Note: due to an apparent restriction to my WordPress-ordained image-editing privileges, I’ve decided to shelve the Advertising! series for the time being. If I ever learn how to resize without clicking and dragging, or if I give up on my desire to achieve perceived post-formatting perfection, then I’ll pick it up again.
So I just watched the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. I remembered watching it when it was first released, so I was interested to watch it again and see if I might make a new reading of it, or absorb the same message, or notice information that I hadn’t noticed before. I had read vaguely that Catharine MacKinnon had had something to do with the film (as it turns out, her only inclusion was in panel discussions about the film, not in the film itself), and certainly, a documentary about a pioneer hardcore porn film should include a radical feminist, humanist perspective. It was entirely possible that I had missed it seven years ago, at the age of eighteen, long before I learned that a group of people believes in my right to have rights.
As it turns out, the documentary was a push for libertarianism, rather than providing a humanist critique of the film. It featured interviews with one self-proclaimed feminist, Camille Paglia, who identifies as a “dissident” feminist – that is, she is concerned with the advancement of women by rebelling and breaking tradition on a structural level, not so much with the advancement of women (or any group) by examining the ways in which discrimination and inequality work against them. Paglia was pro-porn in the film, and the other women who were interviewed had pro-porn perspectives, too. The humanist, radical feminists, however, were largely absent from the film, appearing very briefly so as to be criticised – the feminist perspective was entirely discounted. It’s a shame, because there are plenty of ways in which both Deep Throat and the views expressed in Inside Deep Throat could do with a little feminist-critiquing.
Though the documentary mysteriously champions Deep Throat for its promotion of female sexuality, the premise of the film, in itself, poses a danger to women’s enjoyment of sex, and freedom of sexuality – it objectifies and stultifies women, rather than liberating them. We have the imaginative notion of a woman’s clitoris existing deep inside her throat; only a long penis can bring her to orgasm. The first issue is the incorrect lesson that women can experience sexual pleasure from sex acts that only stimulate the nerve endings on men’s sex organs – a blow job only constitutes a good fuck for a man, the receiver, but here we get the message that women, the givers, are satisfied by it, all the same. Thankfully, in a statement uncharacteristic to the rest of the documentary, writer Erica Jong voices this fact:
This is a male fantasy that says, ‘I like to get my cock sucked, I really get off on it, therefore, she must too. … Look, men want to believe that the clitoris is in a woman’s throat. Because if they can believe that the clitoris is in a woman’s throat, then they can believe that by thrusting their penis into a woman’s mouth, she gets as much pleasure as they do. Guess what? It’s not true.
The film’s misrepresentation of women’s sex organs not only offers a severely warped education about women’s sexuality, steering its audience toward acts that provide women no sexual pleasure; it also posits women, the givers of pleasure in heterosexual fellatio, as the happy sexual slaves – we live to serve, and we love to serve.
Given that the clitoris is grossly misplaced in the film, it is bizarre that Inside Deep Throat celebrates it for promoting clitoral orgasms. The documentary rightly denounces its critics in the 1972 obscenity trial as diminishing the clitoral orgasm in favour of the vaginal. Dr. Kenneth Levin, a Freudian psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, is quoted:
A woman seeing this film may think that it is perfectly healthy, perfectly normal if you have a clitoral orgasm. That is all the woman needs – she’s wrong. She is wrong. And this film will strengthen her in her ignorance.
Author Helen Brown then reminds us of the “complete, utter nonsense” belief that “at that time, a real orgasm could only happen if you were with a man and his penis was inside of you.” Her message is perfect, except that the film took the clitoris – the external centre of pleasure on a woman’s body, one that she or a non-penised partner could access quite readily – and moved it penis-length-deep inside of one of her orificies – her mouth this time, instead of her vagina. The woman, essentially, has been revaginised – re-fuckholed – and where vaginal sex isn’t necessarily pleasurable for a woman, throat sex most certainly isn’t. While the documentary claims that the film has a promotive effect on women’s sexuality and women’s orgasms, instead it certainly is deleterious – giving us the same old shit, only worse.
The clitoris-in-throat premise of Deep Throat doesn’t just demote women’s enjoyment of sex, it degrades women as people. A clitoris being in a throat necessitates deep-throat fellatio, meaning that it necessitates that women broaden the scope of sex acts that they can and will perform for the sake of sexual pleasure – really, for men’s sexual pleasure. This means that we pressure women to perform novel sex acts for men’s pleasure, we experiment with a woman’s willingness to perform new sex acts, and we broaden her physical capabilities to perform such acts. Gagging is a natural reflex, but Deep Throat lead actor Linda Boreman/Lovelace learned to overcome it for her husband’s pleasure, and Deep Throat filmmakers were soon to capture it in a reproducible medium to teach to more women. Though in reality deep-throat fellatio provides zero sexual pleasure for women, it’s unnecessary, and it’s uncomfortable for women, the message would be that women must learn about it, and must learn to perform it on their partners, regardless. After all, how can we advance the sexual revolution if women won’t just get with the program already and do uncomfortable things for their menfolk? As women are compelled to perform more and more acts for the pleasure of men, acts which require hard work and practice on their part and which are pointless and uncomfortable for them, so are women degraded as humans.
The final premise-related issue is that the sex act, constructed as pleasurable for a woman, cannot be performed with a non-penised partner; it can only be performed with a penis in a woman’s throat. (As an aside: Were it performed with merely a long object, we see one of the fullest and severest degradations – not a single nerve ending is pleasantly stimulated; the act occurs solely to prove that women’s resistance can be overcome, and that it can be readily done to a woman.) This sexual restrictiveness is heterosexist, though the major victims are not gay men but lesbians – gay men needn’t worry where their clitorises are. As such, the premise of the film reinforces a compulsory heterosexuality for women – according to this plot, when it comes to women’s sexual pleasure, another woman just won’t do – just can’t do.
See how much shit Inside Deep Throat failed to discuss, in favour of promoting libertarianism? And that’s all just relating to the premise of the film.
But I’ll conclude. Just by looking at one element of Deep Throat, we see that the film is highly problematic for women and for women’s sexuality. It promotes men’s sexuality and sexual enjoyment, but it only does so to the detriment of women’s sexual enjoyment, and to the detriment and degradation of women themselves. By basing itself solely on the premise of a woman’s clitoris being relocated to the back of her throat, it provides us a warped message about women’s sexual organs; it claims to promote clitoral orgasm but instead does a reworking and expansion of penetrative sex, which is pleasurable for men but not necessarily for women; it degrades women by encouraging them to perform uncomfortable acts, and to learn new things and expand their physical capabilities for no reason other than to satisfy men; and it promotes penis sex to the exclusion and demotion of lesbian and other non-penis sex. It only works to reinforce the status quo of men being dominant to women, of women requiring men, of men’s sexuality being paramount, and of women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure being an invisible and secondary aspect of men’s and women’s sexual lives.
In case you haven’t been following, I’m discussing Jean Kilbourne’s 2010 lecture documentary film Killing Us Softly 4. We’re up to Part 2, which you can view on YouTube. Click on an image to see a larger version, and click on the link in the corresponding text to see my source for that image.
Having pointed out the danger in infantilising and sexualising women (see Part 11), Kilbourne exposes advertising’s sexualisation of little girls. First and foremost, she notes that companies have been exploiting girls in this manner for decades.
A 1959 ad for children’s lingerie from Better Homes & Gardens magazine; a perfume ad from around the 1970s; a 1976 ad for Love’s Baby Soft fragrance whose copy reads, “Because innocence is sexier than you think”.
This has become much more commonplace in recent years. Worldwide, children are sexualised in ads and pictorials – they are scantily dressed, they lie around passively, their eyes engage and invite the viewer’s gaze; sometimes, they display explicitly provocative body language and facial expressions.
This 2006 pictorial for Israel’s TNT clothing features a young girl lounging around in her bedroom looking sexy; a little girl poses in a pictorial for French company Jours Apres Lunes and their 2011 range of girls’ lingerie; a billboard in China – albeit obscured by scaffolding – advertises Disney’s range of lingerie for girls in 2008.
In January 2011, Vogue magazine caused much controversy when it published a pictorial featuring young French girls Lea, Prune and Thylane Blondeau (you can see an image of Lea and Prune from the same campaign in Part 6: Getting Us Started Young). Thylane has been the focus of the outrage; while many articles state her age to be 10, I make out that she would have been 9 at the time of the shoot.
The controversy stems from the fact that the girls, especially Thylane, exhibit highly sexualised body and facial language, they display sexual submissiveness, they wear adult clothing, and they appear in adult settings. The image to the left, which features Thylane, exemplifies the exploitative nature of the campaign: she has been told to lie on the bed with its animal print sheets, to pull her skirt to the side so that her legs are showing, and to give a sultry face. Undoubtedly, the rabbits on either side of her have a deliberate significance in the setting.
The image to the right is an ad for Armani Junior that features a prepubescent boy. Notably, his gender appears ambiguous here: his hair is long, blonde and straight, like that of the majority of women featured in advertising; and he is shirtless with only a necklace obscuring his nudity, and so he is sexualised. Unlike all of the other modern ads in this entry featuring girls who have been sexualised, this image was banned in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority, who agreed with complaints that “the advert sexualised the child, particularly because its gender was ambiguous” (see the image link). While this highlights the double standard in the treatment of boys and girls, it also brings to light some other concepts: first, that girls are sex – sex and girls are one and the same; second, that it is abhorrent for a boy to become like a girl, to become a girl, to become sex.
It is important to note, at this point, that the issue of sexualisation does not stem from children being sexual; the distinction must be made between children’s sexuality (or asexuality) – which is a normal part of their identity and development - and the sexualisation of children – which is imposed upon them by another party, in this case the media, and which forces upon them a dictatorial and artificial sexuality for the pleasure of that other party. (Not to mention that sexualising a person is a method for dominating them – see Part 11 for a clearer understanding of this.) While sexuality is wholesome and important in a child’s development, sexualising a child is destructive because it can distort their understanding of their own sexuality. Sarah McKenney, who is a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at the University of Texas, discusses making this distinction at Sociological Images.
Products aimed at little girls work to socialise them to be women – or to be a particular kind of woman – from a very young age. Recently, girls are sold both products that model to them what it is to be a woman, and products that would once only have been appropriate for use by grown women.
Barbie has provided an unachievable “woman” image for girls since 1959 – here she is as a 1965 “American Girl”; Bratz dolls, with their less rigid legs, arms and necks, have provided an even more rigid model for modern girls since 2001; Abercrombie and Fitch came under fire in 2002 for releasing a line of g-strings (thong panties) for children – see the linked article to read an opposition to their more recent release of push-up bras for children; Heelarious (“her first high heels”) is a new company that makes soft high heel shoes for babies – pushing little girls to get an early start on their high heel-induced foot-moulding regime.
Even onesies and t-shirts for infants and little girls aim to brand them, and to socialise them into a particular way of thinking about themselves and their place in the world.
Getting her started early on hating her body and tolerating it when everybody around her hates it also, her onesie queries, “Does this diaper make my butt look big?“; reminding her who is her current leaseholder and who should forever be her mentor, her onesie labels her a “Daddy’s girl“; she might have someday opted to date the highly-strung rich man, but her onesie declares to the world that it is the artiste that she prefers: “Sorry boys, I only date Rock Stars“; and in case she ever complains about anything in the future, her t-shirt has proactively shot her down by labelling her a “Drama Queen“.
Boys, too, receive education from their own onesies and t-shirts from their earliest moments. Just like little girls’ clothing teaches little girls to hate women, so do little boys’ clothes teach little boys to hate women.
Screaming out to the world his future tendency to commit criminal acts against women (who just happen to be the property of other men), this onesie warns men in advance to “Lock up your daughters“; he’ll hate women’s bodies just as much as they hate their own bodies, so his onesie concedes that he’ll settle for the best-bodied women available: “Sorry girls, I only date models“; as girls must worship their fathers, so must boys narcissistically worship their own penises – and how couldn’t this baby love his own penis? His onesie says that he’s “Hung like a 5 year old“!; but first, his duty is to get started on dominating and hating the first woman he’ll ever know, so his onesie orders her to “Change my diaper biaatch!“.
Well. I think that we could all use a happy sloth right about now.
Isn’t that sweet? It’s happy and it’s cuddling someone.
Take your time.
Back to business for a moment. It is the sexualisation of little girls that secures them as a class to be dominated; when advertisements sexualise girls, they equate girls and women with sex, and they serve as a stern reminder to us all that girls and women are sex. We rarely, if ever, see a boy who is sexualised – and remember, he would first need to be feminised – because it is considered inappropriate and offensive for a boy to be a girl, that is, for a boy to be sex. This is because, as we learned in Part 11, sexualising a person is about dominating them through humiliation; and while all children are dominated by adults, it is women who must ultimately be forced into a distinct state of submission if their men are to continue leading the world with minimal opposition or confusion.
Recall, though, that sexuality and sexualisation are two different things. Sexuality (or asexuality) is quite natural and safe within oneself, whereas sexualisation is a dominance technique that one party bestows upon another, as described above.
Also recall that models of extreme and widespread dominance are neither naturally occurring, nor are they beneficial, nor are they the fault of the oppressed class, nor are they unchangeable.
Part 2 of Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 (2010), the subject of this discussion, can be found here, at YouTube. Click an image to view the larger size, and click the link in the text near to that image to check my source for it.
Following on from her discussion of women’s size in advertising and consequently women’s physical diminishment, Kilbourne asserts that this has an effect even more insidious: the silencing of women. Indeed, upon searching I discovered that there is some kind of franchise based on the concept of conflating silence and women:
One of the pubs that goes by the name of “The Silent Woman”; one of the books entitled “The Silent Woman”; an opera by a great musician is called “The Silent Woman”; one of the films inventively named “The Silent Woman”. Silent women even have their own recording studio.
So it’s no wonder that advertising depicts women being silenced in various ways. Sometimes they cover their mouths with their hands or with clothing, sometimes they don’t have mouths at all, and sometimes they have a moth where their mouth should be.
A magazine ad for Swatch watches from August 2011; an ad for Rexona Teens; a poster for the 2006 horror film Silent Hill; a poster for the 1991 thriller film The Silence Of The Lambs which features most of Jodie Foster’s face and a moth.
The ad for The Silence Of The Lambs is already fun, but awesomenator.com – my source for all of the Silence Of The Lambs images – alerted me to a hidden message in the poster which is even more exciting. Look to the right – a close-up of the moth reveals that there is an image of a skull on its back. If you look closely, you’ll see that that skull, in fact, is made up of seven naked women.
The arrangement of the seven women thus is an artwork entitled ‘Female Bodies as a Skull’ by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The version presented to the right is a photo taken by American photographer Philippe Halsman in 1951. Of course, forcing or compelling nudity in others is a common method of establishing dominance – such as in the treatment of Jewish people during World War II – and arranging and piling a group of nude people to your liking is a way of humiliating and degrading them – such as we saw of Iraqi Prisoners Of War in the photos from Abu Ghraib prison in 2004.
When advertising isn’t showing images of women that blatantly evoke wartime humiliation tactics, it’s constantly picturing them in very vulnerable poses. They often cuddle themselves or hold their hands in front of themselves protectively; they may be in a position inferior to the photographer; they are almost always indolent rather than active or sporty; and their facial expressions usually display a softness, perhaps a sweetness or seduction – we rarely see a woman in an ad showing a powerful emotion such as anger.
Not content to construct only grown women as submissive, ads show girls in vulnerable poses from a very young age. Boys generally strike more powerful and dignified poses, with open body language, and are even allowed to sit or stand with their knees apart. The differences in the types of poses of girls and boys in advertising campaigns is striking:
As well as presenting women and girls as vulnerable, advertisements often picture women looking very silly, undignified and uncomfortable.
A photo from a fashion pictorial by Terry Richardson of a woman having trouble skating; these women appear to be having trouble with the furniture in this photoshoot for Lanvin; actor and model Jenny McCarthy is always sheepish when Candie’s photographers ambush her while she’s on the toilet.
The photo to the left is from a campaign for Marc Jacobs featuring singer Victoria Beckham’s legs. The author of the linked article actually congratulates Beckham for being “a good sport” for fulfilling the Undignified, Hacked Apart And Possibly Dead modelling role frequently afforded to women (see Part 4: Women As Objects And Body Parts). If Beckham had “misgivings” prior to agreeing to do the shoot, then the campaign photographer Juergen Teller quelled them with his “charm and candour” in telling her, “You’re the most photographed woman in the world. And fashion nowadays is all about product — bags and shoes — and you’re kind of a product yourself, aren’t you?” (She replied, “Uh, yeah.”) Evidently, Teller sees no need to be coy about the fact that women are objects at the beck and call of rich white men who want to nudify and humiliate them in domineering displays.
As well as being removed of their voices, their power and their dignity, women in advertising are also removed of their adulthood.
Jessica Stam for Aldo fashions; an ad for Bayan sweets; actor Emma Watson on the cover of Elle in 2011; in this Unshoes ad, the model’s inturned feet allude to the knock-knee condition typical in very young children and infants.
Sometimes, women are both infantilised and sexualised, evoking Lolita and child pornography. The implication of these ads is that women are simultaneously of a class of people who are physically and mentally underdeveloped and therefore in need of guidance, and that they are readily sexually available; they are manipulable and in a state of proactive sexual consent.
Actor Lea Michele in a photoshoot for GQ Magazine which promotes high school musical television show Glee; actor Dakota Fanning, aged 17, in a campaign for Marc Jacobs’ perfume Oh Lola! which was banned in the UK for inappropriately infantilising and sexualising Fanning; a young woman dressed up as a little girl and posing provocatively in a fashion shoot by photographer Terry Richardson; American Apparel are well-known for evoking pornography to sell their products, and the pictorial in this ad deliberately portrays a 23-year-old model who appears as a child being photographed while she is coaxed into progressive states of undress – just in case you’d forgotten about the whole nudity, manipulation and humiliation as dominance thing.
The overall effect of all of these types of images in the omnipresent medium of advertising is that women are dominated and repressed in all of the manners traditional of supreme classes of people over their subordinates. Their voice, activity, dignity, maturity and bodily integrity are all deliberately pressed upon so as to ensure compliance and repression; this, in turn, perpetuates the rule of the dominant group over them. In effect, all of this kind of advertising works to secure and reinforce men’s dominance, freedom and governance over women.
Back to Kilbourne.
We’re discussing Part 2 of Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly 4 (2010), which you can view on YouTube. Click an image to see a larger version of that image, and click the link in the text nearby to that image to see my source for it.
Briefly, I’d like to present a pictorial display of the globalisation of the Western image of ideal beauty for women in print media.
Often, the models featured on the covers of international magazines are white women who meet the Western media’s ideal. These women are often blonde-haired and blue-eyed, their hair is long and straight, their skin is pale and flawless, they are of a slim body type, and of course, the images are photoshopped so that they most strongly match this ideal.
Actor Cameron Diaz on the cover of Indonesia’s Joy Magazine in 2011; actor Lindsay Lohan on Chinese Harper’s Bazaar in 2009; actor Ashley Tisdale on the Ecuador version of Seventeen in 2011; singer Madonna on South African Marie Claire in 2006.
The same goes for the images of women featured inside international publications, or on their websites.
Actor Jessica Alba in Malaysian Harper’s Bazaar in 2011; Polish model Wiola Kowal in Turkish Harper’s Bazaar in 2010; actor and singer Scarlett Johansson in Chinese Vogue in 2011; a screenshot of Vogue Spain’s website, taken this month.
As I touched on in Part 3, Women Of Colour, images of women of non-Western ethnicity or birth tend to stick closely to the white ideal in the popular media, including on the covers of non-Western magazines.
Pakistani actor and model Noor on the cover of Pakistan’s Humsay magazine in 2011; British Indian actor and former model Katrina Kaif on Elle India in 2009; a Japanese woman modelling for clothing company Joy Rich on Japan’s Pink magazine in 2008; Colombian-born singer Shakira on the Peruvian publication Cosas.
And in photoshoots and pictorials featuring women of non-Western ethnicity or birth.
Japanese model Kumiko “Kumikki” Funayama in a Japanese 2010 calendar that features herself; Brazilian actor Monique Alfradique in Brazilian VIP (men’s) magazine in 2010; Inuit model and actor Tiffany Ayalik by photographer Dave Brosha (Flickr) in Yellowknife, Canada in 2011.
The overall effect is an increasing representation of white women – or women who meet or approximate the white ideal – in international print publications, regardless of the colours and appearances of the women who are reading and viewing them.
I’m looking at Jean Kilbourne’s lecture documentary, Killing Us Softly 4, which is about the representation of women in advertising – we’re up to Part 2 on YouTube. Click an image to view the full-sized version of it, and click the link in the text nearby to that image to see my source for it.
In my last post I discussed how women of different weight levels and sizes are presented in the media. The topic for today is a related one: how food items are presented in advertising, and specifically, the emotions that the media attaches to them.
In advertising and in related printed media, food items are often injected with a kind of moral polarity: consumers are pressured to feel guilty for eating certain foods.
Pillsbury, an American company that manufactures cake mixes, offers a chocolate-flavoured mix entitled “Devil’s Food”; this is in fact a CD cover for a compilation entitled Guilty Pleasures, although its designers apparently wanted to share their thought that eating cream donuts is just as shameful as listening to decades-old pop music; Emerald Roast Almonds offer themselves up as a substitute for more “remorseful” diet choices.
In case there was any confusion, US-based RaceTrac convenience stores is only too happy to clear things up for us in this inelegant campaign (left). Here, we see the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” represented respectively by office wear and club wear, secretary and Jezebel, and white and fuschia (pink – used here as a “feminine” alternative to dangerous red). Then, on the “good” team we have salads, wraps, multi-grain bread and fruit, and on the “bad” side it’s pastry, sweets, white bread and soft drink. The copy reads, “Make it or break it”, implying that you, as a woman, are to achieve a sense of victory over your diet if you select the “good” options, or that you’ll be disrupting your diet plan if you choose the “bad” options. There’s no question as to whether or not you have a diet plan, or whether you’re quite comfortable with including fat, sugar and carbohydrates in your diet – the assumption is that you’re already following a stringent eating scheme, and you’ll be “bad” if you defer from it by doing so.
“Advertisements that allude to pornography” is actually a topic for another day, but I just can’t ignore the pornography in both the Guilty Pleasures CD cover and the RaceTrac campaign. To be boring, I’m just going to go ahead and state outright that the Guilty Pleasures cream donut symbolises a penis, and all of this woman’s make-up, her facial expression, her submissive position in relation to the donut and her moving toward it to put it into her mouth, strongly allude to an upright-man kneeling-woman fellatio pornography scene. The RaceTrac campaign doesn’t directly imitate a pornographic sex act, however it depicts a pornographic representation of female sexuality. The “sexy secretary” character as the “good girl” is one straight out of the world of porn, and this “Jezebel” stands in a position inferior to the camera lens while performing the vulnerable-delilah sexuality typical to women in pornography. In these ads, pornifying food acts to pervert it, just as pornography has perverted human sex and sexuality.
And this type of perversion of food and eating is widespread in the media. In recent years, ads for food have become increasingly erotic.
American company Del Monte advertises its sexy Brazil-squeezed oranges; Kinder uses an image of a sultry-looking woman to draw in an adult demographic in Poland in 2004; Chupa Chups appeals to an adult market in South Korea by reducing a woman to a torso (see Part 4 to gain a clearer understanding of this) and a pornographic sexual pose.
Food is also offered as an alternative to healthy relationships with ourselves and with the people around us. It can be offered as a substitute for happiness, support, love and courtship.
Viennetta ice cream doesn’t cost very much in England and it will make you happy; American company Sugar In The Raw ameliorates you after your recent relationship break-up and teaches you to make chocolate brownies to comfort yourself (and actually, it also offers you reassurance over the fact that you’re going to eat them: “It’s ok, today calls for carbs”); Skinny Cow ice creams “love you in that delicious 100 calorie way”; Filipino company Red Ribbons makes cakes that will say “it all” to your new partner rather than just “you’re special” or “you’re sweet”.
Often, food is sold to us in place of sexual intimacy and sexual pleasure. Some campaigns use strongly sexualised language, and they reference intimate experiences or sex acts in ways that draw on the onlooker’s sentimentality and vulgar fantasy.
The makers of this Baileys liqueur ad reference losing one’s virginity when they ask you if you can “remember your first time”, and they include a horizontal, long, thin and straight bottleneck that is dripping from the end, just for good measure; Australian company Arnott’s explains the benefits to women of its eleven-a-pack Tim Tam biscuits; this Chupa Chups ad in Ireland in 2006 invites you to recall “the pleasure of sucking” lollipops.
In 2009 Mars introduced “Fling”, a chocolate bar aimed at women, whose whole campaign ran on the cultural paradigm of women’s masturbation and sexuality. Its packaging described the chocolate as “10 Individually Wrapped Fingers”, and it carried the slogans “Pleasure Yourself”, “Naughty, but not that naughty”, and “You never know when you’ll want to have a Fling”. The brand’s colours, like those of the RaceTrac campaign, were white and fuschia – women’s innocence; women’s naughty, vulnerable sexuality. The ads and the product itself were widely criticised for their extremely obvious innuendo.
The makers of Fling conveyed a number of discourses via its branding and marketing, epitomising the tendency of food marketing to be rife with a sense of emotional and sexual significance for the consumer. Of course the chocolate bar affiliates itself with a sense of “naughtiness”, a sense that the “pleasure” of eating it is a guilty one; its message is inherently erotic by way of its strong sexual innuendo; and as a food product it is blatantly offered up as a substitute for a woman’s own private and personal sense of sexuality and sexual intimacy.
So, what is the significance of attaching a sexual and emotional significance to food? This has an important impact on us as consumers, and especially on women as consumers, in that it distorts our perspective on, and relationship with, food, our diets, and subsequently our own bodies. If we’re encouraged to feel both a sense of shame and guilt over eating, as well as a sense of emotional and sexual connectedness when we eat food, then we consequently develop a dysfunctional attitude toward eating food, and a pleasure-pain, love-hate attitude toward ourselves for eating it. Most perniciously, with food being directly linked to our mental and bodily health as a basic requirement for survival, this type of advertising can therefore only have a hugely destructive and dangerous effect on the people constantly looking upon it – us, the consumers.
And so, in similar a manner as advertising constructs the ideal woman and shows her to us constantly, and demonises those who deviate from her immaculate image, advertising for something seemingly so arbitrary to our own faces and bodies can have just as meaningful and hazardous an impact on our self-esteem, on our everyday behaviours, on our health, and on our lives.
We’ll finish up with Part 1 of Jean Kilbourne’s lecture documentary, Killing Us Softly 4 (here at YouTube). Click images for larger versions, and click the link nearby to an image to see my source for that image.
We move on to the issue of women’s weight as it is presented in the media. With issues like eating disorders, unhealthy attitudes toward eating, and negative body self-image with regard to weight all becoming increasingly common in recent times, the topic of how popular media influences eating culture and body image is an incredibly important one.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, or if you struggle a lot with your self-image about your body and this is negatively impacting your life, check out the following websites:
SANE Fact sheets for information and explanations about mental health issues, podcasts for interviews on related topics.
ReachOut Aimed at young people including teenagers. Fact sheets; stories from people who are going through, or have beaten, challenging situations or mental illnesses; interactive comments sections and discussion boards.
Lifeline (24 hour telephone crisis support). Phone 13 11 14
National Eating Disorders Association Information, resources, and stories from people who have been through it.
Something-fishy.org List of hotlines for help with many different types of difficult situations or mental illnesses.
International Eating Disorders Centre Information about different eating disorders and information on referrals.
National Centre for Eating Disorders Information and a phone number for sufferers and carers.
Eating Disorder Hope Includes International information.
Pale Reflections: The Eating Disorders Support Community Phone numbers for services in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa.
The first point that Kilbourne raises is the fact that overwhelmingly, celebrities are mocked and ridiculed by the popular media should they ever be the slightest bit “overweight”. In advertising, regular women are also mocked for their weight.
A Slim-Fast ad pictures the bride wedding cake ornament having been so heavy that it fell into the cake, and poses the question, “Need to lose a little weight before your wedding?”; extramarital dating site Ashley Madison says that women are funny-scary if they try to be sexually alluring and they don’t meet up to societal expectations about body size; in their campaign, Romanian business Del Mar medical spa – “expert weight loss programs” – likens overweight women to cows.
This ad for Interbest Outdoor (left) in Amsterdam promotes the purchase of advertising space by reminding passersby how unpleasant it is to see a large picture of an overweight woman. This ad is particularly cruel, because her head is cut off by the top edge of the frame, removing her of her humanity. That means that the onlooker needn’t see her as a person – as a person who talks, thinks, has her own perception of reality, experiences the normal emotions that you or I might experience in any given day – just as a body, an overweight body at which one is encouraged to express disdain, disgust and amusement.
When I look at this photo, I feel terrible to think that this woman has been offered up for public ridicule. She could easily be my own mother, who is sensitive about her weight issues and wouldn’t deserve any cruel treatment to make her feel worse about herself.
Of late, “skinny” (or “thin” or “slim”) seems to be an attribute that women are encouraged to aspire to achieve. Many products aimed at women reflect this ideal.
Sofia Vergara features in the advertising campaign for Pepsi’s “new skinny can”; hello! SkinnyJeans will “make you look thinner” (both of those advertising campaigns are from 2011); Paul Mitchell offers products that will keep women’s hair “super skinny”.
Skinny Water got attention from feminists and health- and society-conscious individuals with its advertising campaign (see right) in which the slogan proclaims, “Skinny always gets the attention.” Taking it one step further from the print ads for “skinny” products pictured above, it carries with it a number of messages for women. This ad tells us, first of all, that “getting attention” for being attractive is a reward that women should seek, and secondly that women will achieve this reward by being “skinny”.
Look just below the picture of the bottles. At this point in Kilbourne’s documentary, she describes the relatively new US clothing sizes of “zero” and “zero zero” as exemplifying the pressure for women to aspire to disappear, to “become nothing”. Skinny Water openly appeals to this constructed strive for women’s self-negation: “ZERO… ZERO… ZERO… ZERO…”
Thinking about “thin” and “slim” reminded me of a certain essential group of products for women. When I found these images, I was reminded that the products had actually been downgraded to “invisible”.
A 1934 print ad for Invisible Tampax (check out the link for a website that has archived images of vintage sanitary advertising and packaging – hard to navigate, but very interesting); Sure & Natural’s packaging also served as material for discreet disposal in 1985; Australia’s Libra Invisible pads; Tampax tampons are hidden “Outasight”. That last image comes from an online research project which discusses how menstruation is treated as a taboo in modern Western society, which I found to be quite interesting – here’s it’s home page.
Women who feature as runway and photographic models have been appearing increasingly thinner in images throughout recent decades. Most recently, there has been much controversy and awareness-raising over the dangers of the modelling industry’s pressure on women working within it to strive to be thinner and thinner, and over the more widespread implications of body image issues developing for non-model women who are constantly exposed to images of very thin women as the norm.
Ukranian runway models Nataliya Gotsiy (left) and Snejana Onopka (middle); controversy surrounded 19-year-old Stephanie Naumoska‘s entry into the final of the 2009 Miss Universe Australia contest because of her thinness (see the link for a brief article).
In Killing Us Softly 4, Kilbourne shows an image of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston. It looks as though the image that she showed was actually photoshopped to make her ribcage appear more defined and her left arm thinner – see the two images to the right; click for full-sized versions. This YouTube video which compares real and fake photos of models, proposes that the real image of Reston has been edited thinner to be used for Thinspiration campaigns – YouTube videos and websites which show images of very thin women as encouragement for women trying to follow diet regimes to achieve thinness. (If hearing about these campaigns leads to you finding yourself in a triggering situation, remember the websites and phone numbers at the top of this post that you can access for information and support.) Although the image may not have been authentic, the reality is that Reston suffered from anorexia which was triggered by the harsh pressures of her job as a model, and died of complications arising from her condition in 2006, at the age of 21.
In addition to the advertising campaigns mentioned above – those that ridicule overweight women and sell the concepts of “skinny” and “invisible” to women – and the media bombarding society with images of very thin women, campaigns advertising products seem to actually encourage that women have disordered attitudes toward weight loss, diet and eating.
A Facebook ad (no link) offers women a method to lose eleven kilograms in four weeks, although the recommended maximum weight loss for women on weight loss plans is just over one kilogram per week; the brand name of this brownie bar tells its consumers to “think thin”; these ads for Pretzel Crisps deliver the messages, “You can never be too thin,” and, “Tastes as good as skinny feels,” – the latter echoing model Kate Moss’s infamous 2009 quote.
Recently, a TV ad for a diet range of Yoplait yoghurts was pulled from the air following controversy about its apparent promotion of eating disorders. In it, a woman spots a cheesecake in the fridge and runs quickly through an internal monologue about how to conduct her eating and exercise so that she can eat a slice.
Ohhh. Cheesecake. Okay, what if I just had a small slice? I was good today, I deserve it! Or, I could have a medium slice and some celery sticks, and they would cancel each other out, right? Or, okay. I could have one large slice and jog in place as I eat it. Or, okay. How about one large slice while jogging in place followed by eight celery…
The ad finishes when a second woman appears beside her and takes a yoghurt from the fridge, and the first woman compliments her on having lost weight and quickly takes a yoghurt for herself. Through the internal monologue the ad normalises disordered thought processes about eating and exercise, and it ultimately congratulates women for finding a food option that will lead to weight loss.
Weight loss products, including diet pills, are constantly advertised to women as a quick and easy alternative to healthy eating and exercise plans.
Another Facebook ad offering a “shocking” new diet pill, Zephanol, which will “stop hunger”; diet pill Dietrine will help women to “lose weight the easy way”; this Proactol ad implores women to overcome that “guilty and overweight” feeling by “decreasing your appetite” (notice that donuts are a bit of a common theme here). Many diet pills have not been tested and are not proven to work, have negative side effects, may lead to liver injury, and are linked to liver-related and heart-related deaths.
As well as eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia that can lead to malnourishment and being underweight, and unpleasant or stressful thought processes and behaviours in which one strives to be “skinny”, obesity, compulsive overeating and binge eating are also common and problematic issues in modern Western society. Disorders relating to undereating and overeating are not opposites: they are all related to self-esteem and control, body image, and consequent dysfunctional eating behaviours (see something-fishy.org). As such, encouraging any particular body type or extreme diet habit is problematic for people as individuals and as members of society – what really needs to happen is an habitual promotion of positive or neutral self-image, and of moderate attitudes toward food and eating.
While each of these ads may not directly cause an eating disorder in an individual, it is important to note their perpetuation of the ideal that women should be thin, their flippant promotion of negative self-image as well as of dangerous eating habits and weight loss solutions, and the fact that they are ever-present and thus so are their messages. With the climate of the media being this way, it is no wonder that most women have tense and unpleasant relationships with the food that they eat, with their own bodies, and with their self-esteem.
Part 1 of Jean Kilbourne’s lecture documentary film Killing Us Softly 4 can be found here, at YouTube. Click an image to see a larger version, and click the link in the text nearby to that image to see where I got it from.
In my last entry I discussed what Kilbourne said in the film about advertisements presenting the ideal image of beauty to younger and younger women and girls. Now, we look at how advertising treats “ugly” women.
It’s bad enough that we rigidly define “beautiful” and “ugly” and then apply those labels to women, and that we encourage women to aspire to be one or the other. It’s even worse when “ugly” women are portrayed in advertising as being the butt of the joke:
A recent Israeli Internet advertising campaign for Bacardi tells women to make friends with an “ugly” woman in order to “look amazing” in comparison; I’m not sure what Code Breaker is, but I know that it thinks that wives are older, sexually undesirable and comical-looking, and that “mistresses” are more fun and appealing (also found here); Durex’s New Zealand advertising campaign, “Last longer”, featured an “ugly” woman on a pillowcase as ejaculation-discouragement during sex. Durex actually distributed promotional pillow cases for that one.
The ad to the right is a Public Service Announcement from the UK. Its public service message is a positive one: it discourages binge drinking. Its cultural message is a particularly horrible one: Men, be careful not to get too drunk, because your decreased sexual inhibition may put you at risk of speaking to, flirting with, going home with, and having sex with, an “ugly” woman – and that will ruin your enjoyable evening. The goggles have “Beer Goggles” written on the strap, and the copy reads, “Afraid you’ll pull a moose? Stay focused by pacing your drinks… Why let good times go bad?” In the UK, the term “moose” is used as a particularly nasty term for “ugly woman” (see the ad’s source link).
Ads warning women of the danger or amorality of certain behaviours evoke women’s fear of being unattractive:
(And I had managed to avoid PETA for all that time, up until now.) PETA admonishes Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson for including fur in their fashion line, calling them and their customers “ugly people”; PETA perpetuates the current beauty trend which dictates that women should never have any visible pubic hair in order to be attractive (and also requests that you not wear fur); the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) uses a facetious slogan in a public service announcement to warn women that the principal reasons to avoid smoking tobacco are the danger of developing bad-looking teeth, and looking undignified holding a cigarette.
The ad to the left is another NHS public service announcement, this time targeting binge drinking. It is riddled with negative societal messages, including: It is not okay for women to drink to excess, but men are expected to do it; If women drink to excess, their femininity will be compromised; If women drink to excess, they risk looking “ugly”, with messy hair, silly make-up, wrinkled skin (accelerated aging) and unfeminine facial features; It is bad for women to be unfeminine or “ugly”, and it is also funny, and women who suffer from these afflictions will be ridiculed, and; Members of the trans community are inherently “ugly” and funny, and deserving of ridicule. Although the ad attracted complaints, the NHS defended it, claiming that it was effective in deterring women from binge drinking (see the ad’s source link).
If the qualities of advanced aging, such as wrinkled skin, are aspects of “ugliness” in women, then it is imminent that all women will progress toward it as we age. Of course, the mainstream media is riddled with ads for anti-aging products:
Andie MacDowell for L’Oreal; a mannequin for Elizabeth Arden; an absolutely ridiculous stock photo that I’m seeing everywhere on-line lately, that usually places the woman’s age at 55 although clearly she’s simultaneously in her late 20s and in her 70s, that shows that the woman is only effecting change on the skin on her face (by casually peeling it) and yet shows her with two different sets of hair, and has many different versions and this particular one is the sort that will probably shut my blog down when I link it here. For goodness’ sake, what is this thing? Look at the copy on this version of it: “400,000 unemployed cosmetics workers hate her”. A sudden plunge in employment figures, you say? Whoo, yes please, sign me up right away. The link is even worse – it’s an article about how her “beauty tip” has caused the major skincare companies to experience “dwindling sales figuures (sic)”. Ugh.
Moving right along, just like they do other women who fail to display conventional beauty and are thus dubbed “ugly”, advertisers exploit older women for comparisons and ridicule:
Another ridiculous on-line ad; an ad for Juicy Couture in which the taller, younger woman who is granted poise and individuality is placed next to four shorter, elderly women who are distinguished by colour-coded hair and clothing, one of whom is displaying a caricatured sense of displeasure at her inferiority; Trebbiano handbags ridicules older women with its slogan “Seen enough old bags?”; an ad for Ripolin paint creates a comical likeness between a melted paint job and an elderly woman’s breasts, which have sagged due to aging.
The overall message that these ads send to women is this: if you defer from the constructed image of conventional beauty, then you will be unattractive, you won’t be well-liked by society, and you will be an object for amusement and ridicule by the people around you. If you are “ugly”, if you fail, you will regret it – and with such impossible standards to meet, all women, ultimately, will fail.