This week there has been a lot of talk on social media regarding the Protein World advert featuring the model Renee Somerfield. The executives seems to be patting themselves on the back a bit, having seen their sales rocket in the last few days. After all there’s no such thing as bad publicity eh? I have seen the Beach Body Ready advert and I actually found it predictable and boring. It’s not like women aren’t seeing similar images in health and fitness magazines so why the umbrage with this particular advert? I was very interested however in something that Protein World came up with in their defense of the advert: apparently that’s what us women want in a fitness campaign.
No doubt that Protein World had some marketing research performed for them to get an idea about what women responded to. I remember getting annoyed with the number of ‘fat blast’ and ‘tummy flattening’ headlines on the cover of Women’s Running magazine, but the lovely Rhalou, a journalist, told me that in surveys this is what women participating were actively requesting. Somewhere along the line as women we have asked in a weird, roundabout way to be routinely shamed for our appearance and presented with an often unrealistic image of who we should be. When this thought struck me I actually felt a little bit sad that as women we might feel this way. I wondered if the vandalism of the adverts and the petition set up to get the adverts pulled were a larger message from women sick of always being fed the same shame-inducing crap.
I have no issue with beautiful models. Renee Somerfield is a stunning woman and she obviously works for her physique. It is after all her job as a fitness model to look, err, fit. But to tell me that her body is attainable to me is like telling me I can have a figure like the exquisite Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan in Mad Men. She also has a beautiful figure, very different to Renee Somerfield’s, but again I could in no way attain her ratio of curves. It is just not true to tell me that I can look like either of these women.
I am 5 foot tall. I have no boobs, the ones I did have fed two babies. My stomach is a wreck from two caesareans. I have a very short torso and even shorter legs. I do think I have a pretty nice butt. I am under no illusion that I could remotely look like Renee on the beach or Christina after pouring her curves into vintage couture. But what I do know is what I am capable of and what my own body is ‘ready’ to do after training and exercising. I can run marathons. I can ride mileage on my bike that I never thought possible. I can swim fifty lengths in a swimming pool. I have lifted weights and tried to do handstands. I may not be confident in a bikini on the beach (I prefer fifties style swim suits) but I’m confident in what my body can achieve. The aesthetics are of no interest to me but I am always ready to try and be a better version of myself and reach new goals.
Protein World claim that they are only interested in improving the health and fitness of the nation. I would believe them a little more if they weren’t selling their products, some of which take the form of meal replacement shakes, at £32 a kilo (Hang on, is that not just Slim Fast but in different packaging?) They have a vested interest in selling lots of their food substitute drinks (pass me the steak) but I don’t think their message is going to be meaningful to the vast majority of men and women. Health and fitness for a lot of people means encouragement, taking things at their pace, surprising people with the things they thought they could never do and setting individual goals. Others should not impose their ‘ideal’ of health on to them. We may not all like running, CrossFit, rugby or football and we are not all built with the same phenotype. It would be so boring if we were.
Fair play to Protein World for making lots of money and being able to pay their team huge bonuses. I can’t say I’ll be trying their shakes any time soon and I’m sure they don’t need my money. Instead I would urge them to watch the This Girl Can campaign ad so they can see that women of all shapes and sizes are capable of being fit and participating in sport. I would also urge them to look up the great Valerie Adams, the world’s greatest female shot putter, who works hard in training but would probably never be seen by Protein World as a ‘model’ for their campaigns. But I’m sure the all-conquering Olympic champion would be okay with that.
My overall message I think would be this. Let’s start voting with our feet. Don’t buy that magazine with the unrealistic, photo shopped model on the front. When we’re asked for our opinions lets request more realistic pictures of women of all shapes and sizes accomplishing great things. Lets support men and women starting out in sport and fitness but encourage them to do it in a healthy, sustainable way. And remember that whatever anyone tells you, YOU are always ready.