Emma Robertson said, “Chocolate has long-standing associations with female sexuality,” and discusses in depth the ramifications of this for African and 20th century British women in her book, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (pages 1-3). This history has naturally carried over into advertisements, the main way in which chocolate companies interact with chocolate consumers besides their actual products. Lately, these ads have become overtly sexual to an extreme nature, depicting women not so much as complex people, but instead as purely sexual beings, with chocolate as the object of their desire. By depicting men side by side with these women, we may observe the true female-specific sexualization of chocolate.
In the above picture, for example, two people are eating a small chocolate ball. The focus of the actual advertisement (right) is on the all in the woman’s mouth and on her eyes. She seems to be looking straight out of the picture at the viewer, and communicating a message. The message itself, while perhaps unclear specifically, seems to indicate something sexual about the chocolate ball that the woman’s lips are seductively caressing. In fact, the woman isn’t even eating the chocolate! Instead, she has pressed it up against her teeth. The absurdity of that detail underscores the fact that this advertisement is not so much about the food itself, but about the way it wants its viewers to think about it. The companion picture attempts to achieve this same effect, but with a bearded man. He too looks straight at the viewer as he pushes a chocolate ball into his mouth. The sexual pose of a hand running through his hair further underscores his attempt at sexualizing the chocolate ball. Both images similarly construct a chocolate ball as not a means for sustenance, but that pleasure is sexual rather than gustatory.
These ads can become more explicit, though. Whereas the topmost ad was merely sexual in the abstract, this advertisement (on the left) depicts an actual sexual act. The woman is wearing nothing but eye makeup and red lipstick, which underscores the contrast between her white skin, white teeth, red lips, and the dark chocolate bar. This picture may technically be about chocolate, but it is a rather heavy-handed attempt to make viewers think about something entirely different. The other image, of a man with a bar in a similar position, underscores the absurdity of the actual advertisement, which it plays off of. The outright phallic imagery of a chocolate bar in advertisements can at time be brazen.
As the advertisement (on the left) shows, women can also be depicted as dominated by chocolate. In this picture, the woman is eating a bar that is bigger than her face and that surely she, nor any other single human, can finish. The chocolate bar is so expansive that it goes out of the frame, leaving the viewer to wonder where exactly it ends. Here, again, the personhood of the woman in question is denied, as she becomes a sexual being concerned only with the chocolate that threatens to envelop her. In this picture, the chocolate appears to be the dominant force in the relationship. The accompanying image may fail at capturing that particular effect because such enormous chocolate bars are hard to find, but it highlights and exaggerates the absurdity of depicting a person biting into a the corner of a giant chocolate bar.
Finally, the most absurd of all the tropes of sexualizing women in chocolate advertisements may be the one that covers women in chocolate. The advertisement (on the right) and the accompanying image on the left are so divorced from the actual chocolate product that one may wonder why a chocolate company would even bother producing it. The bar present in both pictures gives the same sexualizing effects as in the above images, but the lathering of melted chocolate on the woman is first and foremost irrelevant, as no one would ever lather themselves in melted chocolate (except perhaps for this advertisement), but also further exacerbates the lack of agency and personhood of the model. She is enthralled in the throes of chocolate. Almost like a messy toddler, she seems unable to properly eat. The sexualization of her shoving the bar into her mouth, though, makes the image far more sinister. Not only is she deprived of her personhood by the absurdity of her costume, she is deprived of it by the sexualization of her pose. The attempt at duplication of this effect in the accompanying image, again, underscores the absurdity of this practice. On a man, it seems ludicrous. On a woman, it is business as usual.
In her book, Putting on Appearances: Gender and Advertising, Diane Barthel claims, “We are not passive recipients of goods, using them instead as a ‘cultural mode’ to express our own sense of identity” (page 30). In this light, the sexual ads become even more alarming. In practical terms, no one would use a tactic as an advertisement if it didn’t sell. The fact that there are scores of examples of the blatant sexualization of women in chocolate ads means that, as a society, this is what we want to see. This is what makes us want to buy chocolate. These ads, however, deprive their models of all agency and personhood, and depict them only as sexual objects, a trend that is perhaps illustrated best when images of men in similar positions are placed in conversation with them. Chocolate ads aren’t always about chocolate.
Diane Barthel, Putting on Appearances: Gender and Advertising (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988).
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History
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