Since the 1940s chocolate advertising has largely been dominated by stereotyped and hypersexualized images of women, or sexualized images of men FOR women4. They depict women with a lack of self-control, of women caving to their ‘guilty’ pleasures, of women giving in to the temptation and sins of chocolate4. This form of advertising, however, has consequences that go beyond its blatantly offensive stereotypes. Such highly gendered advertising perpetuates images of perfection that in turn create impossible standards. The resulting culture is one of indulgence and shame that often has extremely negative consequences. To combat the negative imagery that exists in advertising, there needs to be a shift, where women are portrayed as inspirations of a healthy lifestyle that encourages moderation instead of guilt and perfection.
“A six-pack that melts a girl’s heart.” This ad often appears in critiques of chocolate advertising. It shows the abs of what appears to be a black male, clearly edited and enhanced. The ad makes reference to the temptation of the male body for women in the same way that chocolate also tempts women. This reinforces the stereotype that women are both sex crazed and obsessed with chocolate; a stereotype that is largely a consequence of chocolate’s supposed aphrodisiac qualities4. But I would like to dig a little further into the effects of this ad. To sell the product, the advertisement compares Dove chocolate to this impossibly perfect male figure. The association begins with women, who are clearly the target of this ad, desiring this perfect male figure. His figure dominates the visual space of the ad, filling the image with a picture of desire for women. The attention then focuses to the bottom right hand corner, to the bar of chocolate. This bar and the figure have the same coloring, the same editing, and even the same shaping. This resemblance serves to create an immediate association between the man that is desirable and the chocolate, thereby making that chocolate desirable. The text at the bottom is the final focus, since it is small print that blends into the coloring of the picture, which serves to reinforce the association between this “perfect” man and thus the perfect chocolate that all women are supposed to want desperately. This ad plays to the sexual desires of women as well as their insecurities about body image and its implications for actually being in a relationship with the perfect man. This ad has two major implications: 1) it is created based on the idea that women must desire the ‘perfect’ man who is represented by singularly physical (and unattainable) attributes and 2) that men do the “melting” while women are the ones who are “melted”, reinforcing a hetero-normative sexual hierarchy that chocolate advertising has long perpetuated. As well there is a distinct contradiction at work- the male figure is perfect in this ad, thereby selling the chocolate to women. However, according to mainstream media, to get the perfect man, women shouldn’t being eating chocolate because they too need a perfect body! Such impossible standards and contradictions breed a culture that shames women and places them into an inferior relationship with the men around them.
The entire purpose of advertisements is to make consumers buy a product. But in ads like the Dove ad above, marketers are inflicting a ridiculous cultural stigma onto customers with potentially very damaging effects. In a 2009 study, researchers found that women who were exposed to advertisements that used thin models were more likely to avoid chocolate2. The counter to this avoidance was that the women then experienced extreme cravings for chocolate since they were intentionally depriving themselves of it, leading to excessive indulgence and feelings of guilt and shame2. The study concluded that this could be a possible link to a culture of eating disorders brought on by the exposure to the advertisements2. The Dove ad that uses a male model may be less directly correlated to female eating disorders, but it still has massive psychological effects and contributes to the impossible standard that is present in our culture.
As a response to such negative and damaging advertising, I created an ad that featured images of the top female rock climbers in the world. I chose pictures that intentionally showed them doing their sport rather than modeling. My purpose in including them was to inspire rather than demoralize women. These women constitute several generations of ground breaking female athletes at the top of their sport, competing and often ahead of their male counterparts. These pictures show their skill and strength rather than objectifying them. The accompanying slogan is a direct response to the previous reference that only males have six-packs and muscles. Additionally I think that despite our crazy guilt over what NOT to eat, chocolate can have a healthy place in our diet. In moderation, it can in fact be a very positive food, and not just an indulgence to an irrational craving. By showing that real women eat chocolate on a daily basis as part of a balanced diet serves to encourage a healthy lifestyle that is not fraught by a binge and purge mentality.
Ads that encourage healthy habits instead of guilt and impossible standards do actually exist in the world of advertising. In an ad for JoJo’s chocolate bark (a homemade dark chocolate snack), we encounter a woman with an inspirational story who is simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle after a close call with cancer. Additionally, the ad features a woman and a man who do cross fit and eat the bark, showing its benefits as well as showing real unedited people who live a healthy active life. While not entirely rid of stereotypes (white woman in her kitchen, making chocolate that her son likes to eat… sounds eerily similar to the original housewife ads of Cadbury and Rowntree) I think it is a step in the right direction. Ads like this will help to break the relationship between women and the stereotypes of guilty eating and hypersexualization, as well as help to make chocolate a part of a healthy balanced lifestyle.
- Dove Chocolate. Dove Chocolate Ads and Commercials Archive, Seoul. Ed. Mars, INC.
- Durkin, K., and K. Rae. “P02-53 Women and Chocolate Advertising: Exposure to Thin Models Exacerbates Ambivalence.” European Psychiatry1 (2009): S743. Doi:10.1016/S0924-9338(09)70976-9. Web.
- Food Creators. “JoJo’s Chocolate: Cure the Craving”. Youtube. Dec.22, 2014. Web.
- Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
- Photos used to make the advertisement
- Abshire, Megan. SBC at ABS Nationals. 2015. Rock and Ice the Climbing Magazine, Colorado Springs.
- Burcham, John. A Female Rock Climber in Joshua Tree National Park, California. National Geographic Creative. Sports, Joshua Tree National Park.
- Patagonia Climbing Ambassador, Lynn Hill. 1993. Patagonia, Ventura, Ca.