A billboard advertising the services of a plastic surgeon in Michigan has sparked a discussion of body image around the globe after it was given a facelift by vandals over the weekend. “Friends don’t let friends muffin top,” declares the Ann Arbor Plastic Surgery ad, which refers to the popular term for belly flab that hangs over the waistband of tight pants and features an image of muffins sitting in tins designed to look like jeans. But some anti-fat-shaming scofflaws crossed out the original message with purple spray paint, scrawling, “You’re beautiful!” across the top and adding smiley faces to each muffin, raising both ire and approval online.
“How are women ever supposed to feel good about themselves, or young women not diet to the point of anorexia, when you have the medical profession putting up billboards such as these?” wrote one commenter on Michigan news site MLive.com, which first reported the vandalism story. Others seized the opportunity to lob insults, such as the commenter who wrote, “Muffin tops are NOT beautiful! It’s a bunch of EXCESS body fat hanging out over the top of your pants! Gross! Get a grip people.”
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The story of the body-positive vandalism has been picked up by publications and tweeters from Alabama to the U.K., with commenters pretty much evenly split on whether the ad was funny or mean-spirited.
It was not the first time Ann Arbor Plastic Surgery, the business of Dr. Pramit Malhotra with offices in the cities of Ann Arbor and Jackson (where the billboard is located), sparked controversy with its message. The muffin-top billboard drew a slew of critical comments when it was unveiled on the company’s Facebook page in May. “Not a fan. I still think it makes people feel bad about their appearance,” wrote one woman, while another noted, “Your ads only perpetuate our culture’s mental illness… It’s not funny. It’s sad,” while a man added, “Personally it is distasteful. I am an overweight individual and strongly opposed to this type of service offered.” Other descriptions included “tacky,” “insulting,” and “body shaming,” with one person suggesting that the business advertise something “positive,” such as “reconstructive surgery after massive weight loss, burn scars, skin deformations from sickness or surgery…cleft palate.”
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Malhotra responded to the comments at the time, writing, “Plastic surgery is not for everyone. This ad is not to offend anyone. It’s simply to get people to chuckle. Try to see the lighter side of this ad.” On Tuesday, he told Yahoo Health that he was “surprised” by the vandalism and subsequent negative responses. “People feel like it’s an attack on people who are overweight, but that wasn’t the intention at all. It’s meant to be lighthearted.”
The billboard replaced a previous ad for the business — featuring a small coffee cup labeled “B” and a large one labeled “D” and the message, “Size matters” — after that one roused anger. Malhotra apologized for it in April with a Facebook post: “We would like to apologize to those that we have offended with our billboards, as this was not our intention. We are in the process of removing the billboards today.” The muffin-top one will most likely follow suit, Malhotra said, noting, “If it doesn’t suit the taste of the community, we would take it down.”
Coincidentally, Spanx has just announced a new line of jeans meant to banish so-called muffin tops — the Slim-X and the Signature, both featuring hugging body stockings at the waistband to help hold in any spillover. It’s unclear how the jeans might go over in Jackson, although the MLive.com commenter who wrote this might approve: “If muffin top is your concern, donate those idiotic hip-hugger jeans to the resale shop.”