Well, no, Protein World, since you ask, I’m not beach body ready. And that’s fine by me – I barely ever go to the beach, so the readiness of my beach body is about as important to me as the readiness of my Gathering of the Juggalos body. But why focus on the bodies that I don’t have ready? My apartment body is always ready. Same for my walking across the street to drop my unemployment application in the mailbox body, or my In-N-Out Burger drive thru body.
I first heard about the fracas over Protein World’s allegedly body-shaming advertisements in London while listening to the radio in the car, so I had to wait until I got home to actually see what the advertisement that upset everyone looked like. And I have to be honest – when I saw it, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at the right ad, because nothing about it struck me as especially offensive.
Is the model in the ad unrealistically, probably unhealthily skinny? Yes! Does that contribute to negative body image issues? Yes! It’s definitely offensive, but I don’t find it any more offensive than any of the thousands of other advertisements and cultural messaging out there that says basically the same thing. I’m glad there’s been such a public backlash against the ad, but if I walked past it on the street it probably wouldn’t stand out to me from all the other advertisements promoting unattainable physiques.
A lot of the people lining up to defend Protein World are making the argument that that physique is attainable, and all you have to do to attain it is quit being a pussy, hit your maxes, redefine your impossible, smash some supersets, crank it up to tri-sets, don’t get tired get angry, and do cheat reps to achieve total muscle failure because nothing tastes as good as thin feels. This, like the ad, also didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary. You can usually count on a certain number of people who post lots of pictures of their sweaty abs on Instagram to be body shaming defenders, because for them it's a personal motivational tool.
No, what got my attention was when the tools who run Protein World took to Twitter to attack their critics. In response to a critical tweet from eating disorder survivor Juliette Burton, the company’s official Twitter account said, “We are a nation of sympathizers for fatties… Why make your insecurities our problem?” Later, Protein World CEO and human diarrhea fountain Arjun Seth used his personal account to defend the company by making light of Burton’s lifelong struggles with mental illness:
I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people running a company that sells premium protein powders and nutritional supplements are a bunch of dicks. But in this day and age, when brands have whole social media teams dedicated to avoiding controversy and mitigating bad press, it’s unusual to see a company openly and proudly acting like the mean jock in an 80s teen movie.
A few days into the controversy, Protein World stands by its advertisements and has made no comment on their Twitter escapades. On Thursday Richard Staveley, Protein World’s head of global marketing, defended the company, saying “We have absolutely no intention of removing the adverts because of a minority making a lot of noise… It is a shame that in 2015 there are still a minority who aren’t focusing on celebrating those who aspire to be healthier, fitter, and stronger.”
Yes, Richard – it truly is a grave injustice that the world has yet to unite in recognition of people who post daily gym selfies for all of their contributions to society at large. While we blindly celebrate doctors and teachers and humanitarians there are countless men and women doing bench presses and leg lifts in obscurity. Step aside, income inequality! Failure to properly celebrate people who exercise frequently is the real shame of our generation.
Unfortunately, no matter how badly Protein World behaves it seems unlikely they’re going to suffer that much for it. Even though the United Kingdom’s advertising regulators have banned the beach body ad, the controversy has generated so much free international publicity that there’s been speculation that all of this was a calculated PR move to build Protein World’s brand.
Like millions of other people, I’d never heard of Protein World until their ad blew up. That’s because I, like millions (billions?) of others around the world, don’t use protein powders and dietary supplements to begin with. Now I hate Protein World, but that doesn’t really affect their bottom line because I wasn’t going to be a customer anyway. Same goes for most of Protein World’s critics on Twitter – people campaigning for the acceptance of all body types probably don’t spend a lot of money on specialized weight loss and workout shakes.
The market for protein powders is relatively small, pretty much limited to fitness enthusiasts looking for an edge in their workout, and there’s no shortage of supplement manufacturers competing for those customers. Right now, virtually every protein powder aficionado on Earth knows about Protein World. They’ve set themselves apart from the crowded field of competitors.
Of course, most people buying protein shakes and supplements are probably just as offended at Protein World’s antics as everybody else and will make a point of buying from their competitors. But among the elitist subset of the fitness community, the narrative of a supplement manufacturer refusing to back down in the face of persecution by radical feminazis and assorted other fatties is really compelling. These supporters represent the thousands of new Twitter followers Protein World has gained in the past few days. They’re responsible Protein World’s much-ballyhooed uptick in sales. Protein World doesn’t need to sell to everyone: They just need a lot of seriously loyal customers, and they’ve found them.
It’s beautiful, really: A company run by preening, elitist dicks, hocking specialty supplements to other preening, elitist dicks. You know, it really is a shame that more people aren't celebrating Protein World - they're in the process of creating the biggest circlejerk of all time.