Updated: Feb 21, 2019
An article caught my attention this week and gave me an opportunity think a little about my work and the pressures that can face those looking to get fit.
The article in question, as reported by the BBC, described how recently elected London mayor Sadiq Khan plans to ban negative body image adverting on the Underground, on London buses and trams, and on TfL rail.
The mayor has also stated that he wants to ban all adverts on the London transport system that promote an "unhealthy or unrealistic" body image more generally.
The advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), received 378 complaints in 2015 about a weight-loss advert that appeared on London Underground, and which asked customers if they were "beach body ready".
You may well remember the advert in question (above).
Graeme Craig, TfL Commercial Development Director, has also argued that "our customers cannot simply switch off or turn a page if an advertisement offends or upsets them and we have a duty to ensure the copy we carry reflects that unique environment."
On the other hand, in criticising the move on Facebook, Sharen Kirchler, asked the question, "What happened to free speech? What happened to not being offended by everything?"
As for myself, from my relatively privileged position as a Personal Trainer, it seems obvious that people are increasingly concerned about the way they appear, and they are also confused about what is a healthy and an attractive body image.
Free speech is indeed important.
However, during his election campaign, Sadiq Khan raised the issue of advertising and its impact on those with body image issues, suggesting that if Londoners chose to elect him as their mayor (for a whole range of reasons and not only because of this particular subject, obviously), he would use his legitimate position to do what he thinks is best in this area.
And so we have the recent action to ban the (kind of) advertising in question.
Of course, freedom of speech is one thing, but being indifferent to such issues of interest to many people, and doing nothing about such issues, is another thing entirely.
We don’t build anything through a belief in freedom of speech as a principle on its own. Rather, we build a better society though conviction and being passionate about what we believe in.
This particular debate appears to me to be important because it takes place in a society where so many things appear to be dominated by business and are less and less about the people who actually make up our society.
Working in the fitness industry for many years now I can honestly say that I feel the pressure that comes from a certain mentality. The dominant (and indeed current) business and advertising culture does make you feel that you should look a certain way to appear fit and attractive and that you should take this supplement, or that you should train that way, to be a healthy and athletic person.
To be someone that stands out.
As Greame Craig so pointedly puts it though, sometimes the source of the pressure you feel in your life is in front of your face all the time and it is just too hard to ignore.
It is not easy to feel confident in such a social environment and that lack of confidence can cause all kinds of self-esteem issues.
As a Personal Trainer, I regularly encounter such insecurities and concerns in my clients, colleagues, family and friends, and it can be highly rewarding to help people so affected to interpret such issues as broadly as possible in order to feel more confident about themselves and in their body image.
Because at the end of the day our bodies are our own, they are our responsibility and they are our pleasure, no matter what they look like.
And you can put that on an advertising poster, if you like.