Are you beach body ready? This is a question I am asking myself as I prepare to go to Italy next week (yes, Italy. Sorry. I wanted to get that in here somewhere, and it turns out the first line is the best place). I mean… if six months pregnant with no tan and some nice spidery veins is anything to go by, then yes. I am beach body ready.
However, millions of other women are being asked the same question as they pass this advertisement for Protein World:
And by heck has it caused some backlash. The main offence is that the combo of the very attractive, but rather unrealistic, model with the tag line suggests there is only one body that is ready for the beach, and it has perky boobs, a flat stomach and just a hint of collarbone beneath flowing blonde locks. And guys: there’s not a spidery vein in sight.
I actually agree that it is an insulting way to promote protein. It feels like the ad is designed to make women panic or feel inferior that they don’t look the right way. It doesn’t seem to promote healthy eating at all. As the backlash gathered momentum, Protein World got the smartest PR brains on the case and dug themselves in deeper:
Well excuse me while I rush out to buy some of this awesome product! They clearly know who to target their audience.
However, I was talking to a guy I know about it all and he honestly didn’t see the problem. He pointed out that the product is targeted towards a certain audience, and that audience might not look at that ad and see an insult, but a challenge. They might not feel ashamed but inspired. After all, don’t women’s magazines write whole articles and even whole issues about such topics? I know I’ve seen headlines like ‘Bikini body in 6 weeks!’ and ‘The Summer Issue – Get Your Flat Stomach!’ before. Heck, before I started this very deep and intellectual post, I was watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians where Kim tells her 16 year old sister it’s ok to get temporary lip fillers if she is feeling insecure. This is not a new subject, and whilst it’s not ok, why is it this ad that has sparked the fury of many?
My guess is because it’s placed where everyone will see it, not just their target audience. When you’re elbow-t0-elbow on the tube escalator, feeling frumpish and crumpled in your Winter coat (because let’s face it, the sun has yet to make a real appearance this year), the last thing you want is an ad that makes you feel like you should start trudging up the escalator stairs in an attempt to get ‘beach body ready’. And I’ve watched enough MadMen to know that if the public don’t buy what you’re selling, then you should just go and drown your afternoon in Scotch, because you’ve lost this account and Mr Cooper will not be pleased.
But then again. Before I get too ahead of myself in the ‘OMG how DARE they’ campaign. I agree that the ad itself is insulting to the many who are trying to be happy with what they have been given. I agree that it doesn’t actually promote a healthy lifestyle or healthy diet, but rather a single, unattainable standard that could actually have some unhealthy consequences. And, if this lady is on board with the advertisement, that’s a clear warning to question it!
As a society, we could do more to champion actual healthy lifestyle choices. This particular ad isn’t necessarily the smartest way forward, and yes, every body is beach ready if you just go to the beach. That’s a dumb question. However, we are responsible for our own choices, and it seems that certain pockets of people are making the choice to eat more and exercise less. It’s a tricky subject to negotiate, because it’s also highly sensitive: it’s more socially acceptable to publicly challenge a smoker for their choices (who, in my experience doesn’t even need to be smoking in your presence for this to occur) than it is someone who eats a lot to an unhealthy level. Both have severe health consequences, and are a growing strain on the NHS, but because of the stigma and sensitivity surrounding being overweight, I do feel that sometimes people are more accepting. Not that we need to be judging!! I am not saying that. Just that sometimes people need encouragement to change their choices, and this is a subject where it may be harder to encourage.
Finally: body shaming goes two ways, and this is part of a bigger discussion. The model in the Protein World ad says: “I think nearly every ad campaign you have ever seen is open to interpretation. But saying the ad is body shaming by body shaming the image is very contradictory. Two wrongs don’t make a right” (source). Maybe the backlash is against the overall sentiment rather than the model herself, but this proves the point of body image: it’s a very, very sensitive and subjective issue.
That goes to the heart of this discussion in my opinion: how does it make people feel? Everyone has their own insecurities, and it’s not fun to be reminded of them. This ad plays on the insecurities of many, many women who feel they aren’t good enough. And in turn, many of them may build themselves back up by doing a bit of body shaming themselves. Comments like ‘it’s ok for you, you can eat that because you’re so tiny’ or ‘exercising again? I’m tired just looking at you’ are designed to let you know that the speaker is annoyed by your choices, or they feel uncomfortable by them. Although dressed up in humour, the intention is not to be supportive. I know it’s not easy, and right now in this paragraph I sound like a giant hardass, but we should take responsibility for our own choices rather than breaking down others down for theirs in an attempt to make ourselves feel better.
Body shaming should stop – on both sides. Remember the wisdom from Tina Fey in Mean Girls: “You have all got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores”. This is the same. Protecting yourself from judgement by judging others should not be acceptable: it just perpetuates the circle, and makes it easier for the advertising guys to do it to us. Maybe we can all aim to stand up a little taller.
I’m not writing this with a clear solution in mind, but we should at least take ownership of the situation. This backlash shows that people aren’t willing to just accept what the media tells us, which is great. Now we can take it one step further and make sure that generally we live in a supportive environment. It’s on us to change the climate. I’m convinced that if we help each other make healthier choices rather than shame them for the choices they have made in the past, that is a good step forward. And if we can all do it while on the beach in our beach-ready bodies – complete with stretch marks, spider veins, stomachs, cellulite included and maybe even a smidgen of hair peeping out – then we will all feel better because we are all getting our vitamin D as well.