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Women, Body Image and Chocolate: A Case Study through Advertisements

If a very skinny woman buys chocolate, people might think that it is not unusual because how would she be able to maintain that body while eating chocolate? However, if people were to see a larger woman buying chocolate, they might think that her chocolate consumption explains why she has a bigger body. Both guesses can be wrong in reality; maybe the larger woman buys chocolate only once a year but this example demonstrates the connection we often make between women, body image and chocolate.

Since the 19th century, women have been confined to distorted beliefs about beauty, health, eating, and appetite. Having a lean, fat-free body became the new religion. Like any religion, failure to follow it, meaning becoming overweight, results in damnation. In following the religion, one is guaranteed a more beautiful, sexy, successful self. However, historically, the ideal body image was not skinny women. Plumpness was a sign of emotional well-being and good health (Seid, 1994). In time, the obsession with slenderness emerged, and certain food such as chocolate started to be vilified. Slim became attractive, sexy and healthy. As the ideal body image as well as the image of dieting and the understanding of health for women changed, chocolate advertisements have also changed to parallel these broader concepts. We can see this through early advertisements, a close analysis of Dove chocolate commercials since 2000 and the raw cacao movement.

As women and children became the primary consumers of sugar products in 19th century, chocolate advertisements quickly started to market to women not as individual consumers but as mothers and wives. Mintz discusses in his book “Sweetness and Power” that as sugar became cheaper and more popular in households, wives and children drastically increased their sugar consumption (Mintz, 1985). Around early 20th century, chocolate advertisements started to focus on this consumption trend. As Robertson mentions in her article, the consumption of chocolate became feminized (Robertson, 2009). Women, as the main person responsible for the family’s health, were assigned by advertising companies the role to provide wholesome cocoa for the family (Robertson, 2009). As an example, the Rowntree advertisement below highlights the relationship between a mother and her children. Her children desperately want chocolate but the mom, who also looks like a housewife, perfectly balances the chocolate in her hand that she is probably about to give to the children to calm them down. In this advertisement, chocolate is shown as an intermediary in a mother-child relationship.

Rowntree advertisement of a mother and her children
Rowntree cacao advertisement of a mother and her children

Appealing to women as mothers in advertisements varied by product: the image of women as mothers in cacao advertisements changed into wives who get their husband to buy chocolate for them in chocolate advertisements. The Rowntree chocolate advertisement below portrays a woman receiving boxed chocolate from her husband who is eager to see her reaction. Similar to the advertisement above, women are shown in the context of a family and not primarily as individual consumers.

Rowntree chocolate advertisement of a couple
Rowntree chocolate advertisement of a couple

Over time, however, the portrayal of women as wives or mothers changed into a focus on them as individual consumers. Dove chocolate is a chocolate company that builds on the image of women who buys chocolate to enjoy by themselves. Dove chocolate, sold as “Galaxy” in the UK and other countries, is a brand made and marketed by Mars Company since 1986 (“Mars Acquires the Dove Bar” article). It started in Chicago as “Dove Candies and Ice Cream” by Leo Stefanos in 1939. Dove produces a variety of chocolate products including milk chocolate, chocolate truffles, chocolate with nut varieties and ice creams. Since 2000s, the brand’s advertisements have been mostly focused on women, often hyper-sexualized, indulging in chocolate and losing control. Although women are typically portrayed as indulging in chocolate in their advertisements, the message given about indulging changes over time.

In Dove’s “Eat Up Your Moment” commercial, released around early 2000s, a woman is portrayed as simply indulging in chocolate without any concerns about her body image. She is literally “eating up her moment,” meaning the only thing she cares about is her ice cream. Her hair is messy, adding to her sexualized image because of the stereotype of women with messy hair after sexual intercourse. As chocolate is depicted as an innate desire for women, it goes together with other innate needs such as sex. Thus, she is portrayed as an “irrational narcissistic consumer” (Robertson, 2009), who demonstrates the wonderful feeling of indulging in chocolate. The camera is only focused on Dove chocolate ice cream and her face. The camera does not even show the rest of her body. Her body image, or any other concern about life, does not matter. As can be seen from this advertisement, the association of a slim body image and beauty and sexual appeal is not emphasized. This advertisement approximately corresponds to the time in the 19th century when dietetics and nutrition separated from medicine as a field, and when chocolate came to be as much associated with health problems as with health benefits (Watson et al., 2013). However, it does not acknowledge the concerns that a woman might have by gaining calories from chocolate and potentially getting fatter and less attractive. It does not acknowledge the concerns regarding ideal body image and how eating chocolate deviates from that ideal.

Dove’s “Senses” commercial resembles the previous advertisement and does not overtly refer to any body image or dieting concerns. The commercial is all about senses and being aroused. It demonstrates chocolate as a freedom from adulthood (Barthel, 1989). According to this notion, chocolate relieves people from the boredom of the real world and puts them in a euphoric state in which they give in to their innate need for chocolate. The woman in the commercial is very thin that even her collarbones are prominent. She looks very aroused and enjoys the stimulation in her body from eating chocolate. The background voice in the commercial is soft and sultry, and resembles a female bedroom voice that is indicative of her increased sensations. The message implied in the advertisement is clear: indulge in chocolate and you would still be able to have your ideal, thin body.

Around 2010, Dove released a series of “Only Human” and “Confessions” commercials that acknowledge women’s concerns of body image more directly and emphasize that it is okay to indulge and not have a “perfect” body. The advertisement starts with an average looking woman saying, “we are only human but we try to be perfect.” In these commercials, women pretend as if high heels are comfortable, or waxing does not hurt much in time. Although women are aware of the sensory gratifications of chocolate, they are also concerned about potentially unhealthy nutritional properties and weight gain associated with over-indulgence in chocolate (Benford and Gough, 2006). Thus, they reduce the use of chocolate or omit it completely to lose weight (Mooney et al., 2009). As portrayed in the advertisements, just like the pain of high heels or pain of waxing, gaining weight from chocolate can make women feel bad or guilty. However, instead, as the commercial communicates, they should “cut some slack” and let themselves indulge in chocolate.

Divine chocolate advertisement
Divine chocolate advertisement

In Divine chocolate advertisements, women farmers are depicted as producers and cosmopolitan consumers of chocolate (Leissle, 2012). As Robertson discusses in her book, women as consumers of chocolate have historically been depicted as obsessed by chocolate (Robertson, 2009). The woman in the advertisement is a Ghanian cacao farmer of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative (Leissle, 2012) holding a piece of chocolate in her hand. She is wearing revealing clothes that highlight her breasts and has an alluring pose. She looks thin, sexy and sassy. The advertisement makes the viewer think that if even a female farmer who produces chocolate, and thus likely consumes a lot of it as well, is that thin, an individual female consumer would be able to stay thin too. She would be inspired by the standards of physical “excellence” that the model in the advertisement represents (Joshi et al., 2004).

As chocolate and advertisement companies cultivated the understanding of women’s concerns about their body images, they sparked a raw cacao movement. Raw cacao is the raw cacao nibs and beans that do not go through processing used in making chocolate such as roasting and steaming. In this way, raw chocolate companies intend to create “diet chocolate” that is especially endorsed by the popular Paleo diet. In his interview, David Wolfe, founder of various health and nutrition websites, discusses the potential benefits of raw cacao. He mentions that it is “10,15,20 times more antioxidants than green tea” and “30 times higher in antioxidants than wine.” He also suggests that raw cacao food is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, different than processed chocolate that contains no vitamin C because “it is all destroyed through the process by heat.” He adds that raw cacao is one of highest natural sources of magnesium, copper and iron. As a result, he emphasizes that raw cacao can be used as a mineral supplement. However, he does not provide any evidence to back up his claims, not does he mention the potential health risks of raw cacao such as containing mycotoxins or salmonella (Copetti et al., 2011). As corporations realize women’s emphasis and concerns about their body image, they can be deceptive and make claims without backing up with any scientific evidence. The raw chocolate companies, and other chocolate companies such as Dove and Divine, market their products to women while deceiving them as if the companies take into account the concerns related to women’s body images. It is crucial to not fall into media traps about health and nutrition. You are beautiful and your body is perfect, no matter what you consume.


  • Barthel, Diane. “Modernism and Marketing: The Chocolate Box Revisited.” Theory, Culture & Society (1989): 429-38.
  • Benford, R., & Gough, B. (2006). Defining and defending ‘unhealthy’ practices. A discourse analysis of chocolate ‘addicts’ accounts. Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 427–440.
  • Copetti, M., Iamanaka, B., Frisvad, J., Pereira, J., & Taniwaki, M. (2011). Mycobiota of cocoa: From farm to chocolate. Food Microbiology, 1499-1504.
  • Joshi, R., Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (2004). Self-enhancing effects of exposure to thin body images. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 35, 333–341.
  • Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies2 (2012): 121-39.
  • “Mars Acquires The Dove Bar.” New York Times. 1986-08-12. Retrieved 2010-01-05.
  • Mintz, S. (1985). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Mooney, E., Farley, H., & Strugnell, C. (2009). A qualitative investigation into the opinions of adolescent females regarding their body image concerns and dieting practices in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). Appetite, 52, 485–491.
  • Seid, Roberta P. 1994. “Too Close to the Bone: The Historical Context for Women’s Obsession with Slenderness.” In Feminist Perspectives on Eating Disorders, ed. Fallon P., Katzman M. A., and Wooley S. C. New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Watson, Ronald Ross, Victor R. Preedy, and Sherma Zibadi, eds. 2013. Chocolate in Health and Nutrition. pp. 11-22, 265-276.

Images (in order of appearance):

Women’s Problematic Portrayal in Chocolate Advertisements

In advertisements, women are often portrayed as losing control when they eat chocolate. They are often shown as aroused and only focused on indulging in chocolate. However, what is problematic about these types of advertisements is that they portray women as sexual objects, and as irrational and weak human beings who cannot control themselves. These advertisements, regardless of whether they represent female consumers or producers, are hyper-sexualized in order to demonstrate that women have an innate need for chocolate, and to encourage them to indulge. Thus, chocolate advertisements undermine women’s power in society, and as cacao farmers. In order to counteract this bias towards women, we created an advertisement that shows women as strong and powerful.

Nutella advertisement
Nutella advertisement

In Nutella’s advertisement, a young woman is portrayed as highly aroused due to Nutella, a famous hazelnut spread made by the Ferrero Rocher company. The woman’s eyes are only focused on the Nutella jar. Her hair is messy, and she looks like she is not even worried about that. Her messy hair also adds to her sexualized image because of the stereotype of women with messy hair after sexual intercourse. As Robertson discusses in her book, women as consumers of chocolate have historically been depicted as obsessed by chocolate (Robertson 35).

With her backpack hanging from her right shoulder, she looks like a young woman about to go to school. A young woman might have been picked for the advertisement to demonstrate the fantasy promoted by chocolate manufacturers that chocolate is a freedom from adulthood (Barthel 1989). According to this notion, chocolate relieves people from the boredom of the real world and puts them in a euphoric state in which they give in to their innate need for chocolate. The narrative behind the advertisement seems like the young lady was about to go to school, but instead, she got intrigued by Nutella and lost control completely, forgetting about her responsibilities such as going to school, and her appearance. It also seems like she does not mind having Nutella all around her face. In fact, her tongue is visible, trying to eat Nutella around her mouth. The caption “everyone wants it” merely adds to the sexual tone of the representation of this young woman. As chocolate is depicted as an innate desire for women, it goes together with other innate needs such as sex. Thus, she is portrayed as an “irrational narcissistic consumer” (Robertson 33), who shows women that it is okay to indulge. But, the advertisement does not demonstrate the hardship behind producing chocolate. She is only portrayed as a consumer and definitely not as a producer.

Divine Chocolate Advertisement
Divine Chocolate Advertisement

However women are featured in advertisements, whether they are producers or consumers, they are portrayed in a hyper-sexualized way. The above advertisement shows a woman who is a cacao producer but still portrays her as a sexual object. The woman in the advertisement is a Ghanian cacao farmer of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative (Leissle 123) holding a piece of chocolate in her hand. She is also a co-owner of Divine Chocolate, a company that the above advertisement markets. The advertisement highlights her breasts especially with revealing clothing and her sassy, alluring pose. The caption of the advertisement also alludes to her attractiveness by suggesting that the viewer has an “appetite” for the woman in the ad. Leissle claims that Divine Chocolate advertisements offer an opportunity to demonstrate women farmers as actors and beneficiaries in transnational exchanges of materials such as cacao and chocolate (Leissle 122). While the advertisement does more than Nutella advertisement in looking beyond the image of women as mere consumers of chocolate, it fails to show them in a non-sexual context.

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Closer Image of Our Advertisement

In order to push back against this sexualized image of women, we created an advertisement that demonstrates women as rational consumers and active producers. In our advertisement, the women are portrayed as ordinary people who are happy working in cacao farms to produce chocolate. The pictures used in the advertisements are taken when the women are in cacao farms and are carrying cacao beans. They are in a normal pose and wearing daily clothes that they work in. Their facial expressions are very natural and realistic. The woman on the right is smiling as she is carrying the cacao pods but her smile is not seductive; it is purely a representation of the joy she gets as a cacao farmer.

Women are shown as sexualized, weak consumers of chocolate in advertisements. This is problematic in mainly two ways: women are sexualized, and the actual importance of producing cacao is undermined by the way these images turn female producers into indulgent consumers. The image of women as “irrationally overwhelmed and rendered slaves of chocolate” (Robertson 54) is embedded in the ideologies of our society. The sexualization of chocolate represents the societal ideology that women are objects, and diminishes their sense of agency and importance as contributors to society. As long as the contemporary image of women does not change, it seems unlikely that such portrayals would cease to exist.


Barthel, Diane. “Modernism and Marketing: The Chocolate Box Revisited.” Theory, Culture & Society (1989): 429-38. Print.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Print.

Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History.” Manchester University Press, New York. 2009. Print.

Images (in order of appearance):

  1. “Nutella Advertising.” Behance. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <;.
  2. “Divine Chocolate with Social Flavour -Impressive Magazine.” Impressive Magazine. 24 July 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <;.

Art and History II: The Changing Value of Sugar as a Decorative Material in Britain

In Britain, four hundred years ago, sugar was a luxury item that only the elite had access to. The craze for sugar was widespread among them. At this time, sugar was used decoratively as a symbol of wealth and nobility because it was expensive and easy to mold into decorative use. Over time, however, the price of sugar decreased and it became more accessible. As a result, sugar lost its value as a symbol of wealth and the elite lost interest in using sugar as a decorative material.

Because sugar cane could not grow in the British climate, sugar was not available in Britain until transportation and trading was developed enough to bring sugar into the country ( After sugar started being imported in the 1600s, as Mintz describes, the price made it beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest (82). As a result, displaying decorations made of sugar became a symbol of wealth, power and social status.

Sugar was popular among the elite because it was sweet and also easy to shape. Decorations made of sugar were made to be “admired and then eaten by guests” (Mintz 92). Cooks of the time discovered the relative ease with which other edibles such as almond and rice can be combined with sugar in liquid or solid form (Mintz 87). Such combinations resulted in pastes that were used to sculpture edible and preservable forms (Mintz 88). Sugar paste was used to form objects such as platters, dishes, glasses, and cups. At the end of a banquet, guests either ate all the cutlery made of sugar or break them (Mintz 92).

The image below from an illuminated manuscript portrays sugar’s popularity as a decorative material among the elites. Tables at royal banquets were embellished with ornate dishes, especially with sugar sculptures, enabling the host to show off his wealth and status. Two servants in the image carry sugar sculptures, one in the form of a ship and the other, a castle. Presenting sugar artwork at a royal feast, the host highlights his wealth and ability to afford using a rare commodity like sugar for embellishment.

An illuminated manuscript of a royal feast in late 15th century
An illuminated manuscript of a royal feast in the late 15th century

In the 1800s, as sugar became cheaper and more plentiful with the emergence of forced labor, its potency as a symbol of wealth and status declined. At that period of time, middle class gained access to sugar and started to emulate the elite’s use of sugar as a decorative material. Mrs. Glasse’s special confectionery cookbook of 1760 included elaborate displays for tables, resembling the festive tables of Henry IV or Archbishop Warham (Mintz 94). The image below represents how the cookbook was used as a manual that was “plain and easy,” that anybody would be able to follow the instructions in it. She used the association between sugar as a decorative material and the king to appeal to a wider, lower class audience. Sugar’s spread in the lower classes of British society caused sugar to lose power to distinguish elites. Hence, with the increased availability of sugar, this culinary art lost most of its appeal, even for the middle class (Mintz 94).

Mrs. Glasse’s special confectionery cookbook of 1760

Today, sugar products have become so mainstream that they are no longer associated with upper class. As sugar prices decreased and it became widely available, sugar in the form of decoration fell out of favor among the elites. A rarity in 1650 became a luxury in 1750 and transformed into a virtual necessity by 1850 (Mintz 148). Sugar’s importance and value transformed from an essential and alluring substance formed into art for banquet tables to a quick and easily accessible snack made into the products below. In order to understand the industrialization of sugar products, it is important to take a closer look at labor in sugar factories. How did sugar, a display of wealth in 1600s, eventually become a source of wealth?

Sugar products as snacks in the 21st century


Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Group, 1985. Print.

“About Sugar: History of Sugar.” Sugar Nutrition UK. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. < >.

Images (in order of appearance):

  1. “Royal Feast.” British Library. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. < >.
  2. “Gastronomy Books.” Library of Congress LC Online Catalog. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. < >.
  3. “Accidentally Vegan Food List.” PETA Accidentally Vegan Food List Comments. PETA. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. < >.

Art and History: The Changing Values of Cacao in Mayan Culture

In contemporary society, chocolate is a mainstream food accessible to nearly everyone. However, 1500 years ago, it used to be a luxurious item for the upper class. By examining iconography, translating glyphs, analyzing chemical residues on ceramic vessels, and studying various sources, researchers have revealed a variety of religious, economic and social roles of cacao in pre-Columbian Central America. Cacao transformed from having a spiritual value to a monetary, and later on, to a social value before it became mainstream. Mayan artwork, including vases and hieroglyphic writings, demonstrates the changing economic and social values of cacao in history.

As the Maya utilized hieroglyphic writing in books, the identification of the cacao drink with the gods became evident. The Dresden Codex highlights the ritual activities in their culture, which includes drawings of “seated gods holding cacao pods, or dishes with cacao beans” (Co&Co, 42). Even the scientific name of cacao, theobroma cacao, means “the food of the gods” (Presilla, 7). After initiating contact, Mayans performed ritual acts to appease their deities, which included cacao served in a ceramic incense burner like the one shown below (Powis et al, 86).


The glyphs and pictured scenes on Maya pots demonstrate chocolate as a serving to kings and nobles. The image below represents a Mayan vase showing a lord with a frothy cacao drink.


The polychromic ceramic vessel below, found in the tomb of a nobleman in Honduras, is thought to be used for serving chocolate. It portrays two richly dressed figures and two servants, associating chocolate as a status symbol in the Mayan world.


Many Classic Maya pots and jars, including the furnishings in burial chambers, depict chocolate as an important element of opulent feasts. (Presilla, 12). In the Mayan era, a merchant was obligated to host an extensive banquet to rise in the social ladder, where the cacao drink was expected to be one of the delicacies served at the table (Coe & Coe, 97). Cacao beans were represented during certain rites such as at marriage ceremonies, and served as tributes and currency. Similarly, in the post-Conquest illustrated manuscript named Codice Mendoza, cacao tributes can be seen as records sent in basket or jars from different provinces (Presilla,17). According to Coe & Coe (2013), parallel to cacao’s use as a tribute, the Mayans used cacao beans as legal currency (58).

The significance of cacao in Mayan culture is portrayed in various artistic creations such as vases, drawings and writings. Although once a luxury item, cacao has become a daily item in modern society. The implication of colonial transformations is crucial in order to understand the drastic difference between the past and current value of chocolate. As an example, when Aztecs and later on, Spanish Conquistadors, ruled Mesoamerica, the cultural value of cacao changed. The effect of the power alterations in Mesoamerica on the societal value of cacao is a topic to further investigate.


Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2009. Print.

“The Maya and the Ka’kau.” Authentic Maya, 2011.

Powis, Terry G., Fred Valdez, Thomas R. Hester, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Stanley M. Tarka. “Spouted Vessels and Cacao Use among the Preclassic Maya.” Latin American Antiquity, 2002. Print.

“The Origins of Cacao in the Americas.” Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University/Cambridge/United States, 2015.