Under the lid

08Jan09

Today Feministing flagged up an ad campaign in Germany by a group called Pro Mädchen (“pro-girls”, roughly). They’re putting stickers on the underside of toilet lids saying Bulimie ist heilbar – “Bulimia is curable”.

First, let’s address Jessica’s criticisms; the sticker is splatter-shaped, and it’s pink, and therefore ‘girly’. Both these characteristics are a little unnecessary, I think. Pink is so ubiquitously associated with women that it almost precludes the use of these stickers outside of the girls’ toilets, and does run the risk of associating bulimia with ‘girly girls who like pink’ – clearly not all people with bulimia (or other eating disorders, for that matter) fit this description. But at least it’s not Barbie pink, I suppose. It stands out, which was probably the primary concern. Personally, I would have printed up a range of colours, purely to avoid ubiquity (once one gets used to seeing something, the message is diluted).

The splatter shape bothers me a little too. People with bulimia don’t throw up because they enjoy it. Focusing on just the vomiting aspect of the disease draws attention away from the deeper issues that provoke and exacerbate eating disorders. Bulimic people almost certainly already know that they’re producing splatters of vomit, and drawing attention to that isn’t going to treat anything.

But apart from these problems, I think it’s a great idea. When I was a student, the public toilets were plastered with stickers. Some were advertising plays, balls, or concerts, but the majority were drawing attention to things like rape crisis centres, counselling phone lines, pregnancy advice centres, and so on. It’s a great place to put information about things like this, because for a few minutes one is a captive audience with nowhere to rest one’s eyes but the back of the stall door (for women, at least). And everyone knows that a toilet, even a public one, offers a few minutes of privacy from the world outside, and maybe a chance to think – and if one is facing a real crisis, those phone numbers and website addresses are there.

My concern is that only placing the stickers on the underside of toilet seats targets only the actual sufferers of bulimia. If I were directing this programme, I’d advise people to put the stickers elsewhere as well, just so everyone can see the message – and more importantly, the website address for more information. It’s an effective form of advertising, if everyone can see it.

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