Women and Food

A look at women's complicated relationship with food 


      Food porn is a relatively new phenomenon in advertising and an example of how sex is used in advertising.  Food porn are advertisements for food that have a very sexually explicit look.  The above picture is a great example.  This is part of an ad for Ghirardelli chocolate.  The ad is very sexual, she seems to be replicating a sexual act with the chocolate.  Author Paul Campos, in his book The Obesity Myth, agrees that sex is an interest to most people.  He feels that as we get older our sex drive naturally starts to diminish.  Because baby-boomers are about at the age when this would become an issue, Campos feels that this may have something to do with why food porn is becoming more prominent in advertising.  Campos writes, "The increasing popularity of food porn is probably related to basic demographic trends" (Campos 70).  I am sure that this could account for some of the reasons food porn is more popular now but there has to be more to it than that.  


     Campos agrees and writes,  

And, now that contraception and a general loosening of society mores regarding sex have removed much of the savor of what was once forbidden fruit (note the nature of the most common metaphor for erotic transgression).  Food in America is being overtly charged with quasi-erotic qualifiers.  The ideas of a sinful indulgence is now more likely to be associated with an ice-cream cone than with an illicit embrace; indeed, to utter the very word 'fat' has become arguably more transgressive than to use the phrase 'semen stained dress' in polite conversation.  (Campos 71)  

This clearly is the same for insults.  Calling someone "fat" is really the equivalent of calling someone a "bitch" ten years ago.  As Campos sees it, giving in to a food temptation is more provocative than giving into a sexual temptation.  In a recent IHOP commercial three women sit on a deck talking and one says, "I finally did it, I gave into my desires."  What was the desire?  It would seem that she was talking about some sexual escapade.  Nope, IHOP pancakes.  


    So what is wrong with an erotic pancake for breakfast?  Jean Kilbourne writes in her book Deadly Persuasion, "We are not only offered connection via the product, we are offered connection with the product.  Food becomes the lover" (Kilbourne 112).  It is not that we are becoming aroused by the sexual connotations in the food ad, we are becoming aroused by the food itself.  


     This is no secret to the advertising agencies, and in fact it is not new information either.  In the book Food Is Love, by Katherine Parkin, she explains the extremely provocative history of advertising in terms of food and women.  Parkin quotes an ad executive named Gilbert Burk saying in 1956, "There is no industry that cherishes and ponders the female consumer more deeply than the food industry.  Food manufacturers and processors have been leaders in market research and they have done a shrewder job of selling women than most other industries" (Parkin 22).  Not much has changed in the past 50 years.  


    Susan Bordo, in her book Unbearable Weight, writes, "Food is constructed as a sexual object of desire, and eating is legitimated as much more than a purely nutritive activity.  Rather, food is supposed to supply sensual delight and succor--not as metaphorically standing for something else, but as an erotic experience in itself" (Bordo 112).  This can be an explanation as to why chocolate commercials are so sexualized.  It is not that they are marketing the product to men, but that they are marketing the sexual experience with the chocolate to women.  


     The sexy women that we see selling us our chocolate, truly enjoying their chocolate on the screen is not meant to make women desire the women in the ad.  Kilbourne explains, "The point is not to arouse desire for the women, but to arouse desire for the product" (Reichert 173).  We are not meant to watch a sexy chocolate commercial and lust after the woman, instead we want to experience the same pleasure she has experienced, the erotic pleasure brought on by the chocolateThe difference is that we will not be eating our chocolate in a ball gown with our hair done and music setting the scene.  Bordo believes, "In private, shamefully and furtively, we binge" (Bordo 131).

    This of course does not explain all chocolate advertisements.  For as many times as you see a sexed-up ad, you see on that isn't.  But, that does not diminish the fact that the sex commercials do in fact target women, and work. 


Women, Sex, and Chocolate