The On and Off Relationship Between Women and Chocolate

The stereotypical association between women and chocolate is no hidden secret; chocolate is branded as the sinful, forbidden temptation, making women aroused, irrational and unable to resist. However, the use of gender stereotypes in chocolate advertising is nothing new. Throughout history, women have been the target of chocolate advertising. As societal constraints and stereotypes of women have changed, the depiction of women in chocolate advertisements has shifted to fit these trends. One theme has remained consistent though; chocolate is the woman’s best kept “secret”, associated with love, joy and pleasure.

The modern-day portrayal of chocolate as a “feminine” food is rooted in the role of women throughout history. The True History of Chocolate cites the Aztec women as responsible for “the adoption of chocolate drink by the invaders”, —the European settlers (Coe & Coe 114). As Spanish men took Aztec women as wives and concubines, Colonial Mexican housewives became primarily Aztec and chocolate became embedded into the cuisine of New Spain and eventually all of Europe. Additionally, Spanish women are also accredited with developing an inclination towards chocolate before the men; women fancied the drinking chocolate that their female servants had introduced them to (Coe & Coe 114). Tales of female chocolate smugglers, mistresses creating early chocolate recipes and women using chocolate to make “love potions” in the 17th and 18th centuries have also contributed to the notion that the relationship between women and chocolate dates back several centuries (Lindell).

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An ad for chocolate in Victorian times. Taken from http://www.c-spot.com

In the Victorian era, women were expected to be very elegant, calm and docile. “Victorians had conduct manuals that educated elite women on how to eat in a feminine way, which forbade showing any desire for food or participating in indulgence and overeating” (Fahim 7).  Chocolate was portrayed as an indulgence that women could enjoy while maintaining this proper image. These themes are evident in 19th century chocolate advertisements, with young, dressed up women enjoy chocolate, often being served instead of serving.  The portrayal of chocolate at this time inspired the invention of the brownie. In the late 1800s,  Bertha Potter Palmer invented the brownie as a “ladies dessert’ to be used in box lunches at the Women’s Building at the Fair, edible without getting a lady’s gloved fingers dirty” (Lindell).

In this chocolate ad from the 1930s, the children are helping with baking, a responsibility typical of the mother
In this chocolate ad from the 1930s, the children are helping with baking, a responsibility typical of the mother. Taken from design.tutsplus.com

In the 1930s, chocolate advertising began targeting mothers, marketing chocolate as a “family drink”. During the Great Depression, households were often large with extended family living together and added pressure on mothers. Chocolate was marketed as not only a way to affordably please a large family, but also enhance the health of children. Rowntree introduced a “Special Mother’s Campaign”, claiming that their product was more “bone and muscle-building than ordinary cocoa” (Robertson 30). Chocolate advertisements also showed children helping their mothers with chores and household duties, alleviating some responsibility from the mother. The Great Depression also forced many women to enter the workforce to support their families. Cadbury and Kit-Kat responded to this trend with products and advertisements aimed towards female office workers. The Cadbury Dairy Milk used the slogan “At 11am do you FLIP or do you FLOP” to accompany an ad featuring two photographs of young woman at a typewriter.  In the first image, the worker is refreshed and alert, but in the second she rests her head in one hand, fatigued by the work (Robertson 24).

Chocolate ads became more romanticized in the 1940's and 1950's
Chocolate ads became more romanticized in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Taken from Pinterest.

In the 1940s and 50s, chocolate advertisements focused on more of a “housewife” figure rather than motherhood and family life. Chocolate began to involve romantic associations and cultural trends of World War II introduced the objectification women as sexual objects in these advertisements to maintain male morale (Robertson 31). If a man gave a woman chocolate as a gift, it was considered a romantic gesture and also a sign that he was the “right type of man” (Robertson 31). Women were thrilled to receive such gifts from their romantic interests and the chocolate was portrayed as the source of excitement rather than the thoughtfulness of the gift. Excitement over chocolate evolved to obsession as ads for Dairy Box began to depict women as in a relationship soleywith the chocolate. The TV series, I Love Lucy, epitomizes the stereotypes presented in these chocolate advertisements. In one episode, Lucy tries working a day at her husband’s job at Kramer’s Kitchen Kandy. Lucy and her friend are unable to hold the job because instead of packing the chocolates, the two women begin to stuff the chocolates in their mouths and blouses. When the two women reunite with their husbands, the men appropriately gift them boxes of chocolate (“A Concise History of Chocolate”). These romantic and sexual associations with chocolate marked the beginning of a trend that is still widely evident in chocolate advertising today.

A famous episode of "I Love Lucy". Lucy cannot control herself from stuffing the chocolates into her mouth and shirt.
A famous episode of “I Love Lucy”. Lucy cannot control herself from stuffing the chocolates into her mouth and shirt. Taken from fastcompany.com

Since the 1950s, advertisements have become increasingly sexually explicit and chocolate is no exception to this trend. “Advertisers have mystified chocolate, portraying it as an intoxicant possessing the power to comfort, reward and satisfy sexual desires. In particular, advertisers portray chocolate as satisfying female sexual desires” (Fahim 4). Modern commercials for Dove, Ghiradelli, Hershey’s and Godiva depict women savoring each bite of chocolate, being completely at peace and in a state of happiness. Chocolate is not just painted as a treat, but the ultimate indulgence:“a sinful treat that women (thin, attractive women — but that’s a topic for another day) consume because they just can’t resist” (Bratskeir). In one British study of 1,500 participants, women reported prefering chocolate over sex: “while 87 per cent of men would opt for sex, 52 per cent of women would rather curl up with a bar of chocolate” ( “Women Prefer Chocolate To Sex”). The fetishization of chocolate in advertising has even exceeded the level of being a mere metaphor for sexual indulgence. Vice Cream is a ‘female-only’ ice-cream that contains plant-based pleasure enhance, Lady Prelox and promises to “give women’s sexual appetites a deliciously natural boost” (Victor). Similarly, Dorcel Store, an online adult store with a collection of chocolate sex-related toys, released an advertisement featuring a dildo-shaped chocolate creation accompanied by the slogan “Enjoy yourself without getting fat. Happy Easter ladies” (“Mademoiselle Scarlett Creates Ad for Chocolate Dildo”).  In both of these instances, chocolate has indeed become part of the sexual experience and the targeted audience is women.

A Mademoiselle Scarlett ad using chocolate and sexualization, aimed towards women
A Mademoiselle Scarlett ad using chocolate and sexualization, aimed towards women. Taken from Little Black Book online.
Part of the advertising campaign for "Vice Cream"
Part of the advertising campaign for “Vice Cream”. Taken from Metro UK.

Health concerns over the high sugar and fat content in chocolate have always existed, but, chocolate companies have managed to adapt to changing health trends. When new dietary guidelines condemning saturated fats appeared in 1977, the sugar industry capitalized and “fat-free” and “low-fat” products became popular. In today’s health and exercised-crazed society, people believe beauty is maintained by “resisting the temptation of sweet and fatty foods such as chocolate” (Robertson 35). Chocolate is labeled as a cause of acne and skin blemishes, a food that leads to obesity and symbol of poor

A stock image that embodies negative connotations about chocolate (such as laziness and obesity). The concerning caption of this image is "Fat woman choosing chocolate cake instead of doing gymnastics, smiling happily."
A stock image available on 123RF that embodies negative connotations about chocolate (such as laziness and obesity). The concerning description of this image is “Fat woman choosing chocolate cake instead of doing gymnastics, smiling happily.”

willpower.  “Women identify chocolate as prominent among components of their diet that they must reduce or omit if they wish to regulate their weight” (Durkin). In response, several chocolate products have been introduced to cater to this lifestyle followed by many women. Chocolate-flavored protein bars, meal replacement drinks and other “diet foods” like Skinny Cow chocolate icecream, satisfy the desires for both chocolate and physical fitness. There has also been a recent push on chocolate milk as the ideal workout recovery drink. However, chocolate companies still encourage the “allowance” of small amounts of chocolate candy and show that beauty can still be maintained while treating one’s self to small indulgences. Chocolate companies want to convince female consumers that they can still achieve the”unrealistically slender, facially beautiful and with flawless skin” look of the women in chocolate advertisements, as long as they do not overindulge (Durkin).

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A “diet-friendly” chocolate product. Taken from Walmart.com
A chocolate-flavored health product
A chocolate-flavored protein product. Available at Walmart.com

Despite the long history of chocolate being associated with women, this “forbidden relationship” is a “culturally-manufactured” myth used to market and sell the commodity to women. Women are not biologically more inclined towards chocolate than men and much of the attitudes that have been adopted about chocolate reflect stereotypes formed in American society. In Spain, for example, women don’t report craving chocolate perimensturally nearly as much as women in the U.S. do (Bratskeir). Hollywood movies and television have embodied the stereotypes pushed on us by chocolate companies, forming an entire culture surrounding chocolate consumption. Even though chocolate branding is much more sexually-charged and health conscious than in the past, the basic principles still exist and the target audience is still women. As the interests and roles of women have changed, chocolate culture has adapted.

Works Cited

“A Concise History of Chocolate.” C-spot. N.p., 2015. Web.

Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger.” The Huffington Post 11 Oct. 2014: n. pag. Print.

Coe, Sophie D. The True History of Chocolate. 3rd ed. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Durkin, Kevin, Kirsty Rae, and Werner G.k. Stritzke. “The Effect of Images of Thin and Overweight Body Shapes on Women’s Ambivalence towards Chocolate.” Appetite 58.1 (2012): 222-26. ScienceDirect. Web.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” 2010. Occidental College OxyScholar-Sociology Student Scholarship.

Lindell, Crystal. “Women and Chocolate: A History Lesson.” Candy Industry 180.3 (2015): 1-21. ProQuest. Web.

“Mademoiselle Scarlett Creates Ad for Chocolate Dildo | LBBOnline.” Mademoiselle Scarlett Creates Ad for Chocolate Dildo. Little Black Book, Apr. 2014. Web. 13 May 2015.
Victor, Anucyia. “Would YOU Eat ‘Viagra Ice Cream’? Women-only Chocolate Dessert Promising to Make Your Sex Life Saucier Hits Shelves in Time for Valentine’s Day.” DailyMail.com. Associated Newspapers Ltd, 11 Feb. 2015. Web.
Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate Consumption.” Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. 1-35. Print.
“Women Prefer Chocolate to Sex; LIFESTYLE.(News).” The Birmingham Post (England). N.p., 5 June 2007. Web. 13 May 2015.
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