The Blog

Beach Body Aftermath: Advertising Attitudes

We are all, men and women, subjected to this marketing strategy of "You don't look like this. Look at all the fun, all the happiness, all the sex this person is getting. Buy our product to BE like them."

In the past month, since the Beach Body Ready advertising debacle, I've found myself noticing similar objection to other ads all over the place.

There was the bus advert that objectors said trivialised prostitution and the scantily clad French Maid and Swedish supermodel featured on another London tube ad campaign compared to outdated sexist 1970s ads. Then there was the YSL advert that was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being irresponsible for featuring an underweight model.

These kinds of adverts, either highly sexualising women or featuring models who appear unhealthy or underweight or just unattainably "perfect" have, for as long as I remember, drummed their way into my mind. Reading magazines, I lost myself within pages packed with promises of perfect womanhood, taught that objectification was normal and malnourishment aspirational. Being happy didn't appear as desirable as being thin.

These images seeped their way into my mind as a child, along with the impossibly thin cartoon princesses and the airbrushed 'perfect' world of fashion and advertising. I hated myself as I grew up because I knew I didn't look like those women. I could never look like them. I lost so much weight within my eating disorder, yet I could never attain the warped ideal these pictures were selling me. It took me a long while to learn that my body, with all its perfectly imperfect flaws, was worthy of celebration and respect. I don't have to love it but I do need to accept it, enjoy it, revel in it and let go of insecurities that have held me back.

I never thought opposing this advert was only a feminist issue. Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, we have put up with sexual objectification and unhealthy imagery in advertising for far too long. Yes, women have been taught all our lives and for centuries to prioritise looks above health and we're sick to death of it (quite literally for some). But it is no longer only women affected by the blatant selling of "the body beautiful". And yet so many said those who opposed the advert were "f*cking feminists getting salt in their vaginas because they'll never look as good as [the model]." The company themselves retweeted that particularly eloquent message of support. And many more similar "feminazi" and "SJW" slurs too.

But Social Justice Warrior sounds, to me, like a good thing. Social? Good thing! Justice? Good thing! And I'd rather be a warrior who stands up for what they believe in than hiding my voice away timidly or apathetically not caring.

We are all, men and women, subjected to this marketing strategy of "You don't look like this. Look at all the fun, all the happiness, all the sex this person is getting. Buy our product to BE like them."

Something is changing, though. We, the public, are fed up of advertisers trying to bully us into buying their product. Advertising is the wallpaper of our lives, and we want it to stop sneering at us.

A year ago I was researching a show about body image (on tour now). I asked around 40 interviewees, of varying ages, races, with hidden illnesses, disability, disfigurement and models, what beauty was. Their answers were varied, revealing, moving. "A sparkle in the eyes." "A balance between order and chaos." "How you treat other people" "Something that moves you from one position to another" "Difference." Wouldn't it be wonderful if advertisers focused more on these definitions of beauty, encouraging us to be kinder, encouraging us to sparkle more, celebrating our differences and use their power to move us from one position to another?

The company behind the original, now banned in the UK, advert have taken it now to New York. A huge ad now hangs in the centre of the American city, staring down at the inhabitants of that beautiful place. The Head of Global Marketing of the company said it was a "big middle finger" to all those who opposed it in London. As rude and unnecessary as that very public, very unprofessional statement is, if they're looking for an outraged reaction to bring them more publicity, they won't be getting it from me.

I will continue to stand up for what I believe in and we will continue, together to stand against this sort of disrespect in adverts and attitudes. And while I hope the people of New York are aware of the attitudes this company has towards mental health and their awful, disrespectful social media conduct, this battle is bigger, more important than one advert, one company. This is an ongoing journey and they are just a tiny yellow dot on the path behind us as we travel full speed ahead towards the horizon of progress.

This might be the end of one momentary debacle but it could be the beginning of a whole new era.

London Leicester Square Theatre 17 and 18 June - tickets on sale now

Edinburgh Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh Fringe 16-21 August - tickets on sale now