KAMPALA – I was ready to move on to other topics, however, this morning I came across this article and this petition on change.org. This case is especially interesting because it relates to my previous case study on fat shaming, beauty ideals, and consumerism. This ad (the one shown above this article) is an advertisement that can be found, amongst other places, in Hyde Park, a tube station in London, U.K. It advertises some sort of protein pill that supposedly helps you lose weight. And, like many other advertisements, it promises unrealistic results by showing a beautiful woman who is most definitely “beach body ready”. Be warned, this’ll be a slightly longer read than usual.
More than 50,000 people have signed a petition to remove this advertisement. The petition on change.org says that
Protein World is directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic* body image of the bronzed model, in order to sell their product.
*for the majority of people to ‘achieve’: everyone has an individual body shape.
Perhaps not everyone’s priority is having a ‘beach body’ (by the way, what is that?), and making somebody feel guilty for not prioritising it by questioning their personal choices is a step too far. A body’s function is far more intricate and important than looking ‘beach ready’, so in fact it is Protein World who have confused their priorities, if anyone.
In the comment section of the Guardian comments on this initiative vary, but a substantial number argues that these “chubbies” should just stop eating chocolate and ice cream, and “stop crying”. Fatties. To be honest, I am not going to write about these people.
I am going to write about Milton, who posted the following as a reaction to the first quote found above and on the change.org petition:
Well, of course. That’s what advertising does. It is specifically and purposefully designed to make viewers feel inadequate for not having whatever is [being] advertised (even if they’d never heard of it before). Whether it’s a beach body, or a fairy tale family enjoying an fairy tale Christmas, or £300 of “ooh, look, shiny thing” Apple junk, you are intended to feel bad aout not having it/doing it/being it, so that you will spend money.
So far, Milton is right. A defining feature of consumerism is creating demand. You never knew you needed this, but now that you see it, you just don’t know how you managed to survive all these years without it.
Milton goes on,
How is the “beach body” any different? At least the model looks fit and reasonably well-nourished, unlike the anorexic look of those ghastly propped-up-cadaver “super models” you see in the glossy thrash magazines like Vogue.
If you’re upet by the advert because it reminds you that you are overweight and out of condition, and [it] motivates you to do something about it, then arguably, it’s doing a greater public service than pushing glossy plastic junk at you.
And, [it’s] certainly better than telling morbidly obese people that “it’s fine, just tell yourself you are beautiful really -and enjoy your greatly shorted life expectation.
My initial reaction was to zoom in on the claim that Protein World is promoting unrealistic body images. The petition defines the body of said model as unrealistic because it’s very unlikely many people would be able to emulate said beach body (especially whilst using these pills, I imagine).
Commercially it’d make sense for Protein World to use a beautiful, slim and tanned model. As Milton said,- I’d be fine with that feminist-wise as long as the body type shown is healthy. Evidently, my problems with this advert are slightly different than the one pronounced on change.org.
Firstly, this advert implies that the use of these pills will get you beach ready, and beach ready is defined by the model. That is an unrealistic promise. And, also the nature of advertising and consumerism. However, as Milton has pointed out, this is not a feminist issue, and much more an issue of consumerism.
Then there are the reactions who compare this advert to, say, the latest edition of Men’s Health wherein undoubtedly tips on how to get that sixpack before the summer are included. Previously, I have argued that although beauty is considered important for both men and women, the latter are evaluated a) more harshly, and b) merely, on their appearance.
There is a reason why this advert is hanging in the tube and the sixpacks are in a magazine you have to buy first. It is not only women that are targeted here: it’s men too. The beauty ideal is reaffirmed in this way (and admittedly, whoever that model is, -she’s hot) by creating expectations of both men and women. Ask around how many of your male friends care about slim waists, and then ask a similar question (e.g. sixpack) to your female friends. I have, and consistently, women care less about sixpacks than guys do about slim waists or nice breasts.
After all, the obsession about beauty is to be found attractive in the eyes of another. For the majority of women, that other (or those others) is [are] male. My problem with this advert is not the model itself, but the reaffirmation of reductionist conceptions of what it both means to be a woman and an attractive woman (which is pretty much same thing…).
I do understand the sentiment of people like Milton, though. He seems like a decently intelligent fellow who understands how consumerism operates. By zooming in on this one advert, however, the larger context is easily ignored or forgotten. And it’s exactly the larger context (of gender relations, conceptualisations of feminity) that make this particular advert distasteful to say at the least.
In addition, since no body comparison can be made in my case (I do not have breasts, plus, yellow really does not suit me anyways) I am relatively emotionally detached from this advert. For me, it’s a picture of a sexy body but nothing more. Those who are pretty much socialised into proceeding to an immediate body comparison might feel different about said beach body.
Still. I am not signing the petition. Precisely for reasons I pronounced in the last series: the problem with modern feminism is that public outrage is a) temporal, and b) about superficial symptoms. Although I traced Protein World’s advertisement back to larger issues, the removal of this particular advert would not be a victory of feminism or a step in the right direction. It’d be the removal of a symbol, one that will soon be replaced by another.
That’s assuming the advert gets removed, – since Protein World has indicated it is not interested in the protest and does not see any problem with its beach body, an actual discussion might be sparked the moment the petition fails. I like discussion, and maybe during that dialogue, some actual pressing issues will be discussed in the greater context of feminism.
So, are you beach body ready?
UPDATE: Evidently, we all are. Transport for London has said the advertisements will be taken down, although their content is not against regulations. Surely, this will seem like a victory to some, however, this ad will be replaced by others equally manipulative and/or sexist. Battling symptoms is a losing battle if the disease itself remains unaddressed.