After watching countless Fabio cameos for ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter!® ’ commercials, I started thinking more about how gender and aesthetic beauty is playing a role in food commercials.
Why did a margarine producing companying need a gorgeous man to sell its products?’ Well, there were many answers, but during my contemplative time, I thought of a different question:
What does the female equivalent of Fabio sell in today’s food industry?
Apparently Sex… and burgers.
I eat burgers! I live next to an In-N-Out in California! But this add was NOT made for me, or for a number of demographics. It was pointedly, and uncomfortably directed at men.
Why? Well, supposedly meat and burgers is a man’s food.
Well, I never got that memo. This commercial was raunchier (and better directed) than most pornos – they even somehow made the act of eating a burger look sexy! It’s so unrealistic. This is usually what I end up looking like after eating a burger if I don’t have the proper amount of napkins:
What got me so uncomfortable over this contemplative practice was that the commercial in question was an ad run during the SuperBowl, where millions of people (including impressionable children) saw sex dripping from every inch of that juicy burger. I don’t know how long this trend of sexifying food has gone on for – looking at Fabio’s commercials, it’s safe to say it’s been going on for a minimum of twenty years. But it’s becoming more intensified and risqué. The whole experience made me appreciate how much gender, sex, and (subjective) beauty plays a role in how food is catered to “us” and how that later becomes internalized within ourselves and our society.
I went through looking for a post that stood out to me and this was the one. I found it comical and unique. This intersection of sex, beauty, and food is too often not talked about and I think it’s a really important part of the conversation. It’s another form of food justice almost, another dimension of inequality in our culture. Meat is definitely stereotypically a man’s food. There’s the classic date where the man orders a steak and the woman orders a salad, were men cook BBQ while the women mingle in the kitchen making deviled eggs? A weird culture behind men and their meat in America and it’s really weird. I sometimes wonder if this is bigger than we realize and lessening our culture’s dependence on meat will be threatening this sense of manly identity we have going in the US. Are you really a man if you forego your rare steak for a tofu scramble? This sense of identity tied to food is another piece in this complicated system. Changing food is also changing culture. It reminds me of the recent article we read “Fast Food/Organic Food: reflexive tastes and the making of “Yuppie Chow” where Guthman talks about the body becoming a symbol for taste, “The uncomfortable parallel between the growth of organic food, particularly salad mix, and the contraction of particularly female body ideals provides more food for though.” This idea is new for me and I find it fascinating. I think of body standards as shaping food but maybe it’s the other way around.
This post stood out to me immediately, as Claire mentioned above, for its originality and integration of other factors in our food system that are dictated by the production teams behind the scenes. I’m curious if you took 384 with Professor Bennett, because I remember him sharing this advertisement during lecture? His class moved me especially, as I had never critically thought about all of the advertising permeating nearly every inch of our culture, and the specific audiences it was intended for. I think Pollan touches on this kind of advertising by noting how our changing perception of the nutrients in some foods, as recommended by scientific professionals, has changed market demands for certain foods, even if they weren’t necessarily any better (the margarine example). Fast food adds always make their foods look so appetizing, but they never look the same in real life. It’s just extraordinary to me how advertisements are able to associate certain foods with feelings of peace, relaxation, adventure, reward and it works. We truly are visually inclined creatures so it makes sense, it’s just alarming when so many people fall into these advertising traps when they may know it’s not the healthiest choice. Of course, the factor of privilege and having the ability to make healthy choices play a role, but that discussion may be saved for another response post on my behalf.
Overall, thank you for bringing awareness to some of the insanity of advertising and the impact it has on our own food making decisions! I also enjoyed the sense of humor conveyed through your writing, very relatable to the situation as a whole.
No I didn’t take Bennett’s class, but I am glad to hear that you’ve seen the commercial as well. I’ve just always been a little curious as to why things are advertised the way they are. Authority and aesthetic value in commercials change from subject to subject, for obvious reasons, and I totally share your confusion or wonderment on how and why people attribute (certain) feelings to (certain) foods.
I absolutely LOVE this post. I have always found myself rather uncomfortable watching ads that display women as sexual objects and utilize them as tools to mass-market a lackluster product. Although our society has been taking massive strides towards gender equality recently, most people often overlook the food system as a perpetrator of inequity. By dividing certain foods in gender categories, such as meat and burgers for men or tea and salad for women, we are systematically subjugating females for the foods that an array of people enjoy. The food industry is allowing women to feel inadequate for their nutritional choices, and its advertisements continue to perpetuate such insecurity. The fact that the diet culture is so highly profitable because of the marketing influence positioned at women is appalling to me; let women eat what women want to eat! Instead of putting our bodies on a pedestal to attract male consumers, try placing food on a platter and marketing it to us as something everyone can enjoy. I hope to see more women crusading for equality against such flagrant sexism within the food system. I would be proud to stand alongside them.
This has to be one of the best blog posts I have come across, and I completely agree with your point. I do not think we are aware of how much sex is used to sell certain products, and I think it is because of how common it is in our everyday lives whether it is through the web, television/films, and social media. But after reading your post I started to think of any other times I experienced an ad like this, and then the Dentyne Ice one came into mind. As you may know Dentyne Ice is a gum product, and I remember watching their ads with the gorgeous nurses and then it hit me. They used the pretty women to attract their male audience by portraying how men could get beautiful women if they have nice breath, and in order to have nice breath they must consume Dentye Ice. I think it sad that companies have to resort to the use of advertising sex to make sales, but because it has been used so much in the past few decades I do not see it going away.
I love that you ventured out to speak to an issue that we did not necessarily cover in class. Selling sex has always been around, and a huge market for targeting consumers for food, cosmetics, perfume/cologne, automobiles, and just about everything. It’s something I grapple with, because on one hand it lends and allows women to broadcast their sexuality, which is typically highly frowned upon, but on the other hand it commodicizes women’s bodies for the pleasure of men, (and in the case of food) exploiting a shared public good that not everyone has access to. This is problematic in many ways, because it contributes to issues of body image for women ie. not having a fit body and unrealistic expectations of body shape while eating a burger. It also sexualizes food, which people may not even have access to, while promoting unhealthy foods in general. This kind of advertising is harmful for who it targets as well; obviously its “meant” for the consumption of food by men which genders food, while giving them the expectation that food and women are meant for their pleasure. I wonder if you think this kind of advertising is so internalized that there is no means of doing away with it, or if somehow the market will shift toward other ways of selling food and other items? Sadly, I think the former holds true because well, sex is and always will be demanded in the market.