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Are you beach body ready? That was the question on everyone’s lips this week. Well, almost everyone’s lips. It wasn’t on mine as they were too busy engulfing a slice of Papa John’s pizza – gorging myself on a greasy triangle of Deep South joy. What a fat fuck I am.
As you may have guessed, I am not beach body ready. Not only should my body not be allowed on the beach, it should only really be viewed following a detailed safety demonstration. In terms of my general frame, I’d probably have to describe it as somewhere between a femidom full of boiled rice and a half-savaged hog’s carcass. In many ways I like to see it as less of a human form, and more of an accolade to atheism; a slug-like tribute to the artistic failings of an unloving god. Am I beach body ready? Am I fuck.
Thankfully however, I am a man.
As a man I automatically don’t have to worry about whether or not I’m “ready” for the beach. It doesn’t matter if I’m ugly, sexy, fat or thin, these are all just things for women to worry about. Sexy, sexy women.
At least, that’s the view of magic bean manufacturer Protein World, whose recent advertising campaign caused a significant stir within the non-sexist community. The advert, which featured a semi-anorexic accompanied by the slogan “are you beach body ready?”, has been slated on social media for promoting the idea that if you don’t look like a supermodel, then you may as well hang up your vagina and call it a day.
Following several of the adverts being defaced on the London Underground, mainstream media began focusing in on the story as a potential touchpaper for issues of feminism, equality and even depression. While some of this coverage represented truly insightful reporting, the one thing that it failed to examine – or even admit – was the role that journalists themselves have played in creating such judgmental cultures in the first place.
As is so often the case with modern media, journalists like to discuss these issues with a level of anthropological distance, acting as though their own behavior isn’t instrumental in promoting and maintaining the issues that they discuss. It doesn’t matter if it’s a casual reference to Kate Middleton’s dress size or the Daily Mail’s infamous ‘sidebar of shame’; the modern media is obsessed with female body image. Newspapers use bikini-clad women to drive clicks, increase sales and even promote the harrowing tales of female murder victims.
And it’s not just representations of women that get systematically abused within the UK press. Body shaming has also become a major source of entertainment for newspaper editors, with obese individuals being regularly demonised as either inhuman benefit scroungers or disgusting burdens on the NHS. In fact, in the exact same week as newspapers were condemning the Beach Body Ready campaign, the Sun, Telegraph, Mail and Metro all published this:
Yes, in typical Doublespeak style, this week saw the UK press mock a man for his morbid obesity with one breath, and then warn us all of the horrors of body shaming with their next. While a handful of these papers made mention of the tragic reasons behind the man’s obesity (a reduction in mental wellbeing following the death of his mother), the overall tone was one of disapproval and freak show intrigue. Not only did the Sun and the Mail choose to focus on his disability benefits and NHS bill, the Telegraph and Metro went as far as to place his story within their “Weird News” sections. Here, in a P.T. Barnum hall of fame, his topless photo sat amongst tales of bestiality, coprophilia, and various incarnations of severe mental disorders.
Yet despite their glaring inconsistency, the media would never admit that they are closer to the problem of body shaming than they are to its solution. In amongst all their rhetoric of “uncovering truths”, “offering criticism” and “representing the people”, newspapers are virtually never willing to turn their journalistic gaze inwards upon their own deeply flawed institutions.
Body shaming is now part and parcel of the media package, it helps to drive clicks, fill advertising space and ultimately increase sales. As far as the big news corporations are concerned this is all that matters. If papers can be sold off the back of an anti-body shaming movement, then they will be, if two days later they can be sold off the back of body-shaming itself, even better.