Women Fought To Get A Body-Shaming Billboard Replaced With An Empowering Message — And Won

When was the last time you went to the gym? If the answer is anything less than "I'm currently at the gym right now," quick! Look down! Your body may have transformed into a rusty barrel while you weren't paying attention. At least, that's the implication of a sexist billboard in Sri Lanka that went up in mid-January. Its body-shaming message drew widespread criticism online, and soon, the fight to take it down moved to the real world. After activists spoke to local officials, the advertisement was removed — and in its place, women were allowed to display an anti-sexism advertisement for a few days.

Bustle reached out to Osmo Fitness, the gym that ran the billboard, for comment, and will update upon response. Osmo Fitness posted an official statement on their Facebook page on Jan. 19 regarding the billboard (which can be read in full here):

"We would like to reiterate that we did not have any intention whatsoever to degrade, offend, insult or undermine any one person or women in general and that our moral obligation towards improving the overall health of all Sri Lankans is something that we take very seriously. ... We respect the different viewpoints of the general public and regret any offence that was generated in response to the subject advertisement. Hence, we have decided to withdraw all communications relating to the advertisement in question."

According to the BBC, a gym in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, put up an ad making a comparison guaranteed to make you roll your eyes so hard you'll strain a muscle. The billboard displays a rusty barrel on one side, accompanied by the text "this is no shape for a woman." Despite appearances, this is not, in fact, a message to our alien overlords instructing them in the finer points of human anatomy. Nope, it's an advertisement for a gym, which many interpreted as meant to make women feel bad about themselves as motivation to join their gym.

Infuriated? So were plenty of other people. Women and men took to social media to express their disappointment with the ad and Osmo Fitness, saying it was body-shaming and sexist.

One user called Osmo a "scumbag gym," while another said the ad was "disgusting."

"Osmo Fitness... seems to be mastering one thing quite openly: Body-shaming women," user @aruni_t concluded.

Speaking to the BBC, activist Marisa de Silva said that the billboard exemplifies the "typical objectification and sexist usage of women by the ad industry," but it's particularly offensive because it tries to tell women the "ideal shape they should resemble, almost as though it is the sole basis of their worth."

Several users suggested boycotting the gym, while others headed over to its Facebook page, asking the company to take down the billboard. According to the BBC, though, the gym kept the ad pinned to the top of its Facebook page despite the outrage. That's when activists got creative. First, according to the BBC, they contacted the marketing manager, who didn't offer to take it down. Next, they turned to the minister of the Kotte constituency, Harsha de Silva, who tweeted that he asked the Colombo MC Commissioner to remove the "unapproved offensive" billboard.

The next day, he tweeted that it had finally been covered up, and in its place was an anti-sexism message. In Sri Lanka's three primary languages (Sinhala, Tamil, and English), the new billboard read, "No more space for sexism."

That same day, Osmo Fitness issued the official statement in response to the controversy. On Facebook, the company said the ad was part of an awareness campaign about obesity and offered a free two-week membership and physical assessment to any woman between Jan. 19 and Jan. 26.

Regardless of whether they actually apologized, the outcome is the same: Women came together to remove a sexist billboard, and they got it done. That's what I would call a happy ending.