Proud2Bme | "Beach Body" Backlash and Grassroots Body Image Activism

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"Beach Body" Backlash and Grassroots Body Image Activism

By Jamie Granskie—Have you seen Protein World’s recent campaign? This advert features a very slim, sun-kissed model alongside bold text that reads, “Are you beach body ready?”

First launched in the UK, the ad received intense backlash and was subject to vandalism throughout the country. Many posters were altered to instead read, “Every Body’s Ready.” 360 complaints and 71,000 petition signatures later, the ad was ultimately banned.

Protein World responded to this by launching the ad campaign in New York City. Why did they do this? Because the publicity the company received from the backlash caused sales to triple, exemplifying the efficacy of even the most outrageous body shame strategies.

These trying circumstances have not bred defeat; instead, activism has emerged in a number of forms to combat Protein World’s problematic message. Social media platforms like twitter have been flooded with counter-messages by people challenging Protein World’s negative message.

National Women’s Liberation and Redstockings, two feminist groups, took another approach, revamping a “This Oppresses Women” sticker campaign from 1969. They are handing these stickers out at meetings and encouraging people to place them on any advertisement that…you guessed it: oppresses women.

Other companies and organizations have been taking action to educate about the effects of body shaming advertising and dispensing positive messages of their own.

We particularly love Refinery 29's Take Back the Beach series, as well as their video, "What Real New Yorkers Think of Photoshopped 'Bikini Bodies'." Another favorite is Swimsuits for All's unretouched video empowering women to be #NotSorry about their bodies this summer. We also love this funny video created by activists to promote the hashtag #eachbodysready.

As exciting as these positive responses to the harmful advertisements are, the controversy surrounding Protein World provides a valuable example of the limitations of protests: the company benefited from the publicity caused by the protests and they responded with ignorance and harassment, claiming that the NYC campaign was, “an F U to everyone who signed the stupid protest.” This sends a clear message that the priority of Protein World and other companies that use body shame advertising are geared more towards greed and power than social responsibility.

So, if protests and backlash directed at the companies producing the toxic content yield unpredictable results, some of which may be more negative than constructive, what can be done to combat against the oppressive messages?

Media literacy. Changing the ways we consume the images we are faced with on a daily and hourly basis can lessen the detrimental effects of body shame advertising. Media literacy involves taking an active role to remain aware of how we digest advertisement messages. Since children are bombarded with advertisements that influence their developing ideas about their bodies and the world in general, media literacy must be taught early to combat the internalization of the “I’m not good enough” message.

Media literacy education can range from a parent noting an advertisement and dissecting it with her child, to a marketing expert explaining to a class of college students the interest groups and methods involved in producing a desired response in the consumer. We need to integrate grassroots activist campaigns with daily media criticism. That's the only way to keep the body-shamers out of our magazines, off our subway platforms, and out of our heads.

About this blogger: Jamie Granskie is a rising Senior at Hamilton College, pursuing a Psychology and Sociology double major. She hopes to focus her career on eating disorders through research and work with individuals. She likes challenging gender norms, dancing, and meeting people who can match her level of enthusiasm. She often forgets how headphones work and finds herself audibly singing along to wildly inappropriate rap songs in public.

For more on summertime and body image, check out:

5 Tips for Staying Sane When the "Bikini Season" Talk Starts to Get Crazy

The "Bikini Body" Lie: How I Found My Own Truth

Rejecting the Myth of the "Bikini Body"

A Body Confidence Awakening: How I Learned To Stop Hiding Behind My Towel


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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

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