Published on February 3, 2014 | by Linn Wiberg


Bullying people to change

Head shot of writer Linn Wiberg

Wiberg thinks that ‘shock and disgust’ advertising campaigns do more harm than good.

We live in a society which has taught us that consumption equals happiness; the more you buy, the better your life will be.

As the world gets more efficient through technology, what used to take days can now be done within an hour.

However we still don’t seem to have time for family or activities that makes us happy; instead we work harder and longer than ever, still striving to save more time, effort and money, and this is where fast food fits in perfectly.

Today, more than 25 per cent of the British population suffer from obesity and the National Obesity Forum estimates that this figure will double by 2050.

As the number of obese people grows, so does the hatred towards them, and the advertising industry is encouraging this anger.

Until now, the action taken to fight this behaviour has been through aggressive “shock and disgust” campaigns based on shaming obese people into hating themselves enough to change.

This is evil and wrong – being obese is already stigmatised. The photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero captured this everyday bullying in her series of public self portraits where strangers looked at her in disgust.

Today it is acceptable to look down and comment on obese people due to them always being portrayed as second class citizens.

What’s not surprising is that it’s proven that depression is a large reason why people both become and stay obese. Clearly, bullying is therefore not the way to solve this.


Obesity is not a conscious choice but a class issue, in which shock advertising will do more harm than good.

What is needed is effective health education and legislative measures from the government; just as children are not allowed to buy cigarettes, they shouldn’t be allowed to buy fast food, and it should be properly taxed for the rest of us.

We also need healthy options to be as affordable as fast food, so buying it will become an option. As fast food tastes fantastic and is also cheap, it doesn’t make sense for people to choose a more time consuming and expensive option, despite the health benefits.

Obesity is not a conscious choice but a class issue, in which shock advertising will do more harm than good.

A truly profound change is needed, and no more bullying. What advertising can actually help with is to urge the government to follow this through.

The problem is that since advertising is a profit-based industry, who would fund such a campaign against the government?

We need to increase pressure on the government and our society. After all, the advertising industry is made up of people like ourselves.

But having time, energy and the opportunity to engage in that debate is also a class issue. As long as we look upon obese people as worth less than ourselves, the problem will never be solved.


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