If you’ve traveled on the London Underground or picked up a UK paper in the last four weeks, you’ll surely recognise this advertisement. It is the controversial campaign by Protein World that has provoked not one but two armies clashing over contrasting values about feminism and female body image. Verbal spears fly from one side believing companies like Protein World are irresponsibly promoting unrealistic physical ideals and alienating the vast majority of ‘normal’ women in the process. Defending against their blows is another group that complains we’ve grown too sensitive and ought to do more to discourage obesity in Britain.
But throughout the whole debate, I believe both parties have missed the most important point: self-satisfaction.
To me, the biggest thing missing from this Protein World poster is a smiling face. Behind the scenes, the now infamous model-in-the-yellow-bikini Renee Somerfield has stepped up to say she trains hard and eats well (and amply) to achieve her impressive physique. Admittedly, I would question if she’s ever touched the supplements from Protein World. Powders and pills will never deliver the benefits that real food can, and Renee comes across as too smart to trade proper meals for liquid substitutes. Shortcuts don’t work, people! But the merits of the product and the definition of false advertising are a whole different debate. Still, I credit Protein World at least for sparking a much-needed debate about body image.
Let me be quick to say there are plenty of beautiful bodies out there, and not all of them look like Renee’s. Among my own body icons are Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz, Jessica Ennis and Anya Lahiri (the face of Barry’s Bootcamp UK). Each of these inspiring women looks different from the next, but what unites them in my mind is their hard work and commitment to health. Jessica Alba’s Instagram feed is full of evidence of tough daily workouts. Jess Ennis’s achievements need no explanation. Cameron Diaz authored The Body Book because she believed in promoting the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. And Anya is the very motivational devil on my shoulder when it comes to squeezing out an extra few seconds on my treadmill sprints. It is that dedication I try to channel in my own training – and every time I think about reaching for a sugary biscuit over a nutrient-rich snack.
It’s less about emulating their appearances than their capabilities. I don’t want to look like anyone else, simply the healthiest and fittest version of myself. And that comes down to the same principles that any fitness icon has employed: discipline, maximum effort, a balanced diet and a positive attitude. And anyone worthy of the increasingly prevalent hashtag ‘fitspo’ should also be seen sporting a giant smile – because it is only when by knowing you’ve done your very best that you can reap the rewards of self-satisfaction.
So which team do I support in the Protein World debate? Honestly, I can empathise with both sides. With well over half the UK population weighing in as ‘obese’ (67% of men and 58% of women) and putting themselves at risk of diabetes, heart disease and other weight-related illnesses, I can’t just sit still and say everything is fine the way it is. Just as we criticise too-skinny role models, choosing overweight heroes is every bit as dangerous. We can’t do right by balancing the scales with the opposite extreme of unhealthy. Likewise, I believe that if we all looked the same we’d have a pretty robotic and uninspiring society, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’.
But I do believe we can do better. And I believe the best measure of success comes from deep down inside. Could you exercise more? Could you eat healthier? Could you treat your body with more respect? Let that be what determines your self-satisfaction. And by all means, be happy when you’ve achieved your best. Because that’s a success story worth smiling about.