Unless you’ve been wandering around with your head inside your jumper these past few days, you’ll have seen the controversy over the recent Protein World poster advert. The advert appeared in Tube stations last week and they’ve been hard to ignore. After causing a stir on social media for their blatant objectification of women, people started to amend the ads on trains.


Instead of putting their hands up and admitting their advert was ill-conceived, Protein World have attempted to brazen out the whole affair. They (and their fans) have stooped so low that I imagine they’re dragging their shoulders along the ground, as well as their knuckles. In response to the (simply wonderful) #eachbodysready campaign, Richard Staveley, head of global marketing for Protein World, made a rather patronising statement to HuffPost UK Lifestyle

My initial reaction to it was to shout, “oh, shut up, you arrogant fuckwit” at my smartphone. I am, however, an open-minded sort of person and I wanted to give Protein World a fair hearing (something, incidentally, they have not given their detractors on Twitter). So, was Mr Staveley saying anything of value?

PW reworked ad

“We absolutely have no intention of removing the adverts because of a minority making a lot of noise.”

It’s not a minority. At the time of writing this, over 36,000 people have signed a petition to have the posters removed. The Advertising Standards Authority have recognised the scale of the complaints and has launched their own investigation. In fact, the “minority” in question are women (and men) who are sick of being body shamed by the media. People who don’t believe that a company that sells a weight loss product has the right to tell them how they should look in swimwear.

PW Tweets Skinny women and men

The assertion that no skinny women or men have a problem with these adverts is nonsense. I’m a skinny woman (not by choice or design, I have a chronic disease and struggle to gain weight) and I strongly dislike the suggestion that only shapely women with pert breasts and a round, but toned, bum can go out in public wearing a bikini. I’m not this company’s target customer, I have no desire to lose weight (I’d disappear into thin air), but I’m offended by Protein World’s attempt to make women so insecure about their bodies that they feel compelled to buy these products.

“We now run Britain’s largest protein facility, selling our products in over 50 countries to more than 300,000 customers. Most of them are women. How could we possibly be sexist?”

The less said here, the better – I’m likely to strain the muscles in my eyes if I roll them any more. This reminds me of the disgraced celebrity/politician’s stock line when accused of racism, homophobia, bigotry, etc, “some of my best friends are *insert appropriate minority here*”. Seriously? Women buy your products, ergo you’re not sexist? Please.

“It is a shame that in 2015 there are still a minority who aren’t focusing on celebrating those who aspire to be healthier, fitter and stronger.”

Nobody is questioning the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. The aspiration to be healthier, fitter and stronger is a wonderful, motivating thing. The best way to become all of those things, though, is not through meal replacement diets. Skipping a well-balanced meal in favour of a protein shake is not healthy in the long term. The nutritional balance of a protein shake will never compare to a meal comprised of whole foods.

All that aside, the advert in question is clearly advertising a WEIGHT LOSS product. It has nothing to do with being fitter and stronger and everything to do with achieving a societally approved body shape. 

(If you really, absolutely must use a meal replacement diet, don’t shell out close to £60 for a month’s supply of protein powder. Go to your nearest supermarket and pick up Slim Fast, or the shop’s own-brand shake for around £12 for a month’s worth. Before you do that, though, go see your GP and tell them what you’re planning to do. You shouldn’t start any sort of new dietary regime without consulting a medical professional first.)

PW CEO Mental Health Comment

A brief look at Protein World’s Twitter-stream shows they’re absolutely loving the attention, and appear to be retweeting every mention they get, good or bad. There really is no such thing as bad press, it seems. Arjun Seth, Protein World’s CEO has weighed into the debate by making disgraceful comments about women’s body image, some derogatory statements about mental health issues and generally being arrogant and puerile.

PW loving attention

The problem with controversy like this is the increased exposure it’s given this company. Much like a child having a tantrum in the middle of Tesco, the more attention we give them, the louder they’ll shout. Instead, let’s focus on how wonderfully affirming it is that thousands of people across the country have been emboldened by the #eachbodysready campaign.

You’re fucking awesome the way you are. Don’t change a thing. Unless you want to.

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