Since feminism and body positivity has been appropriated by big brands to sell us more stuff, we have seen the “Dovification” of beauty and clothing campaigns. It is a trend that has led to a spike in what I am going to call oxymoronic advertising: companies boasting of body-positive shapewear, feminist high heels and empowering lingerie. The recent MYA cosmetic surgery advert is the logical outcome of this shift toward shoppable feminism.
The company’s latest “Every Body” advert would score full points in a game of “every advert aimed at women in 2019” bingo. There’s the real woman’s first steps into fitness: here it is a weightlifter, focused on being “strong instead of skinny”. Then there is the archetypal millennial, complete with tattoos and candyfloss hair. And, of course, the obligatory ethnic-minority woman. All are embracing their insecurities, within the limits that still allow MYA to peddle surgical fixes for all these things. The real kicker is when it is declared that “Sherrifa is a feminist and had a breast enlargement (you can do both)”. It feels as if MYA is trying to posit this as a political cause in itself.
In 2017, the company had an advert banned for “being irresponsible and likely to cause harm to under-18-year-olds”. It featured women – this time, more reminiscent of the cast of The Only Way Is Essex – discussing breast enhancement surgery and various insecurities they had about their bodies. In 2018, it got banned again, following complaints that the ads, which appeared during Love Island, “exploited young women’s insecurities about their bodies”. “These girls had breast enlargements with MYA and all feel amazing,” the voiceover cooed, as women who looked like contestants on the show pranced around the pool. A year later, MYA has managed to get around criticism by linking “feeling amazing” to surgery and body positivity.
It is not the first brand to sell the same old thing in “woker” packaging. In 2015, Protein World’s London Underground advert, which asked people whether they were “beach body ready” alongside a picture of a slim bikinied model, caused uproar. Yet in a 2017 poster it doubled down, depicting a taut Khloé Kardashian in a leotard alongside the text: “Can you keep up with a Kardashian?” By 2018 the brand launched an “inclusive, body-positive” #EveryBodyWorks campaign, no doubt aimed at the very same “snowflakes” who had been offended by its original adverts.
If we actually did the things these brands say they are encouraging us to do – embrace our bodies, become comfortable with ageing, forgo shaving – the companies would cease to exist. There are several ways to skin a cat and there are several ways for brands to tell you you are too fat: they are simply now doing so in a more diverse, polite way.
• Yomi Adegoke is a Guardian columnist