From the Archives: Weight Loss Advertising in Cambodia

I was going through my pictures the other day, clearing valuable space for more pictures from our travels, when I came across a picture I had taken in Siem Reap. We had wandered down a street looking for a grocery store and got fairly lost; not surprising, since the street signs weren’t in English and no one away from the tourist areas spoke English. Suddenly, I look up, only to see possibly the weirdest billboard advertisement I had ever seen: a poster for a weight loss product with a woman stepping out of a giant fatsuit.


That donut seems disgusting now, huh?

At home, weight loss advertising focuses on how losing weight makes you feel, with photos of before and after large amounts of weight lost. This is because saying, “She was a big fattie before, now she’s super hot!” is generally frowned upon. Losing weight is about gaining self-esteem. You’re doing it for yourself. It’s not about the fat.

This Cambodian billboard, advertising a weight loss product that would allow you to lose like 2-4kg (or 5-10 pounds) is a little different. It’s something you’d never find in America. It puts your attention first to the skinny naked woman – not that uncommon – and second to the giant, ugly pile of fat she has just stepped out of. It’s misleading, just like any other weight loss ad. The real difference is in the representation of fat.

Never in America would you actually have an ad where you show the fat itself, disembodied in a heap. It’s gross, and no one wants to be grossed out by an ad. Grossed out by a cigarette public service announcement, yes. But by a product advertisement? No. So what this ad is banking on is that people will be so scared that they look like this fatsuit girl that they will run to buy the product.

Fat people in Asia are harder to come by than they are in other parts of the world. In Cambodia especially, people are working very hard and struggling to survive, so it’s difficult to find an overfed Cambodian. So it’s kinda strange that this billboard would even exist in such a place. But in Asia, image is so important that being fat must be a huge embarrassment, a sense of shame. This ad, then, is perfect. And the fact that I was able to understand it from one picture confirms that it is a good ad.

So good job, weight loss company, for making a poster that reminds me of my fat. Time to hit the gym – so that I can, you know, feel better about myself.

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