I must say that I was not amazed at the recent news that the Coca-Cola Company has discontinued the tab diet soda. As if I'd heard about the death of a pop star you had a crush on decades ago, I thought Tab had already died, pushed aside by brighter stars in the cola firmament – Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi – and all those oddly flavored waters.
It was very, very cute, with an aftertaste of furniture polish. I felt grown up. It went very well with the maraschino cherries I consumed to distract myself from not eating desserts.
If only Tab's overdue withdrawal from the scene meant that young girls no longer wanted perfect bodies and the target audience was parched. But his departure is not a signal that diet drinks are on the way out. As Coca-Cola so aptly put it when it announced the move that Tab is out of the way, there's even more money to invest in Diet Coke and Coke Zero.
Tab has been an indelible part of my youthful weight loss efforts. When I was 12, my size was 81/2 chubbette. Could there be a more terrifying name for a size? I was bullied a lot in middle school. I wasn't particularly overweight, but if you're less than 5 feet it doesn't take many extra pounds to look extra round. Perhaps I've heard that Tab is for women who want to keep track of their weight.
Tab was launched by Coca-Cola in 1963 as the first diet drink. That year, Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" argued that women wanted more than motherhood and marriage, and that "waxed floors and perfectly applied lipstick" couldn't solve their problems. The first birth control pill had hit the market and promised women more autonomy.
But while women sought a bolder future, they still wanted to appeal to men. This tab debuted when it showed that women's liberation was as ambitious as a thin waist. that firmly rooted corporate interests and cultural requirements must be combated as well as sexist laws and workplace policies.
Surely tabs ads reflected the ubiquitous ideals of beauty that American women would pursue for decades, the kind of beauty that I and millions of girls admired in the 1960s but never gotten to – slim, tan, usually blonde; attractive in a bikini, on a bike, or picking up the toddler while showing how good they look in shorts. They were hip but healthy, sexy but subtle, energetic but not threatening.
In 1969, when the women's movement was in full swing, Tab urged women to "stay on top of your mind – be a mind sticker". The ad featured a man who dreamed of a devastatingly attractive woman in a one-piece swimsuit. "Have a shape that he can't forget. Tab can help," advised the ad.
Growing up, I gave up the Italian bread that was ubiquitous in my home. I ate less pasta, lasagna, and my mother's meatballs. I gave up desserts. And I drank Tab. It was very, very cute, with an aftertaste of furniture polish. I felt grown up. It went very well with the maraschino cherries I consumed to distract myself from not eating desserts.
Little did I know at the time that tabs saccharin had been linked to cancer in rats, or that the red pigment in cherries contained potentially dangerous impurities. I just wanted to look like everyone else in my high school. Despite – or maybe because of – my bizarre diet, I lost weight. But it made me a lifelong calorie counter. I already know that 16 dark chocolate chips have 80 calories. I keep 16 chips in a sandwich bag to limit my chip bingeing. It even works sometimes.
It would be nice to think that the exit from tab at least signals the declining popularity of diet drinks. However, this is not the case. Tab's decline actually started in 1982 when Diet Coke hit the market. When it looked like Diet Coke was about to answer, I imagine they gave Tab a smaller office and stopped sending it on business trips, but Tab stayed on. In 2008, Coca-Cola sold three million boxes. When the company announced that it would remove soda from its product range, Tab called it a "pink pioneer" and a "cultural icon". How condescending! Did you give Tab a party and a gold watch?
While Tab had a loyal following, in the bigger scheme of things, the cola had become a fraction of the Coca-Cola market. To most soda drinkers, the tab and its metallic aftertaste just didn't seem as good as the diet soft drinks that followed.
Meanwhile, Coke Zero and Diet Coke are strong. And the urge to control our weight continues to keep them popular, even though we know in our hearts that these products are not that good for us.
Little did I know at the time that tabs saccharin had been linked to cancer in rats, or that the red pigment in cherries contained potentially dangerous impurities.
As much as we talk about the body's self-acceptance, and as often as we say that a woman's weight or height doesn't matter, it does for most of us. And what we eat matters because obesity is a huge health problem. Diet soft drinks promise a shortcut and offer us a calorie-free card that can get you out of jail for free. Yes, we are going to eat this burger, but we are going to drink Tab or Coke Zero or some other diet soda. A 12-ounce serving of Coke Classic is 140 calories. Can't we take that off the food now?
Of course, the math never works to our advantage. Worse still, there is increasing evidence of what kind of health-threatening diet sodas are present. Some researchers have suggested that the fake sugary taste of a diet drink makes your body believe you actually consumed a lot of sugar, which can lead to increased appetite and calorie consumption. Diet soda consumption can also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Nevertheless, there is a risk that diet drinks will disappear from the scene. There may be plus-size models these days, and Chubbette models have been shipped to vintage stores, a boon to all plump young girls. But while Tab is gone, it didn't take the urge to look gorgeous in a dress that is a size too small.