totally normalizes the disordered eating thoughts that many girls are already socialized to have.

“Hey, a national commercial thinks these kinds of thoughts about food and eating is routine enough that it must be pretty acceptable – I was right, eating IS gross.” I can definitely see how someone would internalize that message after watching this commercial.

Importantly, the ad also reminds viewers that these are the popular girls. This adds a lot of extra significance, and it’s at the root of the shaming issue. If the popular girls – the girls that others may try to imitate and look to as social leaders – think that you eating breakfast is gross, then to be accepted by the popular girls, you’d better not eat.

Another source of uneasiness was that I couldn’t stop this nagging feeling that it was sparking the urge for the guy to eat secretly to avoid judgment and shame, just adding to the overall sense of guilt around eating that permeates this ad.

In short – even if they’re trying to be funny, Geico should stick to the gecko. I’m much more inclined to like a company if their spokesman is a little animal than if it’s telling me I’m so gross for having a slice of cake.

Larkin




What Do You Think?

14 Responses to Geico’s new commercial makes it even more normal for popular girls to not eat

  1. Hailey on 03-02-2012

    Thanks for catching this disturbing commercial. Honestly, it astounds me how accessible sexism is in our everyday lives - and so few people really open their eyes enough to see it. I've been struggling with an eating disorder for a couple of years now, and you're absolutely right; this commercial normalizes misconceptions that eating is "gross" or "shameful." I definitely think there should be some sort of advertising censorship.
  2. courtney on 03-02-2012

    I really don't see a problem with this commercial. I think you're interpreting it wrong. If you notice, all the food he's eating is extremely unhealthy food. The girls are simply helping him lose weight by telling him which foods not to eat..being the fattening ones. Lighten up, I've dealt with eating disorders my whole life and watching this commercial did not make me relapse.
  3. Jen on 03-02-2012

    I agree with Courtney. The guy is mostly eating unhealthy junk and appears to be snacking at odd times. Even I think the plate of waffles with cream looks gross. Aside from the junk food, the commercial is just an exaggeration of how "popular girls" can be snobby and are "too cool" for everyday things. There commerials on the air that are clearly much worse than this one. Personally I think this commercial is funny, though maybe not as much as their one with the panther.
  4. Magdalena on 03-03-2012

    I'm with you, Larkin. Even if you can frame the commercial in a "positive" way by saying it's about unhealthy foods only, do we really need more food-shaming? The guilt and moral judgment attached to food is already overwhelming, and this reinforces it. It's a shame, Geico's ad campaigns are usually reliably creative and not misogynist.
  5. Shut Up Dommies on 03-04-2012

    To Larkin, Hailey & Magdalena - SHUT UP!!

    Okay I watched this commercial and it is HILARIOUS. It is not a swipe at eating disorders at all. They are shaming and overweight middle age man (which I am one of) for eating unhealthy. This says nothing about what those girls eat or other girls. They most likely are popular and eat healthy salads and other foods. Why do you have to assume they starve themselves just because they don't want to eat unhealthy, junk foods full of calories. If anything Geico should be commended for shinning the light on obesity which is an epidemic in the United States and more people are suffering from heart disease, diabetes and inflammation than suffer from eating disorders. If you Google the "Flintstones" season 1, episode 28, that cartoon was made in 1961 and has a very similar theme. Fred is followed around by some people who shame him into not eating. Oh my gawd, how could they do such a thing, children watch that show all the time, they will getting eating disorders!!!

    This poor man, Robert Gibbs, is overweight and suffers from over eating. He makes a plea on YouTube for someone to help him lose weight because his life is at risk. I'm more worried about this than the made up problems you are projecting.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhQlQVq_i8c
  6. Eli on 03-05-2012

    So very clever and fun! I think some of the (apparently unattractive and bitter) women commenting on this are missing the point. This commercial is about food CHOICES, not food in general.
    As I watched my young, beautiful, athletic daughter at lunch today eating her grilled mahi and vegetables, I was reminded how this commercial resonated with her, for the obvious reasons.
    Lighten up, people! Maybe you'll "lighten" up as well.
  7. Molly on 03-06-2012

    I totally see what you mean... I mean, I see what people mean who say this commercial isn't a big deal. BUT as a person who is still struggling with an ED, these "popular girls" are what I hear in my head every day and what I always believe other people are thinking when I eat in front of them. It definitely reminds me of that, but I don't find it triggering. It does seem to normalize my behavior/thoughts though.
  8. Lisa on 03-08-2012

    The joke in the commercial is not about shame. It is about the exaggerated portrayal of tween and teen girls as snotty (many are) and superficial (many are). It is not about shaming him not to eat, it's about them just being annoying girls. If you took from it that they are another reason why eating disorders are up, you should go find that woman who is thowing knives at Ronald McDonald and Michelle Obama...maybe you can have a little tea party. People! We need to teach our children to be accountable for their own actions, to stop pushing blame on what other people ''make them do" (my 5-year-old does this and we are retraining him), and to make good decisions without be pressured by others. The existence of hamburgers, french fries, and snotty tween girls is not the problem; it's parents who coddle their children. Perhaps we should try to end the stereotype of snotty kids by giving them a little tough love when they are little. Till then, rock on, Geico! Thanks for putting the cave men away and giving that gecko a vacation.
  9. Larkin Callaghan on 03-08-2012

    Larkin here, author of the post. First, while we encourage discussion here at About-Face, I would like to reiterate that telling people to shut up and referring to them as dummies shuts down the conversation. It's simply unnecessarily rude. Secondly, I did note at the beginning of the post that many think this ad is funny, and I'm not at all surprised that it gave people a chuckle. But what I think is particularly interesting is that the very first comment came form someone who has struggled with an eating disorder saying that this commercial did indeed normalize behaviors of disordered eating, that she herself had experienced - that alone tells us that this is not an entirely harmless and solely amusing commercial and refutes the comments that say it's merely funny. Additionally, nowhere in the post did I say that this commercial is responsible for the mass diagnosis of eating disorders. What I did say is that this commercial contributes to the cacophony of noise in the greater social environment that promotes disordered perceptions of food. I have to say that I strongly disagree with the insinuation that the girls are shaming him because he is eating bad food, and that this should support better eating habits. The man explicitly states that he is saving money by not eating anything - not by eating more healthfully, not by eliminating certain foods - by not eating at all. The fact that he employs these girls to prompt him to stop eating is where the true message lies. We 'assume' these girls aren't eating because they are the ones that he brought on board to help him not eat. And we have had many discussions here at About-Face around the unsuccessful campaigns of shame launched in attempts to get people to change their behavior. Making people feel bad is not the answer, and it sadly does not make people "grow up." Shame does not equip people with tools o change their behavior.
    I've spent years of graduate school studying the onset of eating disorders, and I also work as a behavior and nutrition coach, so this is an area in which I am deeply familiar - disordered eating does not stem from one commercial, or one comment, as I noted - it is the combination of many factors that normalize unhealthy behaviors, of which this ad could be one, and the addition of compromised mental health. Many recovering girls of the hundreds I have studied and worked with have told me in the past month that this commercial causes them anxiety and brings their emotional state back to what it was when they were in the throes of the illness, even when they know it's meant to be funny and isn't directed at them personally - this is how media works, and this is why we at About-Face work to decode commercials' impact and influence.
    • Dave on 03-17-2012

      I dont know much about eating disorders but another question comes to mind when watching this commercial. Why on earth is an middle aged overweight ugly man hanging out at the middle school talking to little girls anyway. I know in my neck of the woods this guy should be more interested in life insurance than car insurance because daddy's tend to be protective of their daughters. Just an observation as a father, it is kind of disturbing.
    • Bryce on 08-08-2012

      Larkin,
      I agree with some of your general statements but your argument against this commercial is completely unfounded. You wrote "The man explicitly states that he is saving money by not eating anything – not by eating more healthfully, not by eliminating certain foods – by not eating at all." Your entire argument is based on that statement and it's completely inaccurate.
      The man states that "weight-loss programs can be expensive." Most weight loss programs promote healthy eating habits. Not all, of course, but there's no reason to assume that this guy wasn't looking into healthy, albeit expensive weight loss programs. Rather than pay for an expensive weight-loss program he enlisted the help of these girls to call attention to his unhealthy eating habits because they clearly find his unhealthy habits to be "gross." Obviously the insinuation is that these girls don't practice unhealthy eating habits which is the whole reason the man is using them in place of a weight-loss program. The man wasn't trying to save money by not eating, he was saving money by not paying for an expensive weight=loss program. This whole article is in response to your complete misunderstanding of the storyline. You can make whatever points you want about the "greater social environment" but this commercial isn't to blame.
      This commercial is clever and humorous. You and others may be hypersensitive about the issue you raised and may be more likely to see something that isn't there but this commercial and its producers can't be held accountable for your false assumptions.
  10. Resu-Chan on 03-15-2012

    I can see both sides...it may be triggering in some severe cases but I think it makes most people annoyed more than anything.
  11. Michelle on 04-30-2012

    I was more disturbed by the fact that 3 middle school aged girls are following around a middle aged man. Umm - pedophile much? 3 middle school/teenaged girls should not be in the apartment of a man they don't know. Geico needs to leave this commercial on the shelf and stick with their other funnier stuff.
  12. Aaron on 07-19-2012

    This commercial makes no sense. The point is that he is trying to save money, not lose weight. In America the obesity rate is highest among the poor. They should be preventing him from shopping at Whole Foods or buying fresh fruit, not grabbing a cheap meal at Burger King or the Waffle House.

    Besides, those girls do not look like the popular clique; they look like a trio of drama geeks.