Published: 23:08 BST, 2 May 2015 | Updated: 14:14 BST, 3 May 2015
When Australian swimwear model Renee Somerfield bared her bronzed bikini-clad body on London Underground hoardings a few weeks ago, it sparked uproar among feminists.
The advertisement campaign pushing a controversial new weight-loss product outraged objectors who felt its punchline – ‘Are You Beach Body Ready?’ – meant only the super-slim should be seen at the seaside this summer.
Yet Somerfield, 23, turned the situation on its head, telling her critics that she was the victim, not the perpetrator, of body shape discrimination. ‘I don’t like looking too skinny,’ the poster girl said, and she went on to claim that her taut figure was the result of great genes and a healthy, active lifestyle.
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Australian swimwear model Renee Somerfield has bared her bronzed bikini-clad body in a Protein World advert. While she claims her figure is due to great genes, we reveal how she really stays trim
She was the one being ‘body shamed’, she continued. ‘I couldn’t work as a full-time model by starving myself, dieting or not looking after my body.’
And indeed, there is no evidence she is anything but healthy – but the truth about Somerfield and her beauty regime is a little more complicated. She is a committed vegan who avoids all animal-related products, including the Slender Blend shake from Protein World, the company behind the ads she is being paid to promote.
And it turns out the featherweight 8st 3lb model supplements her unusual diet with a bizarre daily super-smoothie made from ‘pea protein’.
She recently tweeted: ‘Been loving my daily pea protein smoothies.’ But she made no mention of the dairy-based Slender Blend shake.
Neither did Somerfield mention that her favourite protein shake, extracted from the humble green and yellow garden pea, is widely used for weight loss as it triggers a hormone known to curb sweet and carbohydrate cravings, and leaves the body feeling fuller for longer.
Informal studies have revealed that a daily dose of the fat-free, cholesterol-free pea protein reduces calorie intake by a staggering 1,500 per day, making it popular among slimmers, bodybuilders and workout junkies who watch what they eat.
Bodybuilders use it to boost their energy levels before exercising and as an aid to repair overworked muscles after intensive gym sessions.
But for pin-ups such as Somerfield, the supplement is particularly suitable because it doesn’t contain glucose or lactose, known to cause stomach bloating.
The 8st 3lb model, pictured (right) after an ocean swim, drinks a protein shake extracted from the humble green and yellow garden pea, which triggers a hormone known to curb sweet and carbohydrate cravings
The Mail on Sunday has established that Somerfield, who at 5ft 10in is a tiny size 6, has previously attributed her 33C-23-33 figure to a dietary regime in which she grazes sparingly but regularly on berries, salad, grains, green vegetables and tofu.
An average woman of her size and frame would normally weigh considerably more than Ms Somerfield – at least 9st 9lb.
‘You will never find me at the gym,’ the model has said, telling her Instagram fans that she ‘loathes’ indoor exercise and instead hones her figure with daily weight resistance training on the beach and sprints across the dunes.
She avoids the shake she is paid to promote
But in the end, said Somerfield, she’s really just genetically blessed. ‘I’ve always been skinny,’ she insists. ‘Growing up that way felt very awkward but I have grown to love and embrace my body.’
But then, in an analysis that will concern her objectors, she says there is a world of difference between being ‘tight skinny’ and ‘soft skinny’. Soft skinny, she says, is evident in women who don’t regularly workout.
The row is refusing to die down. London’s Tube network said it would be taking the posters down from trains and stations as the campaign was coming to an end in any case. Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority launched an investigation to see if the campaign was ‘socially irresponsible’.
Yesterday, dozens of female bikini-clad protesters gathered in Hyde Park in Central London to complain about the ads. But the controversy has certainly done the young model’s career no harm.
Somerfield has been described as the sexiest animal rights’ activist on earth, and in the past week brought her total of Instagram followers close to one million.
The 23-year-old, pictured (left) in Australia and (right) in LA, also grazes sparingly but regularly on berries, salad, grains, green vegetables and tofu
Now she’s tweeting that she’s poised to take the controversial slimming ad campaign to New York and expects to arrive amid a blaze of publicity thanks to the debate.
She has already said she would like to be a model for lingerie firm Victoria’s Secret– and now that might well be within grasp.
The row has also highlighted a number of claims about the safety of protein supplements.
Richard Staveley (above), global head of marketing for Protein World, said: ‘We have been inundated with people defacing advertisements, climbing over railway tracks in order to graffiti them. I think that’s quite extreme behaviour'
For although the supporters of shakes such as pea protein state the product reduces the risk of diseases such as heart attack and strokes, conflicting scientific studies claim that the supplements can cause kidney and liver problems, and more significantly, increase the risk of cancer and diabetes.
Sales of protein powders, which cost between £15 and £45 per tub, are rocketing in Britain. The value of the market has grown from £73 million in 2007 to a staggering £170 million in 2012.
Within two years, market analyst Euromonitor expects it to reach £358 million. The trend has been boosted by actress-turned-lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, whose recipes for detox smoothies containing protein powder have become an internet sensation.
Describing the response to the advertising campaign, Richard Staveley, global head of marketing for Protein World, said: ‘We have been inundated with people defacing advertisements, ripping them, down, climbing over railway tracks in order to graffiti them. I think that’s quite extreme behaviour.
‘We have had threats to our head office, physical and violent threats. We had a bomb threat – that’s been reported to the police and I can’t comment further on that.’
Yet commercially, he said, the campaign had been a ‘huge success’, claiming it has brought the company 30,000 new customers and £2 million in sales. ‘It’s been a whirlwind over the past two weeks,’ he said.
‘It’s been tremendous. It’s an extreme minority that made a lot of noise. It gives us a platform to shout about our true message, which is “get off your a and do something about it.”’