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'Body-shaming' advert ban only reinforces idea that women are weak and need men's protection

London Mayor Sadiq Khan's plans are a win for the female sex, surely? Just the opposite says Fionola Meredith

Published 24/06/2016

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan

The new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, plans on banning so-called "body-shaming" adverts from the capital's transport network. Well, thank you, Daddy London, for setting such a sterling example for the rest of the United Kingdom to follow. What would we poor oppressed women do without you?

We salute you for protecting us from these "socially irresponsible" pictures of hot babes, which might make us feel chubby and inadequate and perhaps a little tearful. That simply cannot be allowed to happen.

As the father of two teenage girls, Khan says that nobody should feel pressurised by "unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies".

He is talking about ads like the infamous Protein World one, showing a pneumatic young woman in a yellow bikini, not a pick of fat on her, and the coy question: "Are you beach body ready?"

To judge by the almighty hoo-ha this advertising campaign caused last summer, you'd think Protein World had actually published an image of a porky woman alongside the words: "You need to lose weight and fast, fatty. If you don't want to cause a tsunami when you go to the seaside".

All right, most of the outrage was confined to the ululating echo-chamber of social media, but there was also a petition with more than 70,000 signatures calling for the adverts to be removed from circulation.

A semi-nude protest was also held in Hyde Park, to show the world what "real beach bodies" looked like, during which a number of attractive young women sat proudly in their bikinis surrounded by a drooling posse of (overwhelmingly male) press photographers eager to capture their likeness, as they say. Oh, the irony.

In the end, the ad stayed. The Advertising Standards Authority, the UK's ad watchdog, concluded that "the headline and image were unlikely to cause serious, or widespread, offence."

And so it continued - until Sadiq Khan came along and mixed it in the name of banishing female shame.

I'm sorry, Sad, but I don't consider that a victory for women. Quite the reverse, in fact.

I'm not a fan of adverts like these myself. They're nasty, cheap, and definitely aimed at playing on feminine insecurities. That much is clear.

I'm glad that some people have taken matters into their own hands and defaced the images with graffiti and stickers - the more funny and subversive, the better.

But those of us with a titter of wit - and by that I mean most women - are too resilient, too smart, or simply too busy to be emotionally devastated by a poster.

After all, we know exactly what the advertisers are up to.

They want to sell us a big pot of yuck-tasting powder to eat instead of proper food in the fond hope that we will miraculously end up like the airbrushed vixen on the billboard.

You'd have to be a very dim bulb indeed not to see through that cunning plan, wouldn't you?

Khan has, of course, endeared himself to mainstream feminists with this politically correct gesture.

There's nothing these censorious neo-puritans like better than banning things that offend them, even if the banning is actually being done by a powerful male authority figure.

What matters, it seems, is that women's vital status as fragile, stupid, wibbly-wobbly victims is maintained and constantly reinforced.

This is anything but empowering. It equates us with children: weak, confused and in need of special protections to make sure our feelings aren't hurt.

Men, presumably, are considered tough enough to take it.

Protein World published a "beach body" ad in 2014 that showed a tanned muscle-bound hunk, flaunting his bulging veins and giving viewers a tantalising glimpse of his inguinal crease (Google it - or maybe don't).

This did not result in mass petitions or outraged depositions to the Advertising Standards Authority.

To my knowledge, a cadre of half-clad youths did not descend on Hyde Park to write, "This is what a real beach body looks like", on their puny chests with magic marker and to pose winningly for the snappers.

But we're after equality, aren't we? That's what it's all about. So, is Khan going to ban "demeaning" ads like these, too?

If the London Mayor is so worried about his daughters, I suggest he locks them up and never lets them out again. That's the only way he'll prevent them from encountering sexist words and objectifying images.

Alternatively, he could teach his girls that they are smart, strong, independent women, capable of handling whatever the world throws at them. His choice - or, rather, theirs.

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