Is this ad encouraging or body-shaming?
The store, Boots, which has almost 2,500 locations around the U.K., recently released a promo for its Mbody protein powder. The video shows a woman in athleticwear exercising with a kettle bell. The words "tone up not bulk up" pop up behind her. The clip then cuts away to the woman taking a sip from a shake. Boots also released a similar ad with another model, promoting the same "tone up not bulk up" phrase.
Peach Lee Ray, a 26-year-old confidence coach and pole dancing instructor from Wirral, England, took to her personal Facebook page to opine on the ad when she spotted it on Instagram, calling out Boots for "spreading this misinformation to women."
"So many women are scared to invest in their health and fitness because they worry about 'bulking up', gaining 'too much' muscle and not feeling feminine," she wrote. "The fitness industry has used the idea of 'toning' and it continues to support the idea that women should not be muscular or take pride in a certain bodily aesthetic."
Several of Ray's Facebook friends commented on the post, praising her message. "It's completely irresponsible to keep peddling these fitness myths in this way," one user wrote.
Boots' press office shared the following statement with TODAY Style: "At Boots UK we have listened to our customers and know that they look for a range of different results from protein powders. We want to offer choice and know that some are looking for an alternative to protein powders currently available on the market and MBody has been created to offer an alternative and more natural choice in sports nutrition for women."
As for Ray, she told TODAY Style that she wanted to communicate how certain terminology is used as marketing ploys. "Toning," she said, is often made out to be a "female-friendly" word.
"Toning and bulking are synonyms for the same concept: building muscle," she said. "To create a differentiation is misleading."
She herself fields questions from prospective pole dancing students worried about "bulking up" and gaining "big, giant muscles."
Strong arms and shoulders developed when practicing, she said, aren't traditionally seen as "feminine." But she pointed out that plenty of other factors — not just a protein supplement — impact how much muscle is gained, too: genetics, hormones, diet and more.
"('Toning') plays on women's insecurity of needing to be skinny or small," Ray added. "I just want people to know I think being a strong and muscular woman is a good thing. Any company that sells fitness products has a responsibility to advertise honestly and in a way that promotes positive body image, whether that’s muscular or plus-size or very slender. Everybody’s different and we should just be aware of that when promoting or advertising."