Saturday, 22 August 2009


Crossposted at my personal blog.

On my way to work, I cycle past a gym called Greens. It's a Health and Fitness Club, in fact, or perhaps even more of a lifestyle centre, complete with "stylish, fully licensed bar and brasserie" and "luxurious health and beauty salon".

Outside the car park, on the corner of a main road where hundreds of people must see them every day, Greens have two large advertisements. The posters, which are changed regularly, used to be the size of the ones in bus stops. They recently replaced the old boards with two enormous ones, nearly ten feet tall and each completely covered with a new ad.

The images below are representative of the Greens advertising style. The new ad in question featured the bum of a woman in bright pink shorts, and if I remember correctly, the model was actually pointing her finger directly at her rump. The caption read, "Does my bum look big in this?"

These ads present the female body - usually divested of its head or any other indication that it belongs to an individual person - in a purely passive, sexual way. Even the two women who seem to have been exercising, one with a Swiss ball and the other with boxing gloves, are posed to be coy, inviting, sexually receptive. This is the only image of female beauty that is possible in the Greens advert. Additionally, this is a beauty only attainable by women who have the means to buy a membership to this expensive and luxurious health club and the leisure time to spend many hours working out there.

Greens offer many classes (in aerobics and so on) and talk about health benefits on their website. I'm sure you could get fit there, but according to their advertising the primary reason for women to join is to conform to this sexualised, exclusive and unrealistic notion of beauty. For the men? Either they don't need to be advertised to, or Greens is counting on the timeworn idea that a few shots of tits and ass will lead them wherever the advertiser wants.

I say, "if I remember correctly," because I came back past Greens yesterday to find that the posters had been pulled down and the graffiti above sprayed on one of the boards: Every body is beautiful.

I was overjoyed to see this - activism for body acceptance and against this unrealistic beauty standard, in my very own neighbourhood. I have been annoyed with these ads - which are put up in several other places around the area too - since I started noticing them, almost as much for the bad puns they sport as for their representation of female beauty (they never feature men). I'd never really moved on from annoyance to anger or determination to act, though. I think part of my pleasure in seeing this graffiti is because it's a reminder that kicking against these images, which dominate our public spaces without our consent, is possible and has an effect.

I wonder who wrote this? I'd like to meet them.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Useful Resource: the Bad Science Activism Forum

I've been pointed to a very helpful resource for activism and complaint-making (thanks, Suzy!). The forum at the Bad Science website, run by Guardian science writer Ben Goldacre, has an Activism board. As well as how-tos for making complaints to several regulatory bodies, the board has many threads with suggested actions to take, encouragement and discussion on blogging and writing to fix things. The topics are of course skewed towards "bad science" (a selection from the front page of threads includes discussion of detox, vaccination and the British Chiropractic Association vs. Simon Singh) but the advice could be used in any area.

The board is admittedly UK-centric. How-to guides (stickied at the top of the page) include:

Women, men, games, cleavage

Beyond my friends' journals, the two kinds of blogs I mostly read are ones about programming and ones about politics. Typically, their content does not overlap, but the other day there was a rare exception: Both Coding Horror and Sociological Images pointed out the hilarious-yet-depressing evolution of the ads for a browser-based game called "Evony".

Starting out with a fairly generic man-in-armor-with-sword, the ad switched to showing a series of women with increasingly more cleavage - until the final ad, which is literally just cleavage. Any mention of what kind of game this is supposed to advertise has long fallen by the wayside. If I had to take a guess from the way the ad looks, I would go for strip poker, not a "Civilization"-esque empire building game.

The makers of the ads probably noticed a correlation between the amount of cleavage and the proportion of viewers who clicked on the ad - but in the process, they have outed themselves as troglodytes.

(In case you would like to see confirmation that these ads are indeed out on the web, as of the time of this writing, going to is likely to do the trick.)

Sadly, they are hardly alone. Large chunks of the video game industry understand themselves as a hetero-men-only club. The line between game mags and lad mags is frequently quite blurred, for example at, who have a "Babe of the day" section. Then there are the ubiquitous "Booth Babes" found at trade shows, a tradition of scantily clad women to be ogled by the (assumedly) all-male crowds. The few games which actually feature female main characters often treat them as mostly eye candy. And on the rare occasions where this isn't the case, certain people complain and wield photoshop.

Still, there are games developers out there who remember that women are people, not eye candy. Spiderweb Games is pretty good on that score. And then there's PopCap Games' Plants vs Zombies, who decided to have their own special take on the Evony ads:

  • Vote with your wallet. Don't play or buy games with sexist content or advertising - or at least consider the alternatives. There are plenty of online empire-building games that don't feel the need to insult their potential customers with the assumption they'll be swayed by boobies. If you like building things, you might also like FreeCiv - and you can typically buy a copy of Sim City 2000 or Alpha Centauri for a pittance.

  • Write Angry Letters: To game mags that think casual sexism is OK, to game developers who think the same, and to websites who allow said ads to be run.

For example, I sent the following letter to LiveJournal:

Dear LiveJournal team,

I have noticed that you are showing ads for the web-based game "Evony" on your site. From their cleavage-centric appearance one would guess that they advertise porn, or perhaps strip poker, though apparently they advertise a strategy game.

Certainly, the ad's creators feel the need to insult their potential customers by assuming that the sight of breasts will make us play their game. Given that (according to your stats) some 55.3% of your readership is female, and given that the majority of your male readership (myself included) probably doesn't want to be subjected to these ads either, do you really think it's appropriate to run them?

As you may be aware, there has been quite a backlash against these ads in a number of online communities, and your display of them does taint you by association. Livejournal hosts a large number of different communities, many of whom will feel less than welcome as long as you are showing these ads.

I certainly don't feel welcome.

I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.

I encourage you to send a similar letter, perhaps based on this one - but be sure to make it different enough so that it doesn't look to them as if someone just pasted the same thing a dozen times using different names.

Equally, I encourage you to send a letter to Evony. Now, given that they are still running these ads, it's likely that they are rubbing their little hands with glee at all the publicity the Internet outrage has produced. Try to make it clear to them that insulting their potential customers isn't going to work in the long run.

But if you only send one letter, go for the LJ one, or a letter to another site that's showing the ads. I think we have more of a chance shaming them into not showing the ads than Evony, who have already outed themselves as slimebags.