When I first saw the ad, waiting for a tube in Kennington, I was confused. Surely this must be a parody? I felt really stupid for not getting the joke. It was a joke right? It was so *wrong* in so many ways that it had to be one of those clever, reverse-psychological campaigns to make you think… Then my tube arrived.
Apparently not. I saw the ad again (still confused), and then the online murmurings of objection. Holy crap, the ad was for real!
So I took my partner and my 3 year old daughter to a beach party in Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon – we met some wonderful people, we were interviewed and photographed by numerous other people, and we rolled around on the grass and giggled. A lot.
And we discussed the whole issue all day and all evening and whilst we both knew why it was important to have been there, it was still difficult to condense what it was about Protein World’s campaign that was so offensive into a binary right/wrong argument.
A nerve seems to have been struck and the media were quick to pick up The Story. In Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s article in the Guardian , one comment stood out: “I wish my wife wasn’t so body conscious, it always makes we wonder who she is trying to impress as I’m happy with her the way she is. Maybe female obsession with their bodies is biological, more likely it is social pressure from other women. Doesn’t seem to be the influence of men who mostly don’t like the stick thin models that are seen as aspirational by many women.”
No, it’s not biological, nor does it come from “other women”. It comes from centuries of male dominance, aka the patriarchy in which women are viewed pretty much as property. Not many people remember the suffragette movement, but its impact was profound if not absolute. We’ve evolved our society to accept that it’s probably ok for women to vote, become a CEO, prime minister etc. So that’s it? Job done? Tick in the equality box? No. This evolution is not complete we still have a long way to go. Mathematically, the progress is inversely exponential – it takes bloody ages to achieve the last few percent. And for me that’s the essence of why Protein World’s campaign is so problematic. The marketeers are still perpetuating the myth of the “correct” body shape in order to feed the message of insecurity just so that they can sell more stuff. What the patriarchy started, the marketing executives are sustaining. Still.
There has been the predictable reaction against Take Back The Beach.  People don’t like being told what to do and many see the campaign as some harmless fun that’s only trying to get people to lose weight and and get fit. Bollocks. We need to be honest, it’s trying to sell stuff by playing on an outdated, regressive message – it’s insidious and it needs to stop. We need to break the cycle and expose all forms of inequality, in all its guises.
Unfortunately these issues will probably still be around when my daughter hits the teens and all I can do as a parent is give her as much armour as possible to protect her against the machines that wish to exploit the minefield that is “growing up” for profit. If she grows up and creates her own Take Back The Beach protest then job-done for us.
To Tara Costello, Fiona Longmuir and Juliette Burton, I salute you all. What you have done is brave and important. Please do not stop.