Postcards from the edge 11

The huge mistake of saying the unsayable

Any return from a visit ‘up-country’ is greeted with at least mild interest in the Old Doom Bar. If it is to London the attention is closer. Most of us make trips of greater or lesser frequency to the Great Wen and so are not entirely unsophisticated. Still, the stuff that happens there, happens here later, if at all. So it’s worth finding out about.

The first thing your correspondent was able to report was the revival of the scantily clad female on posters in the underground. Backalong, ladies in their underwear were liberally displayed alongside the escalators and in the station concourses. Then they vanished in proper response to feminist complaints and the changing times.

Now, at least one advertiser has broken ranks. offers what seems to be a slimming product on the premise of asking if one’s body is ‘beach ready’. The exemplar is a young woman in a bikini. This, one might think, is not especially offensive. Purists might wonder why a male figure should not be shown, but it is a commonplace that – however regrettably – it is women who worry about their figures, in the pre-summer season especially, and are therefore ‘the market’.

There is an on-line campaign group called which has cited this advertisement as somehow falsifying ideas about body image and subverting people’s freedom to be comfortable with their own situation. The argument put forward is curiously mild and naive. It could quite easily present a critique of the advertisement as yet another crude objectification and exploitation of female body insecurity. Whatever: the petition sponsor asked for support in demanding its removal. As of 29 April it had over 58,000 signatories.

Yet even to those of us who confess to liking the sight of a pretty girl in a bikini, there was something rather seedy about this advertisement as we reviewed it on someone’s tablet. The crudity of the art direction was reminiscent of the cheap calendars that adorned the walls of car service garages in the 1970s. The braced and parted legs of the model and the focus on her groin, together with her ‘fuck me if you dare’ expression were, in every sense of the word, pornographic.

In Soho, the poster would not be out of place. In the day-to-day melée of the London Underground it struck a dissonant note. What we wondered, were the advertisers thinking? The readiness suggested (beach or otherwise) seemed unlikely to produce female identification other than from the most determined and sex-hungry traveller to Magaluf. To be fair, the brand website, whilst promoting idealised physiques, does feature males. It also carries commentary on the poster – both in terms of critique tweets and the company’s leader’s rebuttal of the protest leaders as ‘terrorists’. So this seems like an entertaining skirmish on the periphery of frontline feminism. The Advertising Standards Authority are adjudicating.

These reflections put pornography in its conceptual place. As a cultural manifestation or art form it is far from all bad. There may well be distinctions between porn and erotica of an intellectual and aesthetic nature. As there are in the way commerce seeks to exploit our desire for physical grace. In practical terms the issue is about how well it is done and in what context.

It seems to me that whilst (or their ad. agency) may have misjudged their marketing, the porn producers do not. Modern porn is notably democratic and non-elitist.

If you want old, fat, short and hairy having sex, you can get them all in any mix of ingredients. The romantic and beautiful are also a click (or two) away; as are people just like you. Our moral guardians get worried about some of the default (aka most accessed) offerings and their impact on young minds – female subservience and anal sex amongst other things – and there are serious issues to be debated. But the critical point is that it is for the viewer to click – and mostly we are going to do it in private.

One of the particular impacts of the Metropolis is its press of humanity. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the proximity of so much hair and flesh – clothed indeed, but the apparel merely serving to hint at the body within. For the most part, these bodies are far from ideal and we avoid contemplating them if only because we know our own forms may not withstand close scrutiny other than by someone we trust. Or of course in a context where there is collective consent, such as on a beach near Magaluf.

The proteinworld poster – apart from its aesthetic faults, makes the huge mistake of saying the unsayable in a public context. We can all enjoy a fantasy world of glamour in which some beautiful and unreachable cosmetics model clad in the lightest of fabrics smiles gnomically out at us from her delicately suggested rococo boudoir. But nowadays men and women alike are discomforted by too overt a public reminder of our bodies’ sexual bits and functions. As we stand on the escalator or sit in a crowded tube we prefer not to think of the buttocks and crotches which surround us. Especially if these are, shall we say, not the sort about which we fantasise in terms of beach readiness?

Since we regulars at the ODB (as we call it), are modest and inarticulate folk whose sex lives and predilections remain private, we didn’t get too far into the topic of pornography, or the experience of sitting in a crowded train with a stranger’s bum at face level two inches (or five centimetres) away. But we did sort of agree expressed by a range of grunts, nods and whistles that certain things had their place and that liberty was important but knowing when to draw the line wherever it might be, was too.

Note: Protein World’s three-week contract on the Underground has run its course, so the ads in question will disappear this week.


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