While by no means unique in their attitude to women’s bodies, these Protein World adverts have provoked protest.
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The Protein World “beach body” adverts only prove that body shaming is a feminist issue

In fact, “body shaming” is a terribly weak term to describe the enormous impact of a misogynist, fat-hating culture on women’s self-esteem.

There are two months in the year – March and October – during which women are officially allowed to eat. Slotted all around them are occasions for which we need to diet. At the start of the year we are fighting the “post-Christmas bulge”. A short break, and then it’s time to get our bodies “bikini ready”. At some point – July or August – the bikini diet merges into the post-holiday detox (regardless of whether or not we have been away). Then the nights start to draw in and before we know it it’s time to “get in shape for the Christmas party season”. A brief sugar spike at Christmas and then it’s back to fighting the January bulge once more.

Of course, we rarely do any of these diets. We just know that they’re there, part of a culture that prevents us from living in the present (since for that we are too big). A future in which our bodies cease to be what we are, but objects we select – bikini body, party body, detox body – is dangled before us as the ultimate prize. We don’t believe it exists (we are not stupid) but such knowledge fails to make our present condition any more acceptable. We are the wrong shape for these times. We do not fit. What is more, we know we never will.

Protein World knew this when they produced their “Are you beach body ready?” advertisements. There is nothing particularly unusual about their approach. They are hardly the first company to use the image of a thin model to promote the idea of getting one’s body “ready” for summer. And yet, following a righteously angry article by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, this particular campaign has hit a nerve. At the time of writing, over 55,000 people have signed a petition to remove the adverts, on the basis that they are aimed at making individuals feel “physically inferior”. A “Take back the beach” protest is due to take place on Saturday in London’s Hyde Park. It seems that enough is enough. Or possibly not.

Already we’re witnessing the backlash to the backlash. Arjun Seth, the chief executive of Protein World, has labelled feminists who defaced his “aspirational” poster “terrorists”. The Men’s Rights Activist website Return of Kings (ha!) claims the adverts  have “enraged feminists who hate female beauty”. The ever-helpful Katie Hopkins has told the “fat feminazis” that “feminism isn’t an excuse for being fat” and the model from the adverts has chipped in to claim that she herself is being “body shamed”. Meanwhile, in the Spectator Brendan O’Neill describes the response as “bonkers, even by the standards of this era of offence-taking and PC nonsense”:

Can’t we try to resuscitate the spirit of the old sexually liberated feminism, when the likes of Germaine Greer didn’t want to ban photos of bikinis but instead posed for them?

I’m sorry, Brendan, but no; it seems you, and your fellow critics, are rather missing the point.

Body shaming is a feminist issue. It’s a hugely important feminist issue. And yet our responses to it are necessarily patchy and inconsistent. What else could they be? We are in the thick of it, trying to live in these bodies, these fleshy sources of shame, even as we try to analyse the dynamics that surround them. If body shaming wasn’t so effective in diminishing our entitlement to space, we’d feel this angry all the time. We wouldn’t need particular flashpoints such as that provided by Protein World. But who could keep that up? Not someone who isn’t even sure of her right to exist in her present form. 

Indeed, it seems to me “body shaming” is a terribly weak term to describe the enormous impact of a misogynist, fat-hating culture on women’s self-esteem. It suggests a momentary embarrassment, a fleeting discomfort, not a constant feeling of revulsion that ends up forming the backdrop to all other experiences of the world. Hatred of the flesh inhabits the flesh. It lives in every cell. It is impossible to rationalise away. Rationalisations take place in the brain but a self-hatred that has taken years to build up goes through to your very core. I do not think, in words, “I am fat,” but my arm might brush against my stomach – my thighs might rub – I might catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in a mirror – and I feel a darkness, a fury at myself, that is never far from the surface. For brief moments every day I will find my body uninhabitable. I will despair. Then I will force myself not to think about it, even though I feel it, as a dark, dull undertone, all the time. I was not born feeling like this. I learned it.

Katie Hopkins is correct to say that feminism is not about being fat. It is about women's liberation. It is about women no longer being seen as the property of men. It is about women being able to own their own bodies, their own labour, their own words, their own time. A culture that tells women and girls that their bodies, by default, take up too much space is not a culture that recognises this ownership. It is a culture that continues to treat women’s bodies as things to which women themselves have no particular right. In much the same way that women are nominally permitted to speak in public but, in ways both implicit and explicit, prevented from doing so freely, women have been granted nominal ownership of their bodies without ever being allowed to forget the public meaning of their flesh.

It is frankly laughable to couch the feminist fightback against body shaming as a form of censorship. Indulging in dog whistle islamophobia, O’Neill compares feminists who defaced Protein World adverts to “Muslims in Birmingham [who] used black spray paint to deface an ad for H&M featuring a woman in a yellow bikini”. He ignores the fact that in the body shaming culture he champions, women are being asked to do something far worse than merely cover up; they're told to pare away their own flesh, starve it into sexless oblivion. The Protein World advert tells women to "put it away" far more forcefully than any preacher. Hide that body, that flesh, that self. We are so offended at it that we won't demand that you shroud it in cloth; we want you to make sure it barely exists.

There is nothing sassy or sexy or free in being starving, food-obsessed and cold (and yes, some of the models in these adverts may be healthy, but for the vast majority of women a healthy physique is not synonymous with “endless youth, a tiny waist and pert yet massive breasts”).  The “old sexually liberated feminism” is a million miles away from the hungry, hairless bodies to which today’s women and girls are supposed to aspire. In the mind of men such as O’Neill, female bodies have been “liberated” only for further objectification. The sexually liberated man gets to fuck more; the sexually liberated women is merely told she can aspire to be fuckable, regardless of how such aspirations might dull her own sexual responses.  It is not surprising that so many women with eating disorders end up desiring, not to look like the woman in the Protein World adverts, but to go far beyond that point. They do not wish to play this game at all.

Pregnant, I am experiencing a brief reprieve from all this. My body is increasingly cumbersome but the payback is that I feel an outsider and hence am "allowed" to take up space. If I catch sight of myself in a reflective surface I do not feel obliged to breathe in. My stomach curves out, big and round. I like resting my hand on it, not just, I think, as some protective maternal gesture, but for the sheer joy of having a massive, fuck-off belly which is mine, all mine. Of course, in a few months' time I will be expected to worry about getting my pre-baby body "back". And I will. The “post-baby body” is not the body of a giver of life, but a broken tool in need of repair. I wish I could bottle what I feel right now, saving it for later, but I know I cannot. 

Rejecting all the magazines, posters and products that tell us we should be thinner is incredibly hard, not least because it takes more than logic. I’ve known being thin doesn’t make you happy ever since I was first hospitalised for anorexia in 1987. Almost thirty years later, I still want to be tiny. Living in the world as it is now, I feel that the less of me there is, the greater percentage of me I’d be entitled to own. Feelings such as this are strong. My hope is that sometimes anger can be stronger. We need to seize on the protests we have, those flames that flare up, and to feed both them and ourselves. We cannot think our way out of this. We have to fight back with our very fleshy presence, our material selves. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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