CW: Body shaming, diet talk
I remember when the heady days of summer meant something different. They meant Soleros and Calypsos from the newsagents, or Jubblies from the freezer at home. They meant factor 30 sun cream, thick and sticky and white, and cycle shorts in lime green and neon pink, and they meant staying out too late on your bike because the daylight made your Mum lose track of what time you had to be in. They meant being woken up at 3am to go on holiday in the Costa del Sol and returning sunburnt on a chilly English morning, shivering in your fringed white t-shirt (emblazoned with a Spanish map on the front). They meant paddling pools, home to dead flies and stray leaves and unbridled levels of joy, and barbecues where you could eat beef burgers without anyone butting in to tell you that they were horse.
As you can see, the heady days of summer for me only retained their true meaning in the early 90s, before I hit puberty. Once my buds became baps, summer gained new meaning. And that meaning was bullshit.
Summer – the season of the ‘bikini body’.
Summer now approaches like an insidious ooze of doom, swallowing most of the women I know. For every ode to the beer garden or to the delights of finally taking your fucking coat off, I hear about five of the following:
“Urgh, summer’s coming. I’m going to have to lose a stone.”
“I’ve joined the gym. Again. Beach body innit.”
“If I drink a litre of cider a day but eat no food, will I be a size 8 by June?”
“I would rather die than shop for a bikini this summer.”
“I want to take my cardie off but I’m scared of unleashing my arms. What if a passing hipster mistakes them for legs of prosciutto and tries to eat them in a sourdough bap?”
Why is it such a torturous time? After all, it’s just like winter but warmer. Yes, you have to wear less clothes, but it’s not like we can’t tell the shape of each other’s bodies through our jumpers and jeans. We’re aware that we’re all more or less human-shaped, and don’t suddenly expect everyone to look like gods now they’re in shorts. The phrases, too, are unnatural. ‘Bikini body.’ ‘Beach body.’ We’re British, so we only see a beach or a bikini about once a year. It’s hardly worth four months of panic and misery.
I blame the media for this sweeping wave of body shame (they’re usually the culprits). As we all know, making people feel bad about themselves makes them spend money on improvements, and summer is like Christmas for certain industries. I used to work for a light therapy company and in the PR department we used this ‘beach body’ rhetoric like it was going out of fashion, because obviously in the summer it’s light and therefore people don’t really need light therapy. As a result, we needed a new way to flog light therapy products – they claim to clear up acne, hence ‘beach body’ rubbish was plastered all over our social media feeds.
One company which has been in the public eye a lot for using ‘beach body’ tactics lately is Protein World. If you live in London, you’ll have seen their advertisements all over the Underground:
A 21 year old student named Eloise Aimee Parry actually died from taking diet supplements bought from the Internet the same week as these posters arrived, demonstrating that women are already under enough bloody pressure as it is. Many feminists, already sick of the general atmosphere of body insecurity that summer brings (we were experiencing a mini heatwave at the time, which usually means the phrases mentioned above start rearing their ugly heads), decided they’d had enough. These are huge, lurid yellow posters, glaring down from the station walls and Tube ceilings for every commute you have to embark upon. So for the average London commuter, that’s 74 minutes a day spent facing the equivalent of someone poking you in the belly and saying, “Hey fatty – fancy getting your fat arse on a diet soon?” It’s no wonder the women were fed up.
So they made some additions to the posters:
The backlash emerged as a campaign, titled #EachBodysReady:
Instead of apologising for the advert as it obviously affected a large amount of people (there were hundreds of complaints and many more ‘improved’ posters than the above), Protein World turned nasty on Twitter. The CEO even joined in, calling critics “fat”, “insecure”, and “mentally ill”:
Protein World’s Twitter header says it all really – a woman’s bum, cropped so that she’s not even an entire person, just a ‘sexy’ object for advertising on. The lack of respect that these companies have for the women they’re trying to sell products to is overwhelming and their claims to be predominantly concerned about health are a joke. Firstly, it’s already been proven that ‘fat shaming’ doesn’t work and so companies that fat shame while saying it’s ‘encouraging’ or ‘motivational’ are talking out of their butts. Secondly, anyone who thinks that Protein World and companies like them are concerned with health needs only to look at the way their adverts are put together. It’s not about health, it’s about sex and objectification. If Protein World had shown the same model in a vest and shorts, showing some actual muscle mass and doing a summery fitness activity with the tagline ‘ARE YOU READY FOR SUMMER?’, I doubt there would’ve been a backlash. But they chose to go with a ‘lad culture’ style ad. Haven’t they heard about Loaded? About Page 3? Lad culture is dead. Keep up, Protein World. We’re not standing for that shit any more.
There’s a protest in Hyde Park, London, at 3pm this Saturday 2nd May, which I encourage you to attend, but in the meantime, there’s something else we can do. We can take back summer. We can remember the days when enjoying the sun (Christ, it’s not like we get much) was the most important thing about summer and we can throw off the shackles of ‘bikini body’ preparation and shame. Let’s cast off our cardies! Let’s guzzle our beers and fruit-flavoured ciders in the sunshine, by a river, with a big pair of Primark sunnies on and absolutely no fucks to give. Look at how gorgeous we all are, even without the bodies that dummies like Protein World say we should have:
Let’s take back summer!