The sun is out (sometimes) and the summer holidays are booked (or being booked/dreamed about). Consequently, it’s that time of the year again; time to really drill the “your body is not good enough for a bikini” message home to the 99.999% of women who don’t look like a post-airbrushed Victoria’s Secret model. Magazines will be laying on 8-page spreads about the latest in juicing cleanses, or how to get killer abs whilst sitting at your desk. Woo frickin hoo.
At times like these there are a number of options open to the 99.999%:
a) proceed to engage in the latest 5-2/Atkins/’you are what you eat’ dieting craze (preferably this will involve a few purchases of books/supplements/juicing machines).
b) take up the latest in Insanity/bums tums and thighs/Boxercise exercise regimes (preferably this will also involve buying DVDs, subscribing to YouTube channels, or at least forking out for some over-sized inflatable balls).
c) Starve yourself (it’s not funny cos it’s true).
d) All of the the above.
e) Rise up and smash the bloody patriarchy.
f) Vigorously complain about the pressure women face to maintain largely unachievable body shapes/sizes whilst eating chocolate and secretly wishing you had arms like Jennifer Anniston.
I’ll let you guess which option I’ve plumped for this year. Sigh.
Whilst wading through the whole I-know-that-society-has-given-me-a-completely-unattainable-ideal-body-image-but-I-still-want-a-flat-stomach-and-a-gravity-defying-bosom quagmire It was nice to see a stick-it-to-the-man story doing the rounds last week. I discovered it on the Huff Post with this super-strong headline:
Irate commuters have been defacing this lovely little ‘beach body’ advert:
I mean where do you begin? With the fact that this brand is tying to sell us MEAL REPLACEMENTS of pills and powder that cost £62 (SIXTY TWO POUNDS?? From what I can surmise that’s only a two week supply) and contain caffeine? That the implication of the advert is that you have to lose weight to have access to the beach? Or that the company who sells the protein pills posts tweets like these: Um, yeah, because you either look like the (gorgeous, healthy and probably very nice) model in those ads or you are “fat and out of shape”: you’re sort of proving the point here guys! The truth is that there are a lot of fit and healthy women who would never look like that in a bikini. Some of us have little boobs, some of us have big bums, some of us have stretch marks. You get the picture.
(For more on beach body bullshit hop along to The Artist Formerly Known As Sisterhood and All That for a peek at this splendid post)
A weird but largely unchallenged perfectionism seems to hang around body image. Either we are the paradigm of vigorous exercise and strict diet or we aren’t good enough. Either we’re at the lowest end of a healthy BMI or we’re ‘fat’ and need to lose weight/tone up/drop a dress size. It’s more than slightly infuriating.
But hurrah for the angry commuting public of London! They have taken it upon themselves to demonstrate just how they feel about these adverts. There are various approaches from giving the finger in a twitter pic:to a simple yet effective post-it note,
to grander (and slightly less legal) gestures
If you didn’t know, Dear Reader, this particular form of graffiti is know as ‘subvertising’. Like, subverting advertising, clever huh? Indeed the #eachbodysready campaign has grown apace! Hence the coverage from the Huff Post, BBC, and all them lot. There’s a petition and everything, though I’m not sure I want the adverts to be taken down, I’d rather every single one of them were subvertised. How cool would that be?
Huzzah! Up the sisterhood.
Yes, it was all going so well, my feminist hopes were lifted and my body image demons quieted for a moment as I revelled in the civil disobedience that was taking place on the London underground. If only I hadn’t scrolled down.
Never. Scroll. Down.
Because when I did I found that despite running an article on such an empowering topic, the Huffington Post had also run a body-shaming link at the bottom of this very same page.
It’s no wonder that even the bolshiest of us have underlying body issues. Most of the celeb ‘before’ pictures were taken in their teens. But then we are all supposed to look like adolescent girls accord to most high fashion magazines. Either that or Marylin Monroe (in her ’60s corset and pointy boob bra).
That’s right. “Twelve celebs whose weight gain you won’t believe!”* Seriously? Is the actually happening? We are just staring at strangers who have gained weight and judging them. Epic fail, Huffington, epic fail.
A few years back on Radio Four there was a show called the People’s Manifesto, hosted by Mark Thomas. Totes hilares and now a book (google it). The basic idea was that the audience proposed new laws, some bizarre, some bloody genius. One of my all time favourites is that all models have be chosen at random from the electoral register. Isn’t that the most brilliant thing you’ve ever heard? How much would everyone love that advert if it was Mavis Brown, 62, from Scunthorpe in the bright yellow bikini? Suddenly we would get a much more representative idea of what bodies actually look like and stop being told over and over again how they should look. Oh how I would love my son to grow up surrounded by normal images of normal bodies, rather than spirit-crushing ideals that make us mere mortals feel like utter crap.
Okay, the whole models-by-ballot thing is almost certainly an unachievable dream, but maybe next time you see an image that makes you want to shrivel into a ball and repeat the mantra ‘I will not eat a Mars bar” over and over, you could just picture our Mavis in the same pose. Failing that, have a look at the pic of me and my thigh in an old post on body image. Laughter is the best medicine, after all, and it seems mockery is a pretty excellent protest.
What do you think of it all? Would you deface one of the ads if you had the chance? Or do you think it’s no big deal? Comment below or tweet me @aafew. Oh and if you like this please do:
*this link isn’t on the page anymore, but it was all day yesterday.