Flat Tummy isn’t the worst for pushing diet products — it’s the worst for being so good at it

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Flat Tummy isn’t the worst for pushing diet products — it’s the worst for being so good at it

How the brand is making dieting trendy

Diet brand Flat Tummy has always attracted the ire of the Internet, but backlash reached fever pitch this summer when the company unveiled a massive billboard in Times Square. And for good reason: The billboard in question is part of a new ad campaign for appetite suppressant lollipops, roundly criticized for using reality and YouTube stars to appeal directly to young girls. Tess Holliday, a plus-size model and body-positive activist, even started a Change.org petition to have the billboard removed. Holliday writes, “Telling young women and girls to ignore or suppress their hunger is dangerous.”

Well, yeah. That's true. But really, the most dangerous part of Flat Tummy’s marketing campaign isn’t what it’s pushing; it’s how well it pushes it.

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It's wrapped in codes we're all too familiar with

The billboard is millennial pink, the unofficial mascot of — you guessed it! — millennial women and girls. So many of our favorite brands like Glossier, MissGuided and Fenty Beauty come swathed in the color, representing a wholly modern femininity we've all learned to equate with cool products.

Visually, another devious yet brilliant element of the billboard is the exclusion of the model’s body. This ad is several stories tall and could undoubtedly feature the full model but it only shows shoulders up, allowing us to project our own ideal body onto this model. She's a refreshing, regular pretty — a girl you might be friends with, even. Nonthreatening, comforting, carefully pushing the idea that this product is for everyone. It's for you and your friends.

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Then, of course, there’s the slogan on the billboard: “Got Cravings? Girl, Tell Them To #SuckIt.” You know, because no campaign that hopes to reach a millennial audience is complete without a hashtag. Besides the hashtag, the wording is eerily clever. The use of “cravings” instead of “hunger” is a sneaky way to market weight suppressant lollipops without being like, “Is your stomach growling and are you feeling weak with hunger? Eat this lollipop to forget about it!” The word choice of cravings makes it seem like this feeling is a desire for an indulgence, not your body literally telling you it needs fuel to function.

Flat Tummy's campaigns are a far cry from diet products of yesteryear

The aesthetic elements of this billboard are an extreme deviation from, say, the Hydroxycut diet pill company. You probably remember their late-night infomercials and bottles full of crammed writing lining the shelves at CVS. The ads featured full body "before and afters" complete with a shout-y voiceover and a long list of scary side effects rattled off at the end. Flat Tummy, on the other hand, is trendy, and their smiling models set against pretty pink backgrounds are a massive departure from what we used to think of when we heard the words diet products.

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Linguistically, the company has made tons of creative choices. Even the name of the company is carefully chose choice. “Flat” instead of “skinny” is in line with the brand’s faux body positivity, as promoting a flat tummy is seemingly less restrictive than promoting a overall skinny physique. There’s also the fact that flat evokes the same image for everyone, while skinny varies depending on who you ask.

Even the forms their products take are a Trojan horse: tea, lollipops, shakes, portable bits part of a "healthy" diet and critical for babes who need energy and an "extra kick" for a day full of GirlBossing.

Flat Tummy's billboard is only a piece of it

Just a few months ago, Kim Kardashian tried to push the now-infamous lollipops on her Instagram. The post was met with so much backlash that Kim deleted it. While that particular post was deleted, other Kardashian-Jenner family members and a litany of other Insta stars have pimped the non-FDA-approved products before, and will probably do it again.

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Products like Flat Tummy's have been on the market for decades, but promoted through late night infomercials and cringe-worthy ads in the back of magazines. These diet products were something hidden in that one, poorly-lit aisle at the corner store. Instead, Flat Tummy is a community of babes and hashtags and cute packaging. Starving through unregulated chemical pills and powders used to be something of a shameful secret. Now, it's so cool people actually aspire to become shills for the product — it's something of an influencer rite of passage.

And that’s exactly what’s so insidious about the brand. It’s not just that it’s promoting its unhealthy message in Times Square; it’s that it’s promoting it in a way that rebrands the use of diet products and trying to make it a ubiquitous tool of cool, pretty girls everywhere. The billboard’s message says we should stay hungry and that’s terrifying, but it’s even more terrifying that the message is wrapped in something millennial pink, youthful, and trendy.

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