The unbearable lightness of Special K

The Adgenda: this weeks most ridiculous advert.

The new Kellogg’s advert for Special K sets out to be poignant in its first line: “from the day we are born, we are defined by a number”. If only this were the whole story; a number is pretty easy to hide. Nobody writes their measurements on their forehead before they leave the house, nor does Facebook demand a kilogram quantity as you fill in your details. We (and of course, though the advert failed to specify, this means “women”) are more defined by appearance and proportion of our bodies. However, it rambles on, asking “but is a number inspiring?” as if when women consider their size as anything other than numerical they immediately float with inspiration. Yes, maybe weight should be lost based on how we feel over how we weigh, but unfortunately how we feel rather depends on how we compare to the standard model of beauty – a standard ironically portrayed by the clingy red dress on the Special K box.

The ad claims “we believe in a more powerful motivation”, following with a stream of inspirational buzz-words that all translate into an irrational desire to fit into that red dress they love so much. And their inspiration knows no bounds: surely if they throw in a couple of other cultures and languages, it’ll show us that women across the globe should all go out of their way to feel accepted for their body shape! They seem to think they’re playing a valuable part in women’s fight to be seen as more than just a splodgy shape of either suitable or unsuitable proportions. Congratulations, you’re focusing on how women feel about themselves rather than how they look, have a cookie for ending female body issues once and for all! Nope. If how women feel about themselves still has to depend on how heavy they are, you’re not creating any sort of magical self-acceptance. “What will you gain when you lose?” I don’t know, what do you expect? Confidence, possibilidades, or perpetuated gender ideals? 

“From the day we are born, we are defined by a number” Photograph: Getty Images
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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt