Last week I was trundling along a tube station platform when I was besieged by a lurid black and yellow advertisement for Protein World. The ad was bedecked with a seemingly perfect young woman, demanding to know if I was ‘beach body ready’. My answer to the obnoxious advertisement is no, I am not ‘beach body ready’. I used to be toned within an inch of my life, but then I broke my arm and suffered a painful bereavement, so my work-out regime fell by the wayside. I’m back on the exercise wagon, but I’m not in my 20’s anymore and I have to work harder and longer to achieve the same results. I’m more pear-shaped than the woman in the Protein World advert; consequentially I don’t have the prerequisite breast to hip ratio to ready myself for the beach. The backs of my thighs have a layer of stubborn cellulite that years of work-outs haven’t shifted. Conversely, the front of my legs are sheathed in powerful muscles and my calves would give a male rugby player a run for his money. In the past I suffered from eating disorders, and my chunky-monkey legs were a particularly hated part of my body. With age I’ve grown to accept myself, faults and all. I can’t be bothered to strive for some untouchable level of physical perfection that I’ll never achieve. There are more interesting uses of my energy and time than fretting over a little cellulite. Instead I focus on being strong and well; I exercise 3 to 5 times a week and my diet is rich in kale and other health promoting, virtuous ingredients. Looking after myself feels good, but I’ll never fit into the cookie-cutter beauty standard thrusted upon us by the Protein World advert. Even when I was at my most slender and toned, I didn’t have the gravity defying breasts and yawning thigh gap that loom from the bothersome poster. Trying to conform to a unrealistic standard led me down a dark, destructive path. So no, Protein World, by your standards, I’m not beach body ready and I never was.
The advert has provoked an online rumpus with journalists and bloggers weighing in on the issue. An online petition to remove the advert has sprung up on Change.org and there’s even to be a demonstration in Hyde Park this weekend.
Offended by Protein World’s ‘beach body ready’ tube ads? A protest is planned for this Saturday at 3pm in Hyde Park http://t.co/LkDEVFpdjM
— The F-Word (@thefworduk) April 28, 2015
— Zusterschap (@Zusterschap) April 22, 2015
Professional hate-munger, Katie Hopkins, has piped up with some foul vitriol on Twitter. It’s not surprising the Katie Hopkins has jumped on this particular bandwagon; her personal brand is all about being as repugnant as possible. She makes no secret of her aversion to ‘chubsters’.
I’ve got plenty to say about Hopkins but she seems to thrive on negative attention, so I’ve decided not to allow her too much space on my blog. Although, I will say that her bigoted assertion that militant feminists are fat is lazy reductionism. The only reason I mention her is because Protein World have said that they are pleased have her support. Richard Staveley, head of marketing at Protein World, has been quoted:
“We want to encourage discussion on this. Ultimately we want to encourage a healthier, fitter nation. We want to encourage everybody to be the very best version of themselves. It’s been quite odd how many people we’ve found who are far quicker to fit shame then fat shame. And, you know, if that makes us bad, then so be it. And if Katie Hopkins is in agreement with us then we’re delighted.”
Being in agreement with Katie Hopkins is never a good thing, but it’s particularly concerning because of Hopkins openly anti-feminist stance. Of course healthy living should be encouraged, but that is not a feminist issue. The ‘Beach Body’ campaign promotes and narrow, unrealistic standard of beauty, not good health. The connotation is that if you don’t have a figure like the girl on the poster, you’re not ‘ready’ for the beach. In other words, you should toe the line and starve, inject and augment your body until you fit the merciless standard set by Protein World. If you fail, don’t even think about exposing your imperfect body to the beach. When I saw the ad for the first time it triggered the whispering notion that I’m not good enough. If I had seen it in my younger, more vulnerable days, I would have instantly compared myself to the model and come up short.
To suggest that a feminist response to the ad is ‘fit shaming’ is very dangerous indeed. It implies that being physically fit and well is anti-feminist. This is clearly bogus and a ploy to undermine the valid response to an negative advert. You can be fit and still be a feminist; taking care of oneself isn’t a betrayal of the sisterhood. It’s also been suggested that those who have complained have some personal beef with the model on the ad. This is another glaring example of women being pitted against each other and suggests that the only reason there has been a backlash against the campaign is that women are jealous of the woman in the poster.
If there’s one positive to come out of this brouhaha, it’s that women are prepared to stand up to destructive messages peddled by advertisers and air their objections. Before the proliferation of social media, it was more difficult to make one’s voice heard. We can now join together and take a stand against flagrant misogyny. Feminists come in all shapes and sizes, fat, thin, fit or flabby. The intention behind the campaign may well have been to inspire fitness, but the result is confidence eroding and counter-productive. Next time, Protein World should do what it purports and actually encourage fitness and health, both physical and mental.