What Happened When This Woman Stripped To Her Bikini To Protest Body-Shaming

23-year-old Londoner Fiona Longmuir has long spoken out against assorted forms of misogyny on her site, The Escapologist's Daughter, but supplement company Protein World's now-infamous new ad campaign struck her as even more sinister than the usual crush of body-shaming marketing. In the Protein World ads, launched in London and now blanketing subways and billboards in NYC, a slender, airbrushed-to-oblivion model peers into the middle distance alongside the slogan "ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?" "I’d seen this advert around, and something about it really grinds my gears," Longmuir blogged on April 22. "I know that there are a billion adverts like this around, but this was the one that pushed me over the edge. Sorry, Protein World, you were the unlucky straw that broke the feminist’s back."

Incensed by the implication that she had to be "ready" with anything other than sunscreen to exist on a beach, Longmuir connected with fellow blogger Tara Costello of the blog Zusterschapp after Tara tweeted a photo of herself giving a Protein World ad the middle finger on April 21. The two met the following day at Charing Cross Station, stripped down to their bikinis in the middle of the crowd, and asked a supportive passerby to snap them looking so over it in front of a Protein World ad. When they shared the photo, the internet exploded with admiration and vitriol alike. "We've had people question our intentions, troll us on Twitter by saying that WE are the ones promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, and even had a blog post dedicated to why what we did was 'hypocritical'," Costello told The Huffington Post. "There’ve been so many comments on my body, it’s ridiculous," Longmuir commented to the New Statesman.

The backlash fueled the women's fire, however, and they organized a successful gathering of bikini-clad protesters "taking back the beach" at Hyde Park on May 2. (The ads have since been banned in the U.K.) New York City's response to Protein World's ads has been similarly skeptical, as our on-the-street interviews show. Protein World, for its part, has remained unapologetic, responding with the below charming comment to one critic on Twitter.
We caught up with Longmuir on what was going through her head through this saga and how she recognized that Protein World is trolling, hard.

Had you ever met Tara before posing with her in that photo in front of the Protein World ad?
"I had never met her before we did the photograph! I'd seen the adverts and thought it might be fun to take a photo in front of them in my bikini, but I didn't know where the full-size ones were. So when Tara posted the photo of her giving one of them the finger, I'd tweeted her to ask where it was. The next day, we were standing in the middle of a crowded Charing Cross station in our bikinis!"

Have you been surprised by the public response to your message?
"To be honest, I was totally taken aback by the response to our photo, both positive and negative. The sheer volume of it has been astonishing. It's funny, I didn't think my message was particularly controversial: The model in the adverts looks gorgeous, but that's not the only way to be gorgeous. So I don't think it was the message that people reacted angrily to. The negative comments seemed to follow depressingly familiar misogynistic stereotypes: that we were taking out our insecurities on other people, that we were jealous, that we were hysterical, that we were attention-seeking. Sadly, it seems like women are still expected to just keep our mouths shut. [Since we spoke out], I've been lucky enough to speak at a few different events about feminism and body confidence, so that's been really fun."

You share on your blog that after reading tweets from Protein World "telling women to 'grow up' and branding them 'crazy'" you realized that they are "just trolls" — how did that realization shift your approach to fighting their message?
"Protein World's response completely took their power away, for me. To take a woman like Juliette, [another women involved in the protesting,] who was trying to open a discussion about her experiences with eating disorders and how advertising contributed to that, and mock her mental health and her body...that's bullying. They're just bullies. And I have absolutely no respect for a company that openly bullies people."

Are you worried that overt protesting is bringing more attention, not to mention sales, to a company that is clearly enjoying the notoriety?
"I think the question about bringing them publicity is a really important one, and it's something we were taunted with a lot during our campaign. But to me, it was never really about Protein World. It was about offering an alternative image to the one that's pushed on us from every single billboard. Our photograph was shared all over the world, and in Take Back the Beach, we took something that was promoting self-hatred and turned it into a huge body-positive love-fest. And I think that was worth it."

What's next for you?
"I would love to get involved in teaching young girls that their bodies are brilliant — and try to counteract some of the awful messages that are out there. And of course, as a writer, I'll continue to write about issues that affect all of us."

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