“Are you beach body ready?” asked the bikini-wearing, young, thin and, frankly, quite photoshopped looking girl on the ad for Protein World, which has now become the direct association to Sadiq Khan (London’s new mayor) banning ads promoting unhealthy body image from London’s public transport system. The ad was defaced in various stations across London and drew strong protest, with 378 complaints filed with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, representative of 450 British companies. Same board was not ready to admit that the ad was offensive or irresponsible but nevertheless banned it because of concerns about its health and weight loss claims.
Now Sadiq Khan announced a general ban on such ads from London’s public transportation system, coming into effect in July: “As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising, which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies. Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies.” This is only the latest move in a series of measures that have lately been taken in order to veer away from the unrealistic and unhealthy body ideal that has been ruling society for too long: France, Israel, Italy and Spain have all passed laws to prevent stick-thin models from working in the industry.
Khan’s decision to do so surely was the right thing to do – only the question arises from which perspective we should be looking at it. The general (press) mind seems to support the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ view of why the Protein World ad was banned in the first place and transfer it onto aforementioned resolution – that this measure is taken solely to prevent weight issues. This outlook, however, completely neglects another, not less important, reason to do so: that images like this limit the female sex entirely to its visual appearance – and that’s a fact that is not even two-sided. Because, whereas one could argue that bodies like the one depicted in the ad actually do exist (and that -from a body-shaming point of view – there have been ads that in terms of thinness were much worse) it is uncontroversial that YES, the female on it is reduced fully to her body and YES, that it is pictures like these that feed on the unfortunately still present refusal of belief in a woman’s intellect.
So, before cutting these news down to yet another way of encouraging women of different sizes (which we are, as you know, totally advocating) let’s also put some focus onto the importance of public imagery, what a huge impact it has on the way we see things and, consequently, that most women do not want to be perceived as a body.