We’ve seen some odd things associated with the Sailor Moon brand over the past few years including condoms and tampons but this latest partnership with Slim Up Slim weight loss shakes seems inappropriate to me. The image above shows Usagi and Mamoru promoting the shakes with an image accentuating her unrealistically long and slender legs. This just makes me wonder if it’s really appropriate for a 14 year old character from a children’s manga and anime to be used to sell weight loss shakes.
What exactly is Slim Up Slim? It’s a weight loss shake. It’s marketed not just as a diet or weight loss shake but also as a “beauty diet” shake. The purpose of this product does not seem to be weight loss for the sake of health but rather weight loss for the sake of beauty. Many of these products contain collagen, which is not there to help with healthy weight loss but with skin beauty, though there is no evidence that ingesting collagen actually does anything. While calorie reduction will surely result in weight loss, these shakes containing collagen and lactic acid bacteria share many qualities with the type of scam weight loss products such as those promoted by snake oil salesmen like Doctor Oz.
This collaboration strikes me as something which could encourage unrealistic standards for women and girls and potentially lead to eating disorders, something which may be more of a concern to western audiences. Certainly I am aware that I am putting a North American lens on these things. As a Canadian I understand that we have certain body image ideas displayed in the media but also that most people are sensitive to these and ultimately encourage the idea that girls should not be told that they need to be thin to be beautiful as such pressures can be damaging. The other consideration of course is that there is an obesity epidemic in North America, which includes child obesity, and that this is a health concern. Encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits at all stages of life is genially positive, as long as it doesn’t get to the extent of shaming. Obesity is a factor in a large number of health risks, the most obvious ones being heart disease and diabetes, but also many others. That said programs asking children to eat healthy and exercise generally don’t tell them they should do so to be pretty, even if media, advertisement and other pressures may at the same time present a different image.
So much to say, I don’t think the same can be said about Japan or Asia in general. There seem to be strong pressures to be thin in many countries and this campaign as well as what we’ve seen in the series seems to reflect this. Sailor Moon gives many positive messages to girls but the characters in the series are slender, pretty and all fitting to a very similar, albeit not terribly realistic, body type. We expect some liberties in things that are drawn, after all people don’t actually have eyes that big and noses that small, but still this is what we see.
There have been many times in the Sailor Moon anime and manga in which weight gain was stigmatized. In the original Sailor Moon anime the main episode in which this comes up in is episode 4 “Learn How to be Skinny From Usagi” in which Usagi is worried she’s gaining weight and instead of telling her that as a thin 14 year old who shouldn’t worry about this, her family and Luna all agree that this is bad and encourage her to go on a diet. The Dark Kingdom opens up a gym, Shapely, which includes these pods which cause weight loss by draining energy. I found some of this troubling even when I watched this back in 1995, but the episode does have some redeeming ideas. Excessive exercise, starving and binging are generally presented as being bad, and so a reasonable diet seems to be what is argued in the end, but still Usagi’s is repeatedly teased about her weight by pretty much all characters and the takeaway message really is that it’s good to be thin. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to skip dubbing this one and giving us episode 5 or 6 instead!
That episode originally aired in March of 1992. It’s funny that in the episode Usagi comments, while walking by a Sailor V poster, that Sailor V probably never has to diet. She’d actually been through almost the exact same situation in the manga! Canonically the Sailor V manga takes place before the Sailor Moon manga, though many of the stories were actually written later. Two years after episode 4 aired, in March of 1994, Naoko Takeuchi would write Codename Sailor V Volume 9 – Sailor V vs. deVleene!, which has such striking similarities to this episode that there must have been some inspiration.
In the Sailor V story the Dark Agency plots to gather energy in a slightly more elaborate way. They sell cheap and delicious Rainbow Chocolate around the time of Valentine’s Day which causes rates of obesity amongst young girls to rise. Minako is included as those affected by this weight gain and Artemis criticizes her for this. All of the girls who are gaining weight are concerned and look for a solution. The two pronged strategy of the Dark Agency also includes the spa deVleene which includes the same sort of energy draining pods that we saw in episode 4 of the Sailor Moon anime. Compare the images below to see just how similar these were. The story takes an even worse turn when the Dark Agency’s deVleene is defeated leaving the girls of town obese. Kaitou Ace comes in to save them from their weight gain by raining diet candy from the skies as well as giving them flyers promoting weight loss tea (a scam product which doesn’t work in the real world) as well as tips on exercising and dieting. While the anime left us with a somewhat ambiguous takeaway the Sailor V manga certainly does not. The salvation for the girls affected is to lose the weight.
There are other one off mentions of weight in the series and they’re usually the same. For example in Sailor Moon SuperS episode 145 “Become a Prima: Usagi’s Ballet” there are a number of comments about Usagi’s weight gain, as a small bulge is shown protruding from her tutu. This is similar to what we see in Sailor V. Throughout the episode of course Usagi and Sailor Moon keep their normal character designs of a very thin 15 year old. Another minor mention is in the first episode of the live action series where Usagi and Naru show envious attention to a model commenting on how she has a thin waist.
I guess my views on this must be fairly obvious at this point. I’m not terribly pleased with this promotion. Ultimately I think it’s just indicative of a culture which is different from the one I am used to. I don’t say this to defend it but simply to explain it. The other examples from Sailor Moon which similarly push this idea are not directly tied to this campaign. TOEI or Naoko Takeuchi likely aren’t outliers in Japanese culture to push the idea that it’s good to be thin, but both are likely simply reflective of what has been going on in the country for at least the past 27 years. No doubt these kinds of products and pressures exist around the globe, but I’m not seeing them promoted with children’s cartoons here in North America. Obesity is a big problem here but I don’t think the solution is a culture of fat shaming and telling children that being thin is beautiful. For better or for worse pressures to be thin and beautiful do still exist here and they have not managed to reverse the obesity epidemic. I think the trend is mostly related to access to cheap, habit forming high reward value foods. Last year I read a book about this topic, The Hungry Brain by Stephane Guyenet, and found it very enlightening. It discusses the various things which make us wired to gain weight in an environment full of the kinds of food we have around us. You’re probably better off checking out the book than buying some pseudoscience inspired “beauty diet” shakes.
What do you think?