“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough” – Brene Brown
These words were never more true for me than when I first got whacked in the face with the new ‘Protein World – Are you beach body ready?’ advert as I waited for the train on a sleepy Monday morning recently. The harsh, aggressive yellow caught my eye, but it was the six foot high, weirdly grey toned woman, looming over me in a bikini that really gave my inner voice of body shaming free rein. I have a body that is healthy and strong and has been lovingly tended with copious amounts of jaffa cakes. And quite honestly, my initial reaction upon being faced with this version of female perfection was a resounding ‘erm…no?!’
These ads, splashed over what felt like every available surface on my commute, were to become the source of a bigger, better campaign of positivity. But at that initial moment I felt exactly what the advertisers hoped I would feel – shame and inadequacy. I guess they hoped I’d feel so rubbish, I’d go buy their product. Instead, I felt insulted. Do advertisers really believe we are that stupid? That we don’t see the insidious messages of negativity and body shaming behind their thinly veiled aggressive, and frankly fairly unimaginative ads? Why would I want to support a company that employs such bullying tactics to persuade people to spend their money?
Do advertisers really believe we are that stupid?
The fact that it was a woman used in the advert also points to a depressing trend that has been a part of advertising since doomsday. The age old message being: ‘women you are not enough without….’ And yes men are definitely a victim of this kind of advertising too and before the recent dawning of the age of the ‘dad bod’, men were getting their own fair share of body shaming in different ways. But shaming women through advertising has become a fine art.
A close friend of mine admitted that when she saw the ads initially she felt that inevitable ‘urgh, really?’ feeling, but figured there wasn’t much she could do to change it as just one woman. However in the following days and weeks, many women would join their voices against Protein world and their sexist, size-ist advert. It would become the #eachbodysready hashtag and sparked some incredible and sadly still much needed conversations about advertising, women and body shame and diversity, as well as a protest in Hyde Park by over 1,000 amazing women and men who braved the cold to show off their own unique and wondrous beach bodies!
Dove’s campaign for real beauty joined in by hitting back with their own version of the poster showing three women of various body types. Clothing line Simply Be created a parody of the advert with the message: “Every body is beach body ready”.
Every body is beach body ready.
The upshot of all of this was that Protein World’s posters were not renewed on the underground after their initial stint and the Advertising Standards Authority has stated that the poster “will not appear again in it’s current form”. Protein World may continue to protest that they have done nothing wrong or socially irresponsible, but in the weeks since the advert was revealed it has shown me that what we think, say and consequently do about something we see as wrong in the world, matters. That one voice inspires others to join in and no matter how many or few of us there are, we can make a difference when we speak up. When we speak out. In the words of author and anthropologist Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Advertisers don’t have to scrape the bottom of the shame barrel for clever sales ideas as was beautifully demonstrated by a recent ‘Whole Foods’ advert where the entire focus in the advert were on the inspiring words: “ Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love”. Now that’s an idea I can get on board with this summer!