Since moving to Boston in 2007 I have been a satisfied member of your car-sharing program. I fully support your mission to provide low-cost, environmentally-friendly automobiles to those who live in urban areas and have no wish (or means!) to pay for the upkeep, parking, and insurance of owning a vehicle. The Zipcars that live in our neighborhood have served my partner and I well for activities ranging from runs to the co-op to picking up our adopted cat from her foster home. In short, I have had no complaints.
Until (you knew this was coming) I received your most recent email newsletter, which contained this image (on the right) and a link to your press release about what you have called the “low car diet” challenge. Just for the record, I completely support the actual content of this challenge: promote public transportation, cycling, and other forms urban travel by following Zipcar members in twelve cities across the U.S. and Canada who spend a month “to curb their carbon usage by living a low-car lifestyle for one month.” The problem is not the end goal here, the problem is the use of dieting metaphors to market it.
“Looking good, Anna. The Low-car diet works wonders”! chirps the subject line of my magically personalized mass email. “Meet the dieters”! exhorts the click-through button at the bottom of the news item. By choosing the language of dieting you have chosen to align yourselves rhetorically with the cultural obsession with weight, and to equate dieting with “looking good”; claiming that a diet can “work wonders” to improve one’s life.
Reducing carbon emissions and helping to slow global warming is, obviously, a way to improve the overall health of the planet. No one would suggest that global warming and the change in weather patterns it is bringing about is a good thing either for humanity or for the planet as an ecosystem. Losing weight, however, does not always make for a healthier human being. Dieting can be a sign of disordered eating. People who lose weight and garner praise from outsiders for “looking good” can sometimes be suffering from serious health issues. Being skinny is not automatically a sign of healthfulness.
In the context of a culture where an overwhelming number of women — and an increasing number of men — struggle with body acceptence and disordered eating, appropriating the pernicious rhetoric of “weight loss = looking good” to talk about environmental sustainability is irresponsible.
I don’t read into this campaign any sort of malicious intent. Our culture is so saturated with the message that dieting is morally good and a physically healthful activity that your staff likely didn’t think twice about the dark side of the messages the campaign reinforces about weight and self-worth. However, as someone who has close friends and family members who struggle with disordered eating and body acceptence issues on a daily basis, I ask you to reconsider the language of your campaign moving forward. I fully support reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuel sources, but I don’t think going on a “low-car diet” to “look good” is the best way to go about it.