If this advertisement offends you, you are not alone. When Protein Body posted their controversial campaign across billboards throughout London, a social media backlash ensued. The ad features a woman in a tiny bikini asking the question, “Are you beach body ready?”
The connotations are obvious: If you want to look good on a beach, you need to have this shape.
A petition to remove the posters on the grounds that they make people feel “physically inferior” has attracted over 58,000 signatures and counting. The petition states that “perhaps not everyone’s priority is having a ‘beach body’ (by the way, what is that?), and making somebody feel guilty for not prioritizing it by questioning their personal choices is a step too far.” On Facebook, bloggers Fiona Longmuir and Tara Costello (pictured above) have organized a “Taking Back the Beach” protest photo shoot in central London this weekend to hit back at the pressure on women to conform to certain standards of beauty.
Meanwhile on Twitter, people have been posting photos of their graffiti over the ads, including such messages as: “Your body is not a commodity,” “Got a body? Know your way to the beach? Then you’re beach body ready,” and “Stop guilt-tripping women.”
Good Morning Britain TV presenter Susanna Reid described the campaign as “anxiety-inducing” during an interview with Richard Staveley, the fitness brand’s Head of Global Marketing, on Monday morning. She asked Staveley, “What if my only goal is to be on a beach? Am I irrational by finding that advert a little bit anxiety-inducing?”
The Protein World boss unsurprisingly defended the campaign, saying: “That may be, but we are a fitness brand. Our own aspirations are to make the nation healthier and ask each one of us to set our sights higher, to be fitter, to be healthier and actually have an inner and outer confidence within ourselves.”
My question would be: Do you need to shame women to do so?
Protein World’s CEO Arjun Seth has taken to retweeting ignorant comments from people who have supported the ads, including the gem: “If these SJWs [social justice workers] put the same amount of energy into exercise, as they do whining, they might have beach bodies.” It’s disappointing to see how many supportive tweets have come from men.
I don’t see many women championing the campaign, apart from Luisa Zissman (am ambassador for the brand) who told The Mirror newspaper, “I personally think the controversy surrounding Protein World is the extreme feminist brigade letting off some bra-burning steam once again.” What is most depressing here is seeing a woman oppose her own kin by degrading those who quite rightfully are insulted by the ad and its connotations.
Not every woman will be able to achieve a body like the one in the advertisement. We are all different shapes and sizes, and we shouldn’t feel unable to strip off and enjoy sunshine on a beach just because we aren’t a size 0. I never want my daughter or indeed my 67-year-old mother to feel she isn’t “beach body ready.” What of the mom who has just given birth or those with thyroid issues? Or anyone who struggles with weight loss, myself included? Should we all hide in sacks and avoid taking a dip?
Women already have enough insecurities about their stretch marks, curved bellies, and saggy boobs. We don’t need another advertisement reminding us of the body we don’t have. No matter how many times our partners tell us we look great or our friends champion our best features, it’s hard enough to put on a swimsuit and this campaign isn’t helping matters.
But alas, it seems that Protein World (unfortunately) is having the last laugh. As the phrase goes, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” and the controversy and widespread media discussion of these ads has surely generated more publicity than Protein World could have ever dreamed of. The Advertising Standards Authority said it has received 216 complaints about the advertisement and is “carefully assessing” the complaints to “establish if there are grounds for further action.” Meanwhile, Protein World is unrepentant, with Staveley admitting on that they have had a “fantastic campaign” and that they won’t be changing their advertising methods in the future.