London Mayor Outlaws Body-Shaming Advertisements

"Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies..."

By Eric Shorey

A controversial decision to ban advertisements that could be perceived as "caus[ing] body confidence issues" was made by newly minted London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The ban was targeted at Protein World, which ran a much-contested ad campaign that asked if consumers were "Beach Body Ready" -- sparking debate around the culture and rhetoric of dieting and weight loss supplements.

When Protein World ran the series of ads in London's subway systems last year, the outcry was immediate and loud. Along with a social media campaign in protest of the ads, around 70,000 people signed a petition to have the Transport for London, the agency that oversees advertisements on public transportation, reconsider their policies on what kinds of speech are allowed to be displayed.

Rather than listen to critics, Protein World doubled down. The Guardian weighed in on the situation last year: "Protein World’s Twitter account has been taking a robust approach to its critics on social media. Using the hashtag #getagrip, it tweeted: 'here to motivate, not commiserate'. It also retweeted former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins who wrote: 'Chubsters, quit vandalising Protein World ads and get your arse running on the road. Feminism isn’t an excuse for being fat. Eat less, move more.'"

Richard Staveley, head of marketing at Protein World, said: “We want to encourage discussion on this. Ultimately we want to encourage a healthier, fitter nation. We want to encourage everybody to be the very best version of themselves. It’s been quite odd how many people we’ve found who are far quicker to fit shame then fat shame. And, you know, if that makes us bad, then so be it. And if Katie Hopkins is in agreement with us then we’re delighted.”

Either way, Protein World ended up benefiting from the exposure, with The Guardian reporting that sales of the company's products increased after the social media kerfuffle.

But it doesn't seem like that brand strategy will work in London for much longer with Mayor Khan at the helm. “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,” Khan said in a statement. “Nobody should feel pressurized, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.”

Per Khan's mandate, transportation authorities accross the pond will now be reviewing ads "that could potentially negatively affect people’s images of their bodies.” 

Jezebel notes how this kind of regulation is a becoming a trend in Europe: "In 2009, French politicians introduced a bill that would put a 'health warning' on heavily Photoshopped photographs of models, akin to warnings on cigarettes in alcohol. Last year, the country banned “excessively thin” models on the runaway ... Last year, the Advertising Standards Authority, the same watchdog group that deemed Protein World’s ad “not offensive,” banned a YSL ad for featuring a 'unhealthily underweight' model. ASA also banned a Gucci ad earlier this year for similar reasons."

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