or Why it’s not political correctness gone mad to ban the Protein World advert.
(N.B. *trigger warning*)
I could write an essay about this advert. I really could. From advertising and marketing, to body image and eating disorders, to health and nutrition, to feminism, to mental health, to the sexualisation of women in society, to capitalism and consumerism, to the colour yellow. I could write pages and pages and pages. So it’s incredible, to my mind, how many people manage to summarise their position in just a sweet 140 characters.
I’m grateful that there are open-minded people, willing to listen to both sides of an argument. If that’s you: thank you. Here’s my side.
To me, the main problem is that the image and slogan in this advert suggest that being a certain shape is more important than how fit or healthy you are. The way I see it, the sales of this product rely not on encouraging people to be healthy, but on making people feel insecure and ashamed of how they look. Why do I think this? Simply, because the image and slogan market this is a product that changes your appearance, rather than improving your health. I also think that in terms of physical health it is dangerous to equate being ‘beach body ready’ with drinking ‘replacement meals’, which are, of course, not a natural source of sustenance for human bodies.
A question. Why is this advert different to any other picture of a woman in a bikini in an advert?
Take a look at this picture. She’s jutting out her chest, she’s svelte, a typical modern beauty. She’s not doing anything other than posing for you to look at and assess her. It’s very passive. What do we know about her physical, mental or social well-being, in other words, her health? Very little. The photo is clearly about the appearance of her body.
Okay, let’s look at another picture.
There are four girls, again all typically beautiful, again all in bikinis. Again, we are supposed to notice their looks, their toned bodies. However, this is a much more active picture. The people are in a social group, they are smiling and happy, they are playing sport together, it’s an action shot. Their figures are clearly linked to their healthy lifestyle: playing sport with friends and eating at a healthy restaurant (this is an advertisement for Itsu). They’re focused on what their bodies can do, they’re focused on the game. They are not asking for your approval. Look, I’m not saying that this is my favourite advert in the world, but it is not body-shaming and it clearly promotes health.
Another question. Why is this advert’s slogan seen to be offensive?
This is a personal perspective and I do not claim to represent others. However, I think that in terms of mental health it is extremely damaging to equate being ‘beach body ready’ with looking a particular way. It suggests that if you do not conform to their definition of ‘beach body ready’ you should not be allowed to be seen in a bikini on a beach. Logically, you should feel embarrassed or ashamed if you do not look like the woman in the advert.
But of course healthy comes in all shapes and sizes and no healthy man, woman or child should be made to feel ashamed of themselves for not looking like the image in the advert. Many of the 140 character debaters will tell any women offended by the advert to just ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’, or say that it’s just because they’re jealous.
I find it quite sad that they lack any empathy for people (not just women) who are seriously affected by societal pressure to look a certain way. Again, it’s personal. It’s exactly the kind of language and image in this advert that led to me developing a very unhealthy body image, which then led to me developing a very unhealthy relationship with food, exercise and myself.
The ASA is currently investigating the advert on the grounds that it is “offensive, irresponsible and harmful because it promotes an unhealthy body image”. They are looking into whether the advert “breaks harm and offence rules or is socially irresponsible” and to see if the billboards “are in breach of the UK code relating to taste, decency and harm and offence.”
I’ve tried not to write pages and pages and pages, but I could say so much more. Thank you for being open-minded enough to read what I have to say.