This week I wrote a blogpost criticising a poster that’s been cropping up around
London – a now-infamous Protein World advert selling protein powder to help women
get their body ‘ready’ for the beach.
The poster has been widely mocked for its perceived sexism and suggestion that only
one kind of body – a thin, traditionally-beautiful one – is ‘ready’ for the beach. There has been a petition against it, the Advertising Standards Agency is investigating it, and there is a planned demonstration against it in London’s Hyde Park this Saturday.
However, my main problem with it wasn’t the sexism (although wow, how lazy do you need to be to use a woman in a bikini to sell something?), or the predictability of asking women if their body is ready for the beach in spring. It’s staggeringly unoriginal, but you know,
whatever – that’s not my point.
My point was that it showed only one kind of body – the kind that is ALWAYS shown as
ideal – as the absolute pinnacle of beach-body-ness. However, neither was I especially thrilled with the ad’s use of photography or the expression on the model’s face. Legs apart, her back to the wall, scantily-dressed, an ambiguous and not-particularly-happy look on her face, the model didn’t seem that empowered or happy with her protein powder. Which kind of misses the point, no?
Her pose has been explicitly designed to offer the most exposure to the sexual,
slender elements of her body, without making it look especially strong. Her expression is more akin to a blow up doll than to a woman loving her life and fitness.
If Protein World wants me to buy their protein products, why not use a woman who looks
super strong? A woman who is smiling and happy? Standing properly upright, proud and forceful, rather than spread, slightly backwards, with a vague look on her face?
Her body is undeniably sexy and more fit than not, yes.
But I stand by my original comment – in this particular photo and pose, the model
looks pretty miserable. It’s hardly an advert for successful, healthy, fit, weight-lifting,
butt-kicking, living-life-to-the-full women.
A quick Google found some poses that may have worked better. There are issues with some of these photos, sure, but any one of them would have been better than the one Protein World chose.
Lots of people (as well as the ones who felt that because I think there is more than
one definition of beauty, I must be ‘ugly’ and ‘jealous’ and ‘lazy’ myself – I’m none of those things, but go you guys, super original comments 🙂 ) seemed to think that saying this meant I was personally criticising the model. That I was ‘body shaming’ the ‘body shaming’.
Well, I was not. I never was. I never would. I was, and am, critiquing the advert
itself. The people who conceived it and who produced it.
Not the model. That feels important to say, because my objection to this advert is expressly not about bashing other women. It’s about building women up.
Renee Somerfield, as it has now been revealed the model is, is unequivocally a very
attractive woman, who – she herself has said – works hard for her body, and also
accepts that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. She’s responded to the
controversy, and has been retweeting people who disagree as well as agree with the advert, saying that she completely understands their views on women’s bodies.
She totally gets it. She understands that some women – such as herself – aspire to
work towards fitness and, in her case too, traditional beauty. And she knows that
other bodies can literally embody beauty too. No, we’re not arguing for morbid
obesity. But there are other forms of ‘beach body’ than simply that shown here – and
in today’s society, those ‘other forms’ aren’t really shown enough. That’s the
It’s just a colossal shame that the makers of the poster that Renee appeared in don’t seem to share her grace or her understanding of the issue.
According to its Twitter account, 84% of the Protein World’s customers are women. But sadly, their comments show a misguided approach to a significant proportion of women, and a total lack of understanding of how many of us would like to be seen, portrayed, and sold to.
I am, as I tried to say in my previous post, potentially one of Protein World’s customers. I like to workout, eat healthily, and I think about nutrition. In the past two years I’ve lost 1.5 stone (20 pounds) and dropped 2 dress sizes, through eating healthily and working out 5-6 days a week.
But I want those concepts to be associated with positivity, happiness, fabulous
self-esteem, and strength.
Not a carefully-chosen photo of a model, legs slightly open, eyes a bit vacant,
shiny bikini barely covering her body, blown up to twice human size on the side of a
tube platform, cynically created to leer down over commuters, selling sex instead of
strength, porn instead of protein.
It’s the way the model has been styled and shot, not the model herself, which grates.
If Protein World really wanted to sell to all women in the UK – women who love their health but don’t want to be seen as static one-size-fits-all bikini-wearing objects – then they would listen to criticism and learn from it.
But instead, they lash out on social media, and retweet the likes of professional troll Katie Hopkins (And calling those of us who signed the petition fat – well, I’m not fat, so…your point being..?).
And, crucially, even if I was a bit chubby…so what? That wouldn’t be the only thing to know about me. And would it mean that I – and others – deserve to have bullshit tweeted at us and people saying rude things about our personal fitness?
I totally get why people think morbid obesity is wrong – the strain on the NHS, overall health, etc. But that’s not the issue here.
At a time when fitness is in the zeitgeist and more people care about health than ever before – Protein World has chosen to call women who don’t look like their poster ‘fatties’ and ‘lazy’, and in doing so disregard huge swathes of their potential audience, many of which are neither fat nor lazy.
Yes, they might think all publicity is good publicity, but frankly, as the response of many a Londoner has shown, they might yet lose themselves more customers than they gain. Ironic, eh? And even if they do sell more, at what cost to their company image?
Maybe next time Renee – the intelligent and articulate model – might be lucky enough to happen upon an employer who sees her for the strong, fit and clever woman she is, rather than the woman-as-sex-object that Protein World seems determined to show.
Maybe then I might Google the product with the intention to buy it, rather than look at all the ways it’s massively missed the point.