Possible harmful effects

A look at the possible consequences of these advertising messages. 



    Many critics see problems as to how food is being advertised to women.  For many decades food advertisements have been used as a way to make women feel that the only way to feel loved or appreciated was to eat their product.  Katherine Parkin, in her book Food is Love, writes "Advertisers' most fundamental message to women, and one that underscores all others, is that food is love" (Parkin 30, words in italic are Parkin's).  Chocolate advertisements prey on women in a different, though some would say just as harmful, way.  


    One way in which advertisements become a problem is when food is displayed as the lover.  The promotion of human relationships as unimportant, along with the desensitizing that occurs through the abundance of sexual images, results in a recipe for disaster.  Jean Kilbourne agrees and writes in her article "Advertising and Disconnection"

So, all these blatant sexual images that surround us actually are more likely to lead to disconnection rather than connection.  And substance abuse and addiction, especially for women, is often a response to disconnection.  Advertising doesn't cause this disconnection, of course, just as it doesn't cause addiction.  But it does objectify women's bodies, making it more difficult for women to feel safely 'embodied' and thus furthering a sense of dissociation.  And it creates a climate in which disconnection and dissociation are normalized, even glorified and eroticized, and finally deliberately offers addictive products--alcohol, cigarettes, food--as a way to cope with the pain this causes. (Reichert 179-180) 

Kilbourne states here that food advertisements do not cause disconnection and addition, but it is clear that that is how she feels.  It is of course impossible to say that advertising promotes these sad conditions for women because it is not something that can be definitively proven.  For example, a chocolate ad that makes a women feel that she would rather have chocolate than an intimate experience is clearly promoting disconnection.  Having chocolate instead of having a human being can become a dangerous preference.  This disconnection Kilbourne feels can lead to addiction, an addiction to the very product promoting the disconnection.


     Susan Bordo feels that advertisers know the difficulty some women have in regards to their emotions and food.  She writes, "Advertisers are aware, too, of more specific ways  in which women's lives are out of control, including our well-documented food disorders; they frequently incorporate the theme of food obsession into their pitch" (Bordo 105).  


    The above example is a perfect one to show how Bordo feels these advertisements use obsession in their ads.  "Indulge everyday" is the message.  Indulging everyday, and being instantly gratified, can easily become an obsession for someone already inclined to behave that way.  The obsession can seen as a wonderful thing, to treat yourself because you deserve it.  However, Kilbourne feels, "Another problematic aspect of the cumulative impact of food advertising is that many ads normalize and glamorize harmful and often dangerous attitudes toward food and eating" (Kilbourne 116).  To obsess and indulge in something like chocolate everyday is truly not promoting good eating habits.  


    However, promoting good eating habits really is not the job of food advertisers.  Or is it?  Their job is to sell their product.  But is it at any cost?  Many of the messages being portrayed in these ads could be harmful to women.  Cigarettes are no longer aloud to advertise on TV.  Why not?  They sell a product that many people want, even if their advertisements show only happy people smoking and therefore can be seen as manipulating people into smoking, isn't that their job?  Many people feel that while everyone should be accountable for their own behavior, advertisements for products that lead to unhealthy habits are not helpful.  Many critics to food advertisements, including chocolate ads, feel that they should be looked at more carefully to stop them from being harmful to women. 

    These advertisements also encourage women to find their solace in food.  Kilbourne writes, "Women are especially encouraged to reach for food to find peace, an oasis in our hectic days" (Kilbourne 218).  The Betty Crocker advertisement for their new Warm Delights is a perfect example of this.  These are little chocolate brownies that you place in the microwave.  The commercial states, "Indulgence should be celebrated.  Bowls should be licked till the tongue is tired.  And fudge is your best friend.  You're just three minutes away from heaven."  These Warm Delights become, and replace, your lover, your best friend, and is where you will find heaven.  Bordo feels, "Emotional heights, intensity, love, and thrills: it is women who habitually seek such experiences from food and who are most likely to be overwhelmed by their relationships to food, to find it dangerous" (Bordo 108).


    Of course not every woman is swayed by these messages and images, just as not all men buy a car because of the sexy woman who will supposedly want him after he buys it.  Kilbourne writes, "Eating to feel better about oneself is not a healthy idea--it is a symptom of a problem" (Kilbourne 120).  Women who are harmfully manipulated by these images likely already have some other problem allowing them to be so manipulated.


    These advertisements can also damage our relationship to food.  In the article "Advertising and Disconnection" Kilbourne writes,

Consuming food for which we have no real appetite, we are never satisfied and lose our ability to gauge our own hunger...when eating is divorced from hunger and appetite, and sex is divorced from desire and relationships, both experiences become onanistic, solitary, unfilling" (Reichert 179).

For example, the sex used in chocolate ads both make us crave something that we have no real appetite for, and the sexual images make us view sex without desire for a partner.  This certainly causes us to have a solitary and unfullfilling problem.  Susan Bordo feels, "For women, the emotional comfort of self-feeding is rarely turned to in a state of pleasure and independence, but in despair, emptiness, loneliness, and desperation" (Bordo 126).  Eating a piece of chocolate every once in a while, when truly want it is fine.  It is when we are eating the chocolate to feel like the woman in the ad, romantic or peaceful or any other emotion they are pitching, that it is not beneficial to us.


    It is clear that these critics feel women's documented problems with eating disorders are not being helped by these types of advertisements.  If the ad makes you feel something that you cannot feel in your everyday life, with actual people, then it can be a dangerous situation for you.  It is important to ask yourself what the ad is really saying, and if that is a message you will buy. 

Women, Sex, and Chocolate