Controversial Protein World poster
Controversial Protein World poster

Protein World via Facebook

There's a huge poster showing a Barbie doll-figured model that's currently all over the London Underground.

The ad is for a diet supplement called Protein World, and supporters says it motivates consumers to get fit and healthy. But many others say it's simply body-shaming, and the ad has fired up debates on Twitter and Facebook about whether it's offensive.

It's also prompted an online petition to have the posters removed. Juliette Burton signed it.

“This poster is one of many that I’m sure everyone in the UK and America has to deal with,” she says. ”It’s a daily irritant, this kind of body-shaming. It’s a background noise that can really exacerbate self-esteem problems or mental health problems.”

But signing the petition and posting her support on Twitter for the removal of the poster brought the noise front and center. "Protein World immediately responded saying, ‘Why make your insecurities our problem?’ [adding a] winky face emoji," Burton says. "I was quite taken aback when I saw that.”

That promted a heated exchange between Protein World's CEO, Arjun Seth, and Twitter users supporting Burton.


Juliette Burton

Burton has long been a body image campaigner after she struggled with anorexia, compulsive eating and bulimia.

“I’m very open about my mental health problems, because I personally feel that there is nothing wrong, there is no shame," Burton says. "In fact, my mental health problems have taught me a lot about empathy, about how to treat people, about psychology, about my own self-awareness. I feel it’s important to be open about it because I believe that’s how we can break stigma.”

Seth wasn't the only one who mocked Burton online; others posting insults called her fat, ugly and crazy. But she’s also received an outpouring of support.

“It’s been overwhelming," Burton says. "I’m so grateful. It’s so heartening to see how many people will not stand not only for the disrespect around the body-shaming but mainly around the disrespect around the mental health-shaming.”

And other advertisers have taken the controversial ads as an opportunity to flip the script.

This beer company used it as a marketing opportunity.

Love them or hate them, the Protein World ad won't be around for much longer. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has banned them. The posters are set to come down in the next couple of days.

We contacted Protein World requesting a comment for this story, but the company has not yet responded to that request.

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