A woman (thin, pretty, smiley) sits on her couch and turns on the TV. As newscasters ring out worse and worse reports, we see the smile fade from the woman’s face. She starts to get more haggard. We see dark eyes forming, pimples appearing, a mustache here, a monobrow there. Soon enough, we see her skin darkening, and double chins and wrinkles popping up. As the camera starts to pan away, we see the woman has gained a lot of weight (the camera doesn’t shy away from showing her stomach), and has grown hair all over her body.
In the end, the woman turns off her TV after getting a notification for a video call on her laptop. As she starts to say hi and say she’s okay, the person on the other end says nasally, “Anong nangyari?”
This isn’t the pitch of a badly thought out student film. Instead, this is the very real ad that Belo and the ad agency Gigil made which was just released today.
Where do I even begin?
It’s in how you show it
I’ll start with a caveat: It’s not wrong to show that people have gained weight, or have gotten pimples, or have grown body hair throughout the pandemic. I’m not going to deny reality. Most people I know have gone through that. I’ve gained weight. I’ve grown body hair. (Although, to be fair, I was already growing out mine pre-pandemic, and I would tell people it was a political statement but really I was just lazy.)
So I’m not going to be attacking the ad for the mere depiction of these things. However, what I am side-eyeing is how the ad shows them as things to be insecure about.
The camera’s gaze on the woman is not kind. (I might even put this as one of the most unkind pieces of media I’ve seen this year.) This is not meant to look like a sweet and loving time lapse showing a woman as she grows and is emotionally impacted by the year. It’s leering at the woman, catching every new unflattering part on her body and shining it with spit.
The messaging of this is clear. What’s happening to the woman is not meant to be a good thing. Fat, pimples, body hair: These are ugly things. Laugh at this, the ad is saying. Right now, she is the worst version of herself.
The worst version of ourselves
On Facebook, the official Belo account added this caption to the ad: “We may feel like the worst version of ourselves right now, like we’ve let ourselves go. It’s not you, though—it’s the #PandemicEffect. And it has affected all of us.”
Let’s be clear here. The ad is selling a service. It’s showing off common insecurities of women to tell you why you need to book that consultation now, stat. It has to show these things as bad things to get you to do that. The caption may be using the language and aesthetic of self-improvement (“Hey girl, it’s not you”) to couch the fact that it’s manufacturing insecurities, but the proof is still in the pudding.
It’s trying to soften the blow, a little, by not putting the blame on the viewer (which is how it usually goes) for “letting themselves go,” but on the pandemic itself. I’m still not giving them points for that, though. It’s still bringing up the idea of you letting yourself go. Someone or something is at fault if you look like that. It still implies that if you look like that without the pandemic, then the fault lies in you.
It’s “a terrifying display of misogyny in the guise of self-improvement and beauty,” wrote Nolisoli content creator Andrei Yuvallos on Facebook. “Brands need to sell products, I understand that. But what I DON’T understand is why people still hinge their entire campaigns on preying on the insecurities of women (THAT THEY DEVELOPED IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC WHICH WE DON’T HAVE CONTROL OVER, BY THE WAY) in order to sell their products.”
“All the ‘flaws’ in the video aren’t even flaws,” she said to me. “They’re just normal human being things illustrated as flaws.”
This might sound like a cynical take, but the ad is relatable. Heck, the campaign hinges on that relatability, getting people to use the hashtag #PandemicEffect to write about their insecurities—or, as Adobo Magazine writes in their campaign spotlight for it, “Even the most attractive celebrities opened up about their struggles with the hashtag #PandemicEffect.” (Name me a microaggression without saying the microaggression.)
It’s exactly because of those human being things that it’s relatable. Yes, the ad is relatable because who didn’t gain weight, or gained pimples, etc. during a goddamn global pandemic? Who didn’t struggle because of that since our beauty standards are still being enforced? “We relate but that’s because we’ve been conditioned to by the patriarchy,” said Yuvallos.
Adobo’s story on the ad calls it reassuring, but it’s anything but that. It’s shaming women, plain and simple. And here’s the rub: Shaming women is already not great, but telling women while the world is burning that they should be ashamed of how they look is so f*cked up in so many notes and languages.
Is that a fat suit?
One question that’s been on my mind—more than “Who pitched this?” “Who approved this?” “Who shot this?”—is this: Is the actress wearing a fat suit?
I genuinely can’t tell if they hired one actress who wore a fat suit, or if they hired two actresses, and they made the fat woman look as unflattering as they possibly could.
What was the casting call for this? If they did the latter, did the actress know they would portray her in that way, that the camera was going to uncomfortably gaze on her stomach rolls? And if they did the former, did no one flinch even a sec to think that maybe there was something deeply wrong with forcing a woman to don a fat suit, namely, as Maria Fischer of The Revelist and countless other writers have said, that “plus-size bodies aren’t jokes”?
I legitimately don’t know which scenario is worse.
Featured photo screengrabbed from the Belo Ad. Yes, that’s a real screenshot from a real ad that someone paid for