London mayor Sadiq Khan’s ban of body-shaming advertisements in London’s public transit system Monday has engendered a worldwide debate about censorship and resurrected social-media conversations over a controversial ad last year that featured a bikini-clad model illustrating the question: “Are You Beach Body Ready?”
“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. “It is high time it came to an end.
“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.”
The mayor, who was elected in May, “had pledged to tackle advertising on the Tube network during his campaign after ads such as the ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign last April led to protests. An online petition calling for their removal attracted more than 70,000 signatures,” Jasper Jackson reports for The Guardian.
“The company behind the ads, Protein World, was accused of ‘directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model, in order to sell their product.’”
But the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority cleared the ad last July despite nearly 400 complaints, MediaPost’s Sean Hargrave reported. Protein World reveled in the controversy, claiming last April that it had picked up 5,000 customers in 50 countries over one four-day period and that sales had tripled overall, Lucy Clarke-Billings reported for The Independent.
It is, once again, getting scads of free publicity. The bikini-clad body illustrates far more media stories about this week’s announcement than the most common alternative — a mug shot of Khan — with captions like, “Advertisements like this will no longer be permitted on the Tube.”
“Clearly the Beach Body Ready weight-loss ad — which is long-gone — is the mayor’s real target here. But does he care if I get fat and then die from diabetes because of a junk food addiction? Is he worried that I’ll throw away my family’s life savings because of a compulsion to gamble? Is he OK with alcoholics being drip-fed endless ads extolling the virtues of booze,” asksForbes contributor Grant Feller. He also points out “endless magazines with airbrushed six-packed men and gravity-defying women on the front covers.”
“In proposing a blanket ban on bus and Tube ads that make people feel bad about their bodies, Sadiq has revealed his authoritarian, paternalistic contempt for the people who swept him to power,” writes Brendon O’Neill for The Spectator after expressing regret that he was “one of the 1.3 million Londoners who voted for” Khan in the election.
“Note to London Mayor Sadiq Khan: Please stop 'helping' women with your subway ad ban,” reads the headline on Stephanie Gutmann’s piece for Fox News. “This edict is ridiculous on so many levels. First of all, advertising is always aspirational. It’s designed to make you feel uneasy about what you have because that’s the only way you’ll want something new,” Gutmann writes.
There were kudos, too, of course.
Self-Esteem Team, a U.K.- based group that promotes body confidence, applauded the action but told RT.com that a ban is not the only solution: “Critical thinking is often greater than bans. However, we support Sadiq Khan, as manipulative ads are not freedom of speech but [rather] a harmful agenda.”
“A great start for London’s ‘feminist Mayor,’” the Women’s Equality Party tweeted.
Ian Twinn, a spokesman for the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, “said he had no problem with the regulation as long as it focused solely on not promoting unhealthy body images,” Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times.
“Parents don’t want their children to see ads of models who are unhealthily thin children, and send out a message that this is what you should look like,” Twinn said. “Equally, we don’t want people who are comfortably chubby threatening to ban perfectly reasonable ads. We are not meant to go around with excessive fat on our waists. If fat is the new normal, we don’t want that to be the reason to censor people who are not fat. That seems barmy.”