This Weight Watchers advert, on TV this week, has received criticism online on account of its implication that losing weight will make you closer to your family. The message is: skinny people make better mums! The criticism of the ad is of course fair, but just how much more ‘ideology’ than this is packed into the 31 second advert is really remarkable.
The story of the advert is that without narcissism, the mother could not function and participate in normal relationships. The story goes that after losing some weight and regaining some lost narcissism, the mother is once again able to ‘motivate’ herself; she once more has the desire to dress up and go out shopping with the daughter. The newly-motivated mother poses in front of the mirror, complete with cleavage shot and sexual pose for the viewer or imaginary viewer (who she knows is viewing her.)
Ultimately it seems that the advert tells us something that French Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan implied but never quite said: that without being an ‘object of desire’ for others we cannot have desire of our own. Or perhaps it could be better put in this way; that it is only as an object of desire for someone else (or an imaginary someone else) that we desire for ourselves. In the modern world at least, desire is always bound up with being desired; what we desire and what we desire to be are irrevocably connected. This is surely the problem we need to wrestle with watching this Weight Watchers’ advert. Its message is that if we do not conform to an ideal body image that we want to attain – an image that is not ‘for us’ but for the other, a body that we think will be appealing to real or imaginary others – we will experience a debilitating lack of desire itself.
Lacan is describing a particular way in which the modern subject is constructed, and it appears on the basis of this advert that there may be some truth in what he says. However, narratives such as this advert serve only to proliferate, normalize and naturalize this idea of the subject and its relationship to desire, making it seem inevitable and unavoidable. This is something Lacan would insist that we continually challenge; we ought to be open to changing these problematic structures and not let them entrench themselves. Structures of desire can always change and are never inevitable. This advert reveals the danger of a part of the way the modern subject is constructed and shows us that we need to challenge it.