Juliette Burton signed a petition objecting to London’s much-vandalised adverts Are You Beach Body Ready? And stirred up a hornet’s nest of bad PR.
It’s not about the bodies. It’s not about the posters, not anymore. They’re an issue, but not a new issue. This is about attitudes.
A lot of modern marketers are no longer crass and cynical enough to use aspirational models to tell women their bodies have to be a certain shape. That kind of marketing is something we’re fairly angered by, but fairly used to. Something you shake your fist at, mutter and get on with your day. Men and women are subject to it. It’s not just a feminist issue.
On Thursday evening, I signed a petition to request Protein World’s ‘Beach Body’ adverts be removed from billboards across London. This is not something I do often but I felt passionate about the not-so-subtle body shaming in them. To be clear, I signed the petition but did not start the petition.
And I wasn’t alone. The adverts – for a weight-loss collection of protein shakes – ask, “Are you beach body ready?” It implies if you don’t look like their chosen model, you are not.
After signing a petition on Change.org you are automatically offered an option to tweet about it. So I did. Protein World was tagged in the tweet by Change.org. Mostly companies don’t reply to auto-generated tweets. Protein World did.
My initial tweet said: “I spent life believing I’m not good enough so I signed,” and linked to the petition.
If you want the full story – my anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating; being sectioned; being hospitalised four times; my work to increase body confidence and remove mental health stigma; the body confidence movement I’m a part of thanks to the Be Real Campaign; B-Eat; Mind; my passion for encouraging men, women, girls and boys of ALL physicalities to believe they are awesome just as they are; the show I put together about how appearances affect identity; my months researching and interviewing people with facial disfigurement, physical disabilities, self-harmers, cancer patients, people in their 80s; the models I’ve spoken to about their relationship with their bodies…please read my website, watch my YouTube videos, come to my next show.
Protein World hadn’t done any of this. But it replied: “Why make your insecurities our problem?” Adding a winky face.
Surely they KNOW what their marketing strategy is all about – encouraging insecurity so people buy their product. I have nothing against the people who do – that is their choice. I’ve even bought products like it before, often out of desperation to feel better in some quick way.
“My initial tweet said: ‘I spent life believing I’m not good enough so I signed,’ and linked to the petition.”
As Protein World had posed a question, I answered it. “Because adverts like yours add to the external voices telling young girls they’re not good enough the way they are.”
Surely they knew this? The reply came: “And it’s OK to be fat and out of shape instead of healthy? We are a nation of sympathisers for fatties.”
I read and re-read the tweet. A company with adverts all over London is calling people fatties? WOW. Where to start?
The word “fatties” instead of “obesity” suggests it’s not about health, but looks. Being overweight can still mean you are healthy and fit. If you’re struggling with that concept then take a look at the quotes from health professionals on this page: http://www.obesitymyths.com/myth4.1.htm
This is when it stopped being about the poster and started being about an ideology – one which is massively outdated but very dangerous. One which encourages misery, low self-esteem and mental health problems.
Two fabulous and funny women I have worked with in the past – Meryl O’Rourke and Janey Godley – became involved. They know my story but they also know the importance of breaking down these sorts of attitudes. Meryl suggested I tweet pictures of me at my most ill to educate as to where attitudes like this can take people. I tend not to do this as a rule; it can be triggering. But, for once, I did. Janey broadened the point by saying how beautiful her stretch marks are as they gave the world her daughter Ashley.
Others made excellent points, including Natasha Devon from the Self Esteem Team, which does excellent work on the body confidence of young girls.
The next morning, the debate raged on. Some suggested I ask to meet with someone at the company; it appears Protein World’s Twitter account is run by Chief Executive Officer Arjun Seth. I tweeted four messages publicly to the firm stating clearly my former mental health issues and the fact I’d love to meet with them to discuss why these ads were body shaming and their attitudes on social media unacceptable. I’ve yet to have a response. I’m not sure when they blocked me but I wonder now whether this was when they did so.
When other Twitter users contacted Arjun Seth and Richard Stavely, Head of Global Marketing, at Protein World on Friday morning and asked if their conduct towards me had been acceptable, Seth replied: “It sounds like Juliette had a lot of issues before she saw the PW ad,” later tweeting, “So she does have a mental health condition then,” followed by a laughing emoji.
These tweets are, I believe, deleted from Seth’s feed. I say I believe because I’m now blocked by him also.
Of course I had “issues” before the advert – I don’t blame them for my “issues”. Their responsibility is towards potential customers. Although, this behaviour was another demonstration of the firm’s dismissive attitudes, implying views are not valid if you have mental health conditions. Body shaming becomes mental health shaming.
“The trolls say I’m a Social Justice Warrior – dismissing me and my views again. Some call me a feminazi. But as I say, it’s not just a feminist issue. Men and women are affected by these sorts of attitudes.”
The company’s Twitter feed is full of retweets of support: @D4rkb0y: “FUCK YEAH! SCREW those bitches who get offended get offended cuz muh feelings” or @justincredible: “Fucking feminists getting salt in their vaginas because they’ll never look as good as her.”
Incredibly, Seth also thought this was the right time to post a photo of himself with convicted rapist Mike Tyson.
Somehow, all this has led to me becoming an accidental figurehead in this discussion/argument/shitstorm. The trolls say I’m a Social Justice Warrior – dismissing me and my views again. Some call me a feminazi. But as I say, it’s not just a feminist issue. Men and women are affected by these sorts of attitudes. Attitudes like this may be outdated and dangerous, but they won’t go away unless we stand up and say it’s not acceptable.
The worst trolls are the ones following up upon the body shaming, calling me fat, chubby, lazy. I’m not going to cite my size or weight here because it’s beside the point. But if you’re wondering, please take a look at any photo of me, Google me, do your research. It’s more than these trolls have done. Or, even better, please see the naked photoshoot I did for Cosmopolitan magazine last July to promote body confidence.
Then there’s the trolls following up on the mental health shaming; calling me crazy, mentally ill and accusing me of having an unreliable brain. (Don’t feed the trolls: I diagnose them as compulsive overeaters.)
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t struggling with all this. I’ve been dealing with the battle against the body shaming, mental health shaming trolls in my head for years. I just never suspected it would become a reality to read online. It’s a struggle, but I’m not alone in the call for attitudes to change.
So, even if all this attention appeals to Protein World’s target market and brings it more attention, at least the rest of the world can see how not to run a company in 2015.
But this is about something so much bigger, a universal concept of respect.
Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.