Monday 9 December 2019

'I have been shouting at photos of almost naked women for years'

Last summer, Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ Tube ads sparked a huge backlash in London about body shaming and objectifying women. Photo: PA
Last summer, Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ Tube ads sparked a huge backlash in London about body shaming and objectifying women. Photo: PA
Lorraine Courtney

Lorraine Courtney

As bikini season rolls on, we got some heartening news from Britain this week. Advertisements that create body confidence issues are to be banned from the London Underground. Starting next month, Transport for London (TfL) won't permit adverts that promote an unrealistic or unhealthy body image, particularly among young people.

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has two teenage daughters, said he is worried about adverts that can cause women to be "ashamed" of their bodies. "Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the ad industry about this," he said.

As well as banning adverts deemed to cause body confidence issues, Mr Khan has also called on TfL to set up an Advertising Steering Group to keep its new policy under ongoing review.

Last summer, Protein World's 'Beach Body Ready' Tube ads sparked a huge backlash in London about body shaming and objectifying women. The ad for the "weight loss collection" from the dietary supplements company unhelpfully suggested to women that they may want to start thinking about swimsuit season, asking them: 'Are you Beach Body Ready?'

Clearly, the ad's messaging wasn't appropriate for busy women simply trying to get to work. Those busy women fought back in a very vibrant, vocal campaign.

The ASA cleared the campaign of breaking rules, despite almost 400 complaints and 70,000 signatories to an online petition about its portrayal of women. However, the advertising watchdog did ban the ad for misleading health and nutrition claims but declared it was "not offensive". The campaign wasn't entirely wasted though, as the backlash against Protein World has obviously prompted this latest body-shaming ban.

Bikini season's in full swing right now and the shaming is strong. While ads like those by Protein World flash before our eyes on our commute, we stand little chance of quashing body-shaming for good and convincing young girls that wearing a bikini isn't the only reason to eat a balanced diet.

I have been shouting at photos of almost naked women for years. Is it really necessary for the lip gloss lady to look post-orgasmic, or for the woman in the Greek yogurt ad to bare so much flesh? It doesn't matter that the sexual objectification of men is also rising - Idris Elba's overly scrutinised abs, anyone? That is just another advertising farce, this time against men.

Like many women, I have the capacity to feel guilty about everything. I blame it mostly on the basic, glossy magazine guilt package - the impossibly complicated skin-care regimens and man-pleasing instructions, the bikini bodies and never to-be-eaten recipes that give rise to them. #Fitspiration may have replaced #Thinspiration but how different, really, is it?

Women are still striving to achieve an aesthetic goal that goes far beyond the natural result of exercising regularly and eating sensibly. Basically, we're still very much encouraged to base our self-confidence on how desirable our bodies are to men.

Not even that, but how desirable the advertiser tells us our bodies are to "men" as a general category that an advertiser has dreamt up.

According to the 'Looking Glass Survey', published last year by the National Women's Council of Ireland and Ignite Research, a worrying 41pc of Irish women reported being unhappy or very unhappy with how they looked. Negative feelings about their appearance prevents one in five young women applying for a job.

Most shockingly, many young women are discouraged from going to the doctor because of their personal appearance. Social media has the most negative influence on a young woman's body image (that's girls aged 16 to 24) while advertising has the most negative influence overall on a woman's body image.

Yes, there's a really serious problem out there and ads like Protein World's just make it worse. Women can hate their bodies, and sometimes faces, so much that they end up in despair and often self-harm as a way both of coping and of damaging the bodies they hate so much.

They are also starving themselves to live up to a perfect image, which is thrust down their throats by the media and reinforced by their peers. Women do not need more pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations.

These advertisers have multi-million euro budgets, which they use to create and exaggerate insecurities to encourage us to buy products that will "fix" us.

Body image might seem like a small issue for women - when you look, for example, at physical violence against women, the gender pay gap, genital mutilation, rape culture etc.

But we have to keep calling them out if we're going to ensure the next generation of young women grow up understanding that wearing a bikini to the beach is totally fine - even if you're not a size 8 - and to silence that nagging voice inside a woman's head, criticising their body shape, 50 times a day.

Irish Independent

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