Lady Gaga, the VMAs and Fat Shaming

ShamelessA little over a year ago to great fanfare Lady Gaga started her “Body Revolution”  She opened up about her struggles with an eating disorder and reached out to her fans saying

My weight/loss/gain since i was child has tormented me. No amount of help has ever healed my pain about it. But YOU have.  This is who I am. And I am proud at any size. And i love you, and want you to be proud in any form you may take as well.”

I thought that was a decent step and it was nice to see someone who supported my rights as a queer person also support body positivity.

Tonight one of her songs was used on a really unfortunate commercial for KIA that aired on the VMAs:

If you don’t care to watch, it’s a commercial for KIA using the hamsters from previous ads. It starts with the hamsters (who are fat) having difficulty running, doing a ton of exercising and then finally stepping out of the KIA onto  the red carpet with Lady Gaga’s song “applause” in the background. According to Kia

It’s sleeker, sexier and more sophisticated than ever. And we’re not just talking about the 2014 Kia Soul. The formerly frumpy Kia Hamsters have totally transformed themselves into lean, mean, head-turning machines, much like the all-new Soul. Watch as they hit the gym and shed their furry folds to the tune of the latest and greatest anthem from Lady Gaga, Applause.

So what have we learned?  Fat people are frumpy, thin people are attractive, and companies like Kia will use fat shaming to sell anything and everything.  It’s not that hamsters have jack to do with cars, it’s that Kia is expecting that their Hamster Biggest Loser episode will go viral. It’s doubly unfortunate that they are using a song from someone who knows firsthand how dangerous this can be, which sort of says “yeah body positivity or whatever but, I mean, obviously not for fat people!”

When we talk about these things we often get criticized for discussing things that are   “too trivial,”  Fat hamsters losing weight they’ll say, who cares?  I care, because the message that fat is bad and thin is good is so ubiquitous as to be inescapable and the way you can tell is that it’s being done with anthropomorphized hamsters to sell a car, using the music of someone who has spoken out against the single stereotyping of beauty upon which the commercial is based. By the way, I am well aware that Lady Gaga may not have anything to do with the use of her song in this ad campaign, but it would be great if she spoke out against it.

EDIT:  Reader araresoul110 pointed out that Lady Gaga posted the video on her Facebook with the caption “This is exactly my hip rehab gym routine” So it seems like she’s fine with it.

If we don’t notice these things and call bullshit then they can easily slip into our subconscious and we can start to buy into the idea that of course thin is better than fat.  When we don’t say anything then companies think that it’s perfectly fine to use the “thin good/fat bad” concept to market anything because fat people are totally acceptable to use as scape goats, that fat bodies are just theirs for the metaphoring and, to me, that’s not ok.  So I’ll let those involved know how I feel and a Kia will not be in my future.

Activism Opportunities are below in case this one speaks to you as something to speak out about:

Let Kia know how you feel:

Ask Lady Gaga to speak out

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Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 3:43 pm  Comments (37)  

37 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wouldn’t Lady Gaga be paid $$$ for the use of her song in this ad and therefore be aware??

    • I think it would depend on how much control she has over the use. She could have just been told ‘Kia want your song for a car ad’ and not known the specifics of the campaign. Or she could have known and still okay’d it.

  2. I have to say I find it particularly helpful for this overly busy person that you included contact info to complain. It made it wonderfully easy to take that five minutes on my lunch hour to let KIA know just how I felt about this idiocy. Thank you!

  3. She shared a link to the video on her facebook with a rather positive endorsement, so I’m pretty sure she’s fully aware of this video….

  4. I also really appreciate the contact data. I’m not that busy, just lazy, but I left a FB comment for Kia, and added a comment on my own FB.

  5. Commented on my own facebook, Gaga’s and Kia’s. Just so not OK. Thanks for this heads up.

  6. I saw it today cuz one of the insanely buff dudes lifting weights is the nephew of a coworker. I kept my mouth shut about the end since it was about the nephew, I’m less than thrilled.
    I didn’t know how to say anything without messing up the moment for the other guy. Maybe later.

  7. This is especially disconcerting considering the recent photos of a very thin Gaga in V magazine.

  8. I bought a Kia Sedona minivan three years ago. When I bought it, I told the salesman that the seat belt didn’t quite reach (it would have reached had I put the shoulder harness part behind me, which is not legal) and that I needed a seat belt extender. He said that Kia doesn’t make them for their vehicles because they aren’t safe. I asked him “What’s safer? Me using an extender and being belted in, or me not using the seat belt at all because it won’t reach to buckle around me?” He just referred me to the parts department, who gave me the URL for an after-market company who made extenders that would work with Kia vehicles. So I had to drive my Sedona home without being able to use the seatbelt, go online and order an extender, and not drive my Sedona until the extender arrived.
    Still and all, now that I have my extender that works with the Kia Sedona, if this one ever gets to the point that it’s more expensive to keep it than trade it in, I will buy another Kia Sedona. I’ve owned a Dodge minivan and a Ford minivan, and the Kia minivan has been the best of the three (and yes, I needed an extender with both of the other minivans too, but they did at least supply them when asked). The Kia Sedona has more acceleration on demand than any other minivan I’ve driven, it rides better than any other minivan I’ve ever driven, and it has stow n go seating for the third row of seats (the two seats in the middle are also removable if you need the cargo area). So it fits my needs, and even though I may not like Kia’s new commercial with the exercising hamsters, that’s not going to stop keep me from liking the Sedona or buying another one when the time comes (and has anyone ever seen a commercial for a Kia minivan? I haven’t, and I’ve been watching for one).

    • I had a bolt in seat belt extender for my old car and I don’t think it changed the safeness of the car, but it couldn’t be moved from seat to seat or car to car. I felt like the seat belts were short and was glad to have them. I also felt like they blended in and weren’t so noticeable, which was important at the time because that was before I found FA.

      I’m sad about the Kia Soul because that’s my next car, at least it was going to be, but I may have to look around now. I loved the dancing hamsters before they were put on a diet. Maybe I’ll wait and see if the commercial goes mainstream or if Kia rethinks it.

  9. Ragen, you’re awesome for including contact info. If others want to steal or adapt, here are my tweets to Lady Gaga and Kia:

    * @ladygaga I, probably like you, was disappointed that Kia used “Applause” to promote fat shame. I so hope you speak out against it. Mwah!

    * @Kia Sad about your new commercial: a combo of hamsters and Biggest Loser. Eating disorders abound; please stop promoting fat/body shame.

    • Thanks Lesleigh!

  10. But… but… hamsters are SUPPOSED to be fat and fluffy! That’s part of their charm! I mean, by the end of the commercial they are literally not hamsters anymore. Message? Change who you are if you want to be desirable! I call bullocks.

    • ^^That’s what my very first thought was. Hamsters are meant to have that body shape, aren’t they??

      When I was eating about 1600 calories a day and exercising like mad and pretty much existing on angel hair pasta with a sneeze of parmesan with a plain salad and tinned mandarin oranges (seriously, that’s what I ate every day), I was so unhealthy. It was probably my youth and gallons of coffee that kept me going. I started having heart problems and just wanted to sleep all the time. I ached like mad.

      Check back with those hamsters in about 5 years and see if they spend two hours in the gym every day still. Good lord.

      • Sounds like my diet after I had my son, and on and off until I was in my mid forties. (I was 25 when my son was born–scary thought that i had a kid, because I was a complete idiot when I was 25.) Except I never could abide the plain salad. I was forever seeking for a tasty “lite” salad dressing.

  11. I know this probably isn’t the point of your blog, but as an animal fan, and particularly a hamster fan, let me show you what one of those ‘fat’ animals can do. It’s a YouTube video of two Russian lads encountering a rather territorial wild, European hamster. Beware laughing at hamsters!😉

    • Poor hamster. At least the guys finally stopped harassing it.

      • They weren’t harrassing it, they were trying to drive their truck across their farmland when it attacked their truck. So they tried to get it off the road so they could drive on without hurting it. Euro hamsters are very territorial and extremely aggressive – it bit the guy who tried to move it – you can see he’s bleeding. They then tried to use their sandal to move it, but the animal attacked the sandal.

        What made me laugh is that the hamster was defending its territory against a truck and two humans – clearly taking to account at all of the relative size differences. But the guys weren’t being mean. In Russia, Euro hamsters are considered a pest, like rats, but they didn’t want to run it over, which is actually quite sweet. They were laughing but I think they were actually quite scared.

        In Northern Europe, hamsters have even been known to puncture tyres while defending their territory. Like I said, not to be laughed at. They’re pretty pugnacious animals. And yes, they are fat, but surprisingly strong.

        • I’m glad they didn’t run over it, or hurt it, but they were messing around with it a bit for the sake of entertainment, obviously.

          ANYWAY, that reminds me of crayfish, and even little spiders, incredibly aggressive even for their size.

  12. I just left Kia a polite yet still nasty undertoned comment on their Facebook page. Hopefully the more people who comment the more attention it gets, and they do something about it.

  13. The comment I’m leaving all over…
    Kia, you suck for using weight prejudice to sell your cars. (The new Lady Gaga/gym ad.) Hate is hate, wehther it’s hamsters or humans. I was going to consider buying a Soul, but now, no way! My fat and thin friends agree with me: We don’t roll with haters.

  14. It reminds me a lot of how Gaga’s fans “the monsters” cry about being bullied, but then turn around and attack and bully anyone they deem deserving. I seem to recall an incident last year or so where Adele won or was nominated for something over Gaga and her fans went on the attack.

    As for Kia, their cars and ads suck anyway.😛

  15. Lest we forget that Lady Gaga once posted “#pop stars don’t eat” on twitter. She only got on body positivity after she was criticized for her (small) weight gain.

    I think this commercial is especially stupid because hamsters are supposed to be fat. It’s kind of what makes them cute. Now they just look weird. It’s like slimming down an elephant. Just weird and wrong.

    • That’s always the case. Sorry, but actions speak louder than words and I don’t see these thin, white, scantily-clad celebrity music videos etc. challenging the status quo just yet.

  16. cows and pigs (also used for fat shaming) are the nicest critters on the earth if you take the time to get to know them. Both these creatures exhibit not only care for their own kind but care for the humans who care for them while getting ready to eat them. When somebody calls me a cow or a pig now I say thank you, because obviously they know nothing about critter behavior (plus they are yummy in the end). so sad our culture is so focused on appearance rather than performance. thank you for your words and your dancing.

  17. Well, that really sucks. I’ve been a Kia customer for 10 years. This really bums me out. Anyone have some links to some really great fat positive bumper stickers I can buy and put on both of my Kias?

    • OOh, nice idea!
      I have to say that I have really enjoyed my Kia Soul, but now not crazy about what image that is projecting. I often pick up colleagues at the airport and tell them “I’m coming in the hamster car”. Not going to do that any more.

      Sigh. They could have had the hamsters working out and staying hamsters and it would have been so cute.

      Let me know if you come up with the right sticker. At least my Oski bear is still fat. Grrr.

  18. Now CARTOON HAMSTERS have to be fit and trim? I must be oblivious, because to tell you the truth, I never even REALIZED that the Kia hamsters were “formerly frumpy.” I enjoyed the original song with the original hamsters in the original ad. THOSE hamsters were BAD@$$es!

    This “svelte hamster” campaign has focus group written all over it.

    • It’s about as bad as the “Skinny Cow” ice cream products. Cows are not supposed to be skinny. If I saw a skinny cow, I’d figure the poor critter was sick.

  19. They forgot the part of the commercial where the hamsters then gain the weight back despite their best efforts and they develop eating-disorder-like habits (or even full-blown eating disorders) in order to continue to fit into their tuxes, which aren’t even very practical for hamster dancing in the first place. Sometimes they think fondly back to the first commercial when they were pudgy hamsters but danced just fine and had a lot of fun doing it. But that’s not their lives now – now they must sweat and toil ceaselessly at the gym to stay unrealistically hamster-svelte, because regular ol’ joyful movement is just not gonna do it.

    Maybe the hidden meaning of the commercial is that thin hamsters in reality do not exist, it’s ridiculous to expect thin-shaped hamsters, and the hamsters should just go back to having fun dancing with the robots and not worry about what they look like so much. Ah, a girl can dream.

  20. OK, I really hated this more than I even expected. Wow.

    According to this commercial, all you gotta do to be somebody worth knowing is to participate in a brief montage of workout sessions. Yeah, changing your natural body shape is E-Z. And once you make that wee little effort, the whole world will roll out the red carpet for you. Talk about The Fantasy of Being Thin (http://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/).

    Underlying message: hamsters have to be not-hamsters to be successful. Don’t be yourself, have some thin man in a suit wearing your head represent you, you’ll be fine then.

    Screw this. Thanks for the KIA contact info Ragen, got some writing to do.

  21. First off, I want to say you are spot on with this entry, and hell, the blog in general.

    I reposted this story on my Facebook because of my outrage. What was sad was to see the response of my so called friends. Most of them made comments such as “well it’s easy to lose weight” or “there is an exaggeration of hurt by fat people in society” or worse yet, “I don’t feel bad for people who are overweight because they can change.”

    As someone who has struggled with my weight my entire life, it isn’t about weight loss–it’s about self acceptance, and the people who are so negative towards larger people really reinforce that it is socially acceptable to keep shoving this message of CHANGE down our throats until we succumb due to shame and the desperate need for conformity. I felt like their abrasive remarks made more of a case for outrage than for shrugging off a commercial.

    It’s really hard to be a bigger person in our society, especially a female. It’s like we are the final frontier of mockery, of shame. Why is it such a bad thing if we rally together and say “enough is enough” and fight back against the negativity?

    • Please believe that this blog makes a difference. While I don’t have “thin privilege” I also am not large enough to get eggs thrown at me in the street, for instance, or have anyone come up to me at the gym and encourage me as if I need it. Reading this blog has changed my mind and perception about people of larger size, fitness and health, and so much more.

      • Me too. For most of my life I’ve been underweight or slim. No thanks to healthy eating or anything though – I have chronic health problems and when I’m bad, I can’t eat. In recent years, with medication, immobility etc. I’ve started to gain weight and its now got to a point, after dieting on and off for 10 years, that its dawning on me that I’m never going to be slim again, so what now? Spend the rest of my life in mourning for the figure I’ll never have back? Starve myself for the next 40 years?

        So I’ve decided to accept the body I have and be happy with that. And buy bigger clothes!

        I came to this blog because I was trying to find a way to achieve that – to be happy even though I’m bigger. To ditch all the guilt, and starving, and dissatisfaction. Having been in a wheelchair for 8 months a couple of years ago, and not expected to recover (I did!) I’m really appreciating my body for what it can do – move freely, get out of a chair, walk the dog… Worrying that it’s bigger than average seems such a pointless and trivial thing to worry about after all I’ve gone through.

        I had a lot of misconceptions about size acceptance and you’ve helped me learn so much in just a few days. I’m still slim enough that I don’t get picked out in a crowd, but friends of mine do and it’s horrible. Prejudice is wrong, whatever reason they choose to do it: sizeism is no better than racism, or disablism, or homophobia (all of which I’ve experienced – I’m white but lived abroad). And just like all the ‘isms’ it’s a problem for everybody, not just currently big people. Living in fear of being big, or becoming big is not a way to live.

  22. Thanks to this post, I made a post on their FB page telling them the hamsters did not need to lose any weight bc I loved them as they were. It has gotten several Likes so far.

  23. My comment on Kia’s FB page: “Kia – your “Applause” ad showing formerly fat hamsters was dumb and offensive. It perpetuates stereotypes about fat being bad and thin being good, no matter what SPECIES you are! Seriously, you have to fat-shame HAMSTERS now to sell cars? Hamsters are supposed to be fat; it’s how they survive. What’s next, skinny Kung Fu Panda with six-pack abs? Skinny fur seals with their ribs showing? And you use the song of an artist (Lady Gaga) who has spoken out publicly about the dangers of body-hate, eating disorders and the need for people to accept and love their own bodies? Argh. No Kias for me, please.”

  24. to be fair, gagas body revolution is about being proud of your *healthy* body. and as we all should know, healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes (including weights that are unfairly considered overweight.) whats unfortunate is kia’s blatant misrepresentation of what a healthy body is or should be. they managed to express that the hamsters exercised and got fit (good!), but they failed to represent the slew of people who dont fit the ridiculous thin-healthy archetype.

    so i have to agree, that ad was fat-shaming. it perpetuates the idea that only thin=attractive/healthy/good, rather than the message they were attempting to convey which was exercise=attractive/healthy/good.

    you could argue that all three anthropomorphic hamsters happened to be healthiest when they were thin, but representation matters, and was something kia failed to deliver.


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