Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Skinny Is Better

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Despite the relatively recent push for the acceptance and distribution of various, “real” body types throughout mass media and advertisement, the myth that “skinny is better” has more than a residual appearance. In fact, “skinny” is still exceedingly dominant, suggesting a false sense of its own normativity that is disproportionate to reality (that is, physical existence outside but inclusive of mass media). These images and the ideas behind them penetrate our lives daily.  According to Barthes, “the mythical signification…is never arbitrary; it is always in part motivated, and unavoidably contains some analogy…Motivation is necessary to the very duplicity of myth: myth plays on the analogy between meaning and form, there is not myth without motivated form” (Storey 266). Therefore, it is necessary to analyze this mythical signification through the selection of one of the aforementioned demonstrative images, shown below.




Although it is clear that this advertisement for Hydroxycut reinforces the myth that skinny is better, this image can be broken down into “two semiological systems, one of which is staggered in relation to the other: a linguistic system, the language (or modes of representation which are assimilated to it), which I shall call the language-object…and myth itself, which I shall call metalanguage, because it is a second language, in which one speaks about the first” (Storey 264). The beginning of this analysis will be that of denotation, or the first order of signification, that exemplifies an understanding of the first semiological system. Moving from left to right across the image (for this is the natural way in which the eye of the English reader will travel over information), the immediate object identified is that of a thin, bronzed woman in a bathing suit. She is standing on a tropical beach with one hand on her hip, smiling. Next to her head in large print are the words, “I Lost 39lbs. Fast with Hydroxycut.” The information of “39lbs” is bold and highlighted in red. Directly below is a statement from a woman – presumably the woman featured in the bathing suit. Gillian Risebury from Illinois tells the reader that “Looking back at photos, I always had a smile on my face, but inside I was unhappy. Even at my thinnest, I never felt confident enough to wear a bikini. I had seen other Hydroxycut transformations and was tempted to give it a try. I was so excited when I started losing weight. I lost an amazing 39 pounds and over 7 inches off my waist in only 13 weeks! I am proof that Hydroxycut really works fast. Bring on the beach, the boat trips and the pool parties.” Below this statement are her before and after weight loss pictures, labeled as “Another True Success Story” and divided by the words “LOST 39 pounds.” The word “another” is highlighted. Lastly, the entire advertisement falls under the words “America’s #1 Selling Weight-Loss Supplement.” Unfortunately this denotative information is that which is readily obvious, without inference. However it is necessary to identify the entirety of the straightforward but detailed image in order to move into the second order of signification, or the semiological system that Barthes calls the myth itself.

The second language, “in which one speaks about the first,” is connotative, understanding the image itself in relation to what is signified. In this case, the signified would be the myth that “skinny is better.” The advertisement itself is a successful portrayal of that myth, directly stating that one will not be happy or confident unless you lose weight, and the fastest way to achieve weightloss is through the drug they are selling. The reader associates bad feelings with the “before” picture because they  are told that the woman in that picture is unhappy, possibly triggering negative feelings about their own body if they believe they look in anyway similar to that image, thus generating a desire for quick weightloss and the drug itself.  Furthermore, the reader is led to believe that this product is both popular and successful through the demonstration of a “personal” experience as well repetitive, highlighted implications that many people are doing this throughout America. Not only is the myth that “skinny is better” successfully demonstrated and reaffirmed through this advertisement, but it also reveals that the motivation behind the myth  is its very creation and continual reproduction for the purpose of profit.


Author: Denali Elliott

I am an undergraduate student at Whitman College and will graduate with a Film & Media Studies major, English and Politics double minor in the spring of 2015. Aspiring to become a multimedia, international journalist, I enjoy creating short films or experimenting with photography and writing through both academic work and free time. My latest films and photographs will be the product of my travels to Zurich, Switzerland and Paris, France over spring break. In addition, I share my work from an Advanced Filmmaking class, The Pioneer (a school newspaper), and projects or classes prior to this year.

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