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Beach Bodies, Bad Advertising: How a Feminist Navigates the Fitness World

29/04/2015 14:26 BST | Updated 28/06/2015 10:59 BST

Scrolling through Instagram yesterday I saw one of my favourite athletes talking about a protein product that she said had helped her achieve those all important 'gains' she'd been working towards. I was immediately intrigued and thanks to her recommendation, this was a product I definitely had to investigate.

Then I looked a little closer and my feminist alarm bells went off. What she was recommending came from the same company that had produced the 'Are You Beach Body Ready?' ad posters. Being an American I'm guessing she had no idea about the current Protein World controversy in the UK, but suddenly I was feeling torn between my feminist principles and my passion for the gym.

Up until just over a year ago I had never used the words 'gains' and I had also never voluntarily exercised. In school I was always the first to drop out of the bleep test and I used any excuse to get out of P.E. But last February, in an effort to get fit I signed up to a gym and within months my life had changed so much for the better.

In the beginning I didn't like the going to the gym much at all and I spent my time there doing what most people do when they first sign up, cardio, lots and lots of cardio. But then one day I decided to start lifting weights and I liked it. Then the weights got heavier and I liked it even more. I realised that the more I did in the weight room the happier I became. I was making 'gains', I was realising that for me, strong really was the new sexy.

Along with my new found passion for the gym my diet also underwent some upheaval. I did my research and found a plan which worked with what I was trying to achieve and like many in my position protein shakes became a big part of my routine.

This brings me back to the Protein World controversy. After adverts on the London Underground appeared asking 'Are You Beach Body Ready', many were understandably outraged and a petition was launched to have them removed. TFL has since said the adverts are being removed as they had reached the 'end of their advertising cycle'.

When asked about the controversy, Luisa Zissman who is a brand ambassador for Protein World told The Mirror "I have previously starved and extremely exercised to look beach body ready and now with a proper exercise regime that Protein World helped me devise and drinking slender blend shakes I am strong, fit, toned and healthy."

"I'm not underweight or overweight," Luisa continued. "I'm a healthy 27-year-old. I think Protein World promote a healthy body image. People need to learn that exercising and eating well supplemented with a product like protein world is a good thing."

Now, I can get on board with most of what Luisa is saying. In my younger years I also followed some bad diets, but now with 'a proper exercise regime' and the right plan for me I too at 27 am 'strong, fit, toned and healthy'. Though for me it was never about being 'beach body ready'.

But Luisa also made a few other comments which didn't sit so well with me. "I personally think the controversy surrounding Protein World is the extreme feminist brigade letting off some bra burning steam once again," Luisa said. "Protein World is a healthy way to gain the much-longed for summer body, that many women and men diet and exercise for."

For me the problem is that the Protein World ads didn't demonstrate how adding protein to a healthy diet and exercise regime can be very beneficial. Instead they asked 'Are you beach body ready'? Like it was a perfectly reasonable question to ask any woman.

The advert on the London Underground didn't seem to be marketed towards someone who has made fitness a big part of their life. It instead served to just further perpetuate the notion that when summer's on its way all women suddenly need to think about how'll they'll look in a bikini.

Since I've started taking notice I've seen a lot of negativity directed towards the fitness industry. But I've also seen a lot of negativity from those within the fitness industry projected out at others. The fitness industry can serve to help and inspire those who want it. Those who want to dedicate hours every week to the gym. What it should never do is try and shame people or make them feel like they have to do anything.

We all need to learn to respect each others life choices, especially as women. The freedom to make our own choices is what women have always fought for, the choice to do whatever we want with our bodies. We must always fight for that basic right on every level.

The athlete whose Instagram post had made excited about trying a new product never mentioned "her bikini body" and she never does. What she does however talk about is how strong and fit she is, which inspires me personally.

The thing is, everybody has a beach body, the only thing missing most of the time is a beach. But the moment you feel that sand between your toes, congratulations you now have a beach body!

There is an obesity problem in Britain yes, but that's not what these ads were about. Unfortunately the Protein World ads will go down as just another example of the unfair pressure that is put on women to fulfil a certain ideal, one that has nothing to do with being healthy.

Advertisers need to think about what message it really is they're putting out there and wether it carries more negative ideas than positives. But as a first step let's all agree to just stop using the phrase ''beach body' and instead respect all bodies and life choices.