6 Ads That Prove The Fitness Industry Was Always Insane
If you want to understand capitalism, look at the diet and exercise industry. It's the perfect storm of advertisers preying on people's ignorance and bitter insecurities. (See: the bizarre Peloton ads everyone dunked on last year.) And they change their techniques every few years to keep us from catching on. Here's a sampling of just some of the ways companies have tried to shame, deceive, or humiliate us into reshaping our disgusting bodies over the years.
"Ironized Yeast" Scammed Women Into Attempting To Gain Weight
Apparently, before the 1950s, "body positivity" consisted of companies screaming at anxious women until they felt comfortable buying snake oil, even if their concern was that they were too thin. So if you were worried that you didn't have enough meat on your bones, you would be barraged with ads telling you how ridiculously unfuckable you are when you're not chugging mystery powder.
There's a damn good reason you're friendless, taunt the miracle workers at Ironized Yeast Co. But unlike today's fat-shaming ads, the yeast yahoos blame your lack of companions -- romantic or otherwise -- on your bony ass. If you want "beauty-bringing pounds" and the enticing curves that come with them, you need Ironized Yeast, the best weight gain product since, well, food. This one is even less subtle:
Move it, matchstick! Men hate the very sight of you! The insults in a series of 1930s print ads pummel you from every direction, promising results "no matter how skinny and weak you may be." Ironized Yeast is the tonic for making that "flat chest develop" until you're an entirely new person, one whom men will rush to like curve-hungry zombies.
The makers of Ironized Yeast got chumpslapped by the Federal Trade Commission in 1934 for making false claims about the product, forbidding future ads from promising relief from headaches, weakness, nervousness, loss of appetite, and the Asian fucking flu. The fat insults, though? Good to go.
Fat-Shaming Women Goes Way Back
Of course, there were plenty of ads for those whose insecurities lay at the other side of the size spectrum:
Slender sisters get a swell night on the town, but loveless Sadie is destined for another night alone. And to make it worse, that overweight recluse is moping about it.
Well, memo to fat girls: Marmola Prescription Tablets (also marketed as Antifat Tablets, in case you were medically immune to subtlety) will transform your body. Your husband is ashamed of you? No problem! Four tablets a day is all it takes for him to once again stomach the sight of you. Why, he might even ask you to dance! In public!
The Food and Drug Administration featured Marmola in its 1933 Chamber of Horrors traveling exhibit, an example of "dangerous, deceptive, or worthless products" that they didn't have the authority to pull off shelves. (Suggestion to the FDA: Please revive the traveling Chamber of Horrors.) Our old friends at the FTC took up the case against Marmola, and had some success in getting the dangerous drug (it caused hyperthyroidism, insomnia, and rapid heart rate) off the market.
For Years, Milk Was Promoted As A Way To Lose Weight
The professors in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Michigan State College have studied the science of weight control for years -- and apparently the science of sadism as well. In this 1951 "educational" film, researchers organized volunteers into a line of shame, displaying their naked backs and thighs while posting their surplus poundage for anyone curious about just how "overweight" each one was.
It's all in the service of returning these students to "normal weight." Becoming normal is a gong that gets banged again and again, in case you thought your body was acceptable in any way or that you should have some pesky self-confidence. The researchers' methods aren't that unusual; they recommend a regimen of healthy exercise and a sensible diet. But because the study is underwritten by the National Dairy Council, "sensible" looks a little different than you might expect.
Specifically, each and every meal comes with a huge honking glass of milk. Milk does a body good, and in fact, "does more for the reducer than any other one food!" At least, according to researchers whose funding, again, came from the National Dairy Council. The narrator then drones on about this while displaying a Sears family portrait of cheese, butter, and lots and lots of fat-reducing milk.
In what's becoming a pattern here, the FTC eventually forced the National Dairy Council to pull ads like this. But in case you got too optimistic about the state of this miserable endeavor, know that they didn't pull them until 2007.
The Gut Buster Promised Scientifically Impossible Results
It didn't take long for manufacturers of cheap workout equipment to get in on the "miracle obesity cure" gravy train. For example, 1987's Gut Buster infomercial presents a parade of tummies like you're at a zoo for people who may want to keep their T-shirts on at the pool.
There's the beer belly, the ol' spare tire, and the Labanza, which is Italian slang for "lardass." In case you don't speak Italian, Gut Buster throws a pulsing Ghostbuster Circle of Shame over this unfortunate lady's stomach:
The Gut Buster is for both sexes, but ladies can only expect amazing results "if you're as serious as he is." If you have what it takes, that flat stomach from high school can be yours again. What we know now (and what they almost certainly also knew then) is that it's impossible to target fat loss in the gut, or any one area of your body, because science. Doing sit-ups won't burn belly fat any better than running or push-ups. Your body has its own process for deciding which fat to burn.
So for a real workout, you'll need more than this "ultimate fitness machine," which is essentially a spring with handles. It appears to be flimsy enough to break apart and rocket multiple pieces of metal and plastic into your genitals before it ever hands you those coveted six-packs. Speaking of which, they're still selling the Gut Buster at Walmart, and the only review for it is this incredible one-star showcase: This thing was a piece of junk it came apart the first time my 13-year-old used it....definite return.
A Company Promised To Help You Lose Weight ... While You Sleep
Let's face it, Overweight Person, dropping extra pounds is hard. The proven methods -- diet discipline, vigorous exercise, gallons of milk, etc. -- seem to be out of your comfort zone. That's why you need Dream Away, a 1984 weight loss plan whereby you down a fistful of pills and lose weight while you sleep!
"No dangerous drugs," promises a Man Who Looks Like a Doctor But Is Never Actually Identified As One. And most importantly, NO diets and NO exercise. Why bother when you can "lose weight the easy way?" Be like Susan W. from Larkspur, California, who lost 18 pounds in only three weeks.
Way to nap, Susan!
Prosecutors in Ventura County, California unfortunately disagreed with poor Susan, charging that Dream Away's ingredients "will cause no weight loss." Though they did not admit to any wrongdoing, Dream Away's makers agreed to pull the product off California shelves and pay a $162,000 fine in 1985. That didn't stop Dream Away from marketing to the rest of the country, though. Once again, our friends at the FTC rode to the rescue, forcing the pill company to pay out $1.1 million in refunds over false advertising in 1988. The defendants agreed to "disclose prominently that dieting and/or exercise is required in order to lose weight."
Ads For The Gazelle Featured Way Too Much Creepy Physical Contact
The fitness industry has always had an uneven relationship with women. On one hand, they press them to be perfect go-getter supermodels with massive Instagram followings and zero body fat. On the other, they're convinced that if a woman goes into a gym without male supervision, they might accidentally burst into flame or start knitting or something.
That's why they need something like the Gazelle, which offers an amazing workout, but only if you use the proper technique that's taught to you by a questionable man. Enter real fitness freak Tony Little to show you how to get it done, jumping aboard equipment clearly designed for a single person and rhythmically grinding into your behind. "This is why I have such a great job, folks," he jokes to the camera.
It's important to work all the body parts, which is why Little champions techniques such as the Butt Squeeze. Look at his amazing ass! "I see you wanting to touch!" Little brays to aghast co-host Darla Haun.
Darla is ready for the next exercise, but Little won't allow it until she strips down to her bikini top for a better "range of motion." OK, sure buddy. Once that jacket's off, Little celebrates: "I'm sure everybody out there is happy now!" You know, maybe just work out silently, Tony.
Unlike the rest of the entries on this list, the FTC never came after Little, presumably since he never openly claimed that being sexually harassed by him would help you lose weight (that would probably have happened even if the machine hadn't been there).
On a side note, one thing that stands out is the way Tony Little pronounces "butt-OX," screeching the second half of the word as if it's the call of a wild bird. He does it twice, and I'm starting to think that it might just be his natural instinct to take everything a step further than it ever needs to be. After all, this is the man who got hit by a fucking school bus while training for a bodybuilding show and went on to compete anyway.
For more, check out If Every Famous Diet Idea Was Honest - Honest Ads:
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