“Summer belongs to us, too”

What Spain’s body positivity advert tells us about a movement that has turned toxic.
Whatever their intentions, those behind this campaign have contributed to demeaning the bodies of people who are often devalued.

What makes the perfect beach body?

I know my answer to this question has changed considerably over the past few years. Whereas before, my focus would have been on slimming down as much as possible, I no longer feel this way. This culture change is due, in part, to the radical body positivity movement, which has gained considerable mainstream recognition for its focus on accepting all bodies.

Previously, the stereotypical beach body would have been that of an able-bodied, thin, white woman. While this perspective is still out there, there has been a shift away from it too. A shift Spain’s Ministry of Equality tried to celebrate with the launch of their summer campaign, which encouraged “all women” to go to the beach. Their promotional illustration to launch this campaign featured five women of different sizes, ages and ethnicities in bathing costumes enjoying the sun.

The hope was to validate different body types, and fight against the impossible and unrealistic expectations of the past. If you had any doubts, their slogan made it clear: “Summer belongs to us, too.” So far, so good.

But the campaign has since been marred by controversy. Women who believe their images form the basis of the illustration have accused the illustrator of using and editing their likeness without permission.

One of the women who has spoken out is British model, influencer and amputee Sian Green-Lord, whose likeness in the advert resembles a photo she posted on Instagram in May. However, in the illustration, her prosthetic leg has been edited out. Speaking on Instagram, she expressed her frustration: “There’s one thing using my image without my permission. But there’s another thing editing my body.”

Influencer and model Nyome Nicholas-Williams found the use of her image “rude and disrespectful”.

Another woman, cancer survivor Juliet FitzPatrick shared this sentiment. Although she has had a double mastectomy, the advert shows a woman who looks like her with one breast. Speaking to the BBC, she said: “For me it is about how my body has been used and represented without my permission.”

Without permission, and without payment too. The illustrator, Arte Mapache, has since tweeted an apology and said she will share the money she received for the campaign with the people it featured, following online backlash. The Women’s Institute, part of Spain’s Equality ministry, has said they were not aware images of real women had been used.

While compensation is a positive step forward, I’d argue that traditional models or influencers – who are often young, thin, white and able-bodied – would never have been treated this way in the first place. And the limited data that is available seems to back me up. A 2020 survey in the UK found that 37 per cent of influencers felt the amount they were offered by brands could decrease as a result of their ethnicity. A 2021 study in the US found that the racial pay gap between white and black, indigenous or people of colour influencers is 29 per cent.