I've spotted this advert around town lately and here's how I think it's supposed to be read: the guy's wearing a horrible jumper that's too small for him, his belly is exposed and he looks fed up. The implication is that he'll have to wear this humiliatingly small jumper in order to please some relative who clearly barely knows him. The relative should have given him money instead, and should have sent it via this company for happy xmas smiles all round.
How I read it: hot, surly, belly-bustin' dude in trendy retro knitwear. Hubba hubba, do me, do me!
Thinking about this ad, I wonder if it exemplifies the mismatch between what advertisers aim for and how their advertisements are consumed, especially where fatness and fat bodies are concerned.
I've seen this before with the manatee postcard and the obesity monster, these images are supposed to scare us straight/thin but they underestimate the power of a politicised fat gaze. Not only is this gaze critical, for example in its ability to deconstruct headless fatty images, but it has the power to transform and remake fatphobic imagery into something else entirely; for example a cute wittle monster, or a fantasy of frolicking carelessly with benevolent fat animals, or of eroticising what is presented as abject.
This ad has inspired a second stream of thought, which is about exposed bellies. At Size Matters? there was a ripple of concern about a powerpoint slide that presented an illustration of a fat child playing with normative-sized kids. The concern was because the child's belly was poking out of his clothes a tiny bit, indeed, this is how his fatness was coded. People thought that this was unfair in some way, that there were connotations of slovenliness, and that the illustration should have shown him in clothes that fit.
My feeling was that the delegates at Size Matters? were uncomfortable at the sight of exposed belly, especially that of a child. The conference was problematic and, in my opinion, fostered a large amount of fatphobia. In this context, a fat belly was considered obscene and shocking. Bellies must be hidden by respectable clothing (never mind how difficult it is to get such clothing). This is also a tenet of much of the fat fashion industry in the UK.
Me, I like bellies of all kinds, and I especially love a big, unruly belly, sticking out without shame. I like people wearing clothes that they feel and look good in, regardless of how 'appropriate' those clothes are deemed, and maybe that includes clothes that are 'too small' or which fail to cover you in the way that you should be covered. To me that's a lot better than your auntie wiring you some cash.