The Nature of Women: The sexualization of women in chocolate advertising

“Do you know that when you get an urge to eat chocolate, you shouldn’t resist- there’s a deep physical reason for it?” “When you resist the urge to eat chocolate you are ignoring one of Nature’s most serious warnings” (Robertson 35). The following phrases are from 1930s Aero chocolate advertisements aimed at female consumers. 80 years later, a 2016 Dove’s Fruit and Nut advertisement appeals to customers with a remarkably similar message, portraying women in a highly sexualized manner in order to sell chocolate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1weV9ribio

Through the use of nature imagery, Dove implies that women naturally exhibit extreme sexual desire, but at the same time, expects women to control them, with the exception of consuming chocolate. This is similar to Rowntree’s ads in the early 20th century, where Emma Robertson’s analysis in Chocolate, Women and Empire deems chocolate a socially acceptable and “natural release” of such desires. (35) Dove’s modern advertisement speaks to the larger propensity to sexualize women, using their perceived exaggerated “natural” sexual desires as justification, while also condemning and shaming them for their sexuality. My advertisement, instead, aims to indicate that it is possible to appeal to what is considered natural without perpetuating problematic gendered views.

Chocolate has a long history as a supposed aphrodisiac, connected to sin, which the advertisement plays into by sexualizing a woman who is consuming chocolate. After consuming a piece of chocolate, the woman opens her eyes and we are allowed into her inner thoughts. In an alter ego form, she walks across a desert landscape, hitting a whip against the ground, while biting into the chocolate aggressively in the real world. And in this sexulization, the advertisement also objectifies her. At the beginning of the advertisement, the only shots of her include her eyes and mouth. She is reduced to these body parts- the mouth for consuming chocolate and the eyes to represent passage into her fantasy. We only see the rest of her through the lens of her sexuality. In the multiple scenes, she wears dresses of different colors- red and brown, corresponding to the fruit and nuts in the chocolate. In this way, she becomes almost conflated with the product. When chocolate pours slowly and sensuously over fruits and nuts, it almost becomes a proxy for her body. This is furthered by the fact that fruits collide and explode, splashing onto her skin.

The woman’s sophisticated clothing indicates this isn’t a depiction of day-to-day reality, but also speaks to the idea of chocolate being an indulgence, not just of money but also of desire. With a tagline like “revel in the pleasure,” the chocolate, along with sexual desire becomes a guilty pleasure. This indulgence is also represented in her body movements. She moves fluidly and several times appears to fall back. This can symbolize “letting go” in a sense- she no longer has control of her sexual desire. The use of natural imagery, like the desert and ocean, indicates that that she is guided instead by a natural tendency. While she floats in the water, the camera zooms out to show her floating in a crystal ball. In this way, she becomes someone else’s fantasy or object of desire. She becomes commodified. This external sexualizing of the woman seems to be justified in the advertisement due to her innate sexual nature.

The advertisement can also be analyzed from the perspective of race. The woman in the advertisement is white, and initially “normal” before she consumes chocolate, becoming aroused. Although vanilla is a complex spice, historically, a dichotomy has been set up between vanilla and chocolate, with vanilla being “bland” while chocolate “exotic.” As outlined in Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance, initially, when vanilla became widespread, it was as vanilla ice cream, which when eaten by itself, can be considered plain. Later, during the 1940s, vanilla was used to describe a simple airplane, console or circuit board. And later in the 1950s and 1960s, in fashion it was used to label a simple wardrobe before transitioning into its modern day usage as something standard (Rain 248-249). Additionally, vanilla has been used as a metaphor for whiteness and chocolate as a metaphor for blackness (Martin). In an interview in a NPR article, Harryette Mullen, poet and professor at UCLA, describes “the white versus colorful- “colored”- and the chocolate versus plain vanilla” metaphor, also saying “so it’s a way of reversing the kind of implied superiority of whiteness by saying that whiteness is the less interesting color… because it’s maintained as a norm. And we also having some ideas of how normal is desired but also boring” (Chow). The advertisement shows the white woman initially as “normal,” potentially bland before consuming chocolate and becoming sexualized. The depiction reifies these perceptions, which do not place evenly the shame of sexuality upon white and black women. In the advertisement, the white woman resorts back to normal life, without any negative perception in terms of her morality that is associated with eating chocolate and the implied sexual indulgence.

My advertisement is a response to this sexualization and objectification of women. In the current advertisement, Dove attempts to appeal to nature, linking chocolate as an aphrodisiac with an innate, natural desire in women. In many chocolate advertisements, chocolate is portrayed as a natural product, through a lens of sensuality (Robertson 1).

Chocolate advertisement

My advertisement seeks to maintain this appeal to nature without the problematic portrayal of women. In this case, the Dove product is bringing the element of nature to a supermarket aisle. In the advertisement, instead of the woman being placed in the natural context, and therefore becoming a proxy for the product in a sense, she remains external to the product, a consumer with authority. I chose to include color solely for the trees and the Dove product to differentiate it from the realm of everyday, supermarket shopping. In this way, the Dove product is presented as an alternative to the industrialization that is ubiquitous in our world (which would be represented by the lack of color and vibrancy). As this advertisement relates to the environment, potentially this would be a way to capture interest from those who are conscious about environmental sustainability. Another possibility could be to also include a man shopping in a similar fashion to push back on perceptions of women being the only consumers of chocolate. Since advertisements can often perpetuate problematic societal perceptions, creating positive images could help in altering those views.

 

 

Sources:

 

Rain, Patricia. Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor And Fragrance. Penguin Group USA, 2008. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 9, Slide 12

Chow, Kat. “When Vanilla Was Brown And How We Came To See It As White.” NPR. NPR. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/03/23/291525991/when-vanilla-was-brown-and-how-we-came-to-see-it-as-white&gt;.

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