Found Feminism: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Say No To The Special K Lady
Just in case anyone hasn’t seen this rather gratifying piece of graffiti, I’m borrowing the Found Feminism mic to extend its reach.
@annarchism on Twitter took this shot on Mill Road, Cambridge.
Special K is one of those things I’ll happily eat for breakfast, or if I feel like eating cereal. The berry edition is kinda okay. The Special K diet, on the other hand, is about as special and remarkable as white in a snowstorm, especially when you realise that you’ll get a more interesting bunch of flavours from taking your hungover colleague up on the offer when they dare you to shove your own face into the shredder tray at work and explore whether it can double as a food trough. The entire diet is marketed towards going down a jeans size as fast as is humanly possible for £3.89. (I have already mastered going down four jeans sizes without paying any money. I just walk out of H&M and into M&S.)
But! Aside from the fact the diet is as useful and realistic to genuine lasting weightloss – or healthy living – as wearing a loaded fruit bowl on your head, and aside from the fact that these ads are flagged squarely at certain kinds of gendered insecurity that make me go “Shine? Shine on fire, Kellogg. Right on fire“, a quick look at some history of Special K’s posters is an interesting little trip to go on.
Because it didn’t used to hang quite this way, ironically. Kellogg launched Special K in 1955, when my mum was toddling and the NHS was just hitting a ripe old age of seven. It was, Kellogg’s big proud blue-and-white “history site” informs me, “the first high-protein breakfast cereal ever offered to consumers.” Two years before, they’d launched “melba-toasted PEP flakes”, which … yeah. The Fifties. I don’t even.1
Here’s a Special K poster from that era, in which the elderly, man and woman alike, are DISCOMBOBULATED BY THE SHEER IMPACT OF KELLOGG’S NUTRITIONAL PROMISE. However, neither of them are particularly bothered about dress sizes at this particular historical juncture. (There’s been a War on, you know.)
There is something distinctly strange about the vintage poster looking kinder to women as consumers than the now-poster, is what I’m saying. Especially given our common habit of dissing our idea of the Fifties as some sort of comparative hell for that hackneyed GCSE-textbook concept, “the role of women”. Holding forth in the pub, you might crack one about how ads like Special K Lady look like they fell “out of the 1950s”, until you remember that in the 1950s they were just ditching rationing and things like bananas were riveting news. So maybe nobody wanted to goddamn well eat any more cardboard than they really bloody had to. This is not to say that things were better then (I also found an ad showing a bikini-clad woman trying to touch her toes with the slogan IT’S TIME FOR JELLO) but they’re not really much better at all now, are they, which gives me quite a bit of uncomfy pause for thought. Yes, following on from (in the UK) the Ministry of Food and Doctor Carrot and all, there was a real focus on nutrition, convenience foods, and how (or whether) these could be combined – and I mean, yeah, Kellogg were good at playing with that, with slogans like Teen-agers welcome a new protein cereal that helps you have – A FINE BODY. But it wasn’t quite “Is your man off checking out a peppier model? Never mind The Second Sex! Give dinner the shove! Subsist instead on Special K until your tastebuds fair expire from unparalleled wheaty boredom, and a prevailing vague suspicion that life really should, by now, be a bit more fun.”
Hurrah for you, therefore, Cambridge-based graffiti warrior. You are hereby awarded one BadRep salute, and we have dedicated breakfast in your honour.
Not a cardboard flake in sight.