Condemnation of Female Hunger
by Carina J. Luo
Lens Paper | UWS 16a Sex and Advertising | Doug Kirshen | Fall 2020
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Contemporary advertisements depict two extremes of female hunger: wild, unbridled desire or nonexistent desire. Women tend to be shown in advertisements as either biting zealously into a hamburger or demurely indulging in a single chocolate. This may cause real women to feel like their only two options are to be one extreme or the other, leading them to develop obsessive eating habits. The possibility of hunger that is present but is not all consuming is not shown in advertisements. Desire is a sliding scale, not an on and off switch. Yet in advertising, we only see women that either have their desires under tight control or that are completely controlled by their desires. Women who have achieved the former are depicted positively and women who experience the latter are depicted negatively, which teaches women to fear losing control of their appetites. The examination of these extremes through the lens of Susan Bordo’s “Hunger as Ideology” reveals that these types of advertisements foster an unhealthy obsession with controlling female hunger by condemning it.
In her essay, Bordo examines how food advertisements teach women what their relationship with food should be. She shows that these expectations originate in societal conceptions of femininity that are incongruous with the desires of real women by studying advertisements in which women are shown to have a cool, casual relationship with food that gives them the freedom to indulge their desires while maintaining a pristine physique. A key point Bordo makes is that these women seem to only need to indulge a little to feel satisfied, an image that she identifies as stemming from Victorian era ideas of gender. “Hunger as Ideology” also investigates advertisements that portray binge behavior, identifying the stress of repressing the desire to indulge as the cause of such behavior.
“Stiff,” a commercial for Mike’s Hard Lemonade (Saum), is an advertisement that depicts binge behavior as the result of uncontrolled desire. An attractive female undertaker notices that a cadaver has what appears to be an erection. She approaches it and, before taking action, opens the cadaver’s eyes, presumably to check that the man is really dead. Then, after hesitantly touching the unidentified bulge, she looks around her. When women binge, it is an activity that is engaged in alone, secretly (Bordo 1993). By checking that the cadaver is really dead, the undertaker is engaging in the preparatory binge behavior of making sure that there will be no witnesses when she unleashes her appetite. In the next couple seconds, we see the table squeaking and the corpse moving up and down. The woman makes grunting noises, her hair has become messy, and it looks like she is not wearing a shirt underneath her white lab coat. All of these details suggest that the woman is having sex with the corpse. At this point, viewers are probably enrapt with fascinated disgust. The shock of necrophilia assaults the mind. Here is a woman’s appetite unleashed as she binges uncontrollably. A woman’s hunger symbolizes unleashed female power (Bordo 1993), and this advertisement showcases the power that a hungry woman has to do evil. The undertaker has transgressed, crossed a line not meant to be crossed. Women with an appetite are dangerous creatures and should be regarded with terror and loathing (Bordo 1993). Disgust with the taboo act might become subconsciously associated with female desire in the minds of viewers, leading them to think that hungry women will inevitably lose control and consume the body of the male (Bordo 1993). In this advertisement, the cadaver is the male body that is being consumed as the woman feeds sexually upon him.
When it is revealed that the bulge was a lemonade bottle, we realize that the undertaker’s appetite was food-driven hunger. Is this advertisement about hunger or sexual appetite? The answer is both. This advertisement is an example of a woman’s voracious appetite for food being used as a metaphor for sexual appetite (Bordo 1993). Driven by her desire to extract the food item, the undertaker becomes consumed in a sexual frenzy. This advertisement teaches women that their desires for food and sex are indistinguishable, and furthermore that if they have such desires then they will be consumed by those desires.
Figure 1. Mike's Hard Lemonade, "Stiff” (Saum).
Bordo claims that in rare instances of near-starvation, women in advertisements are permitted to lust for food (1993). “Stiff” is a counterexample. The undertaker is, in a way, in a state of near starvation, for her profession dictates that her daily interaction with living humans is limited. It is plausible that because she does not interact much with people, she may be socially awkward and sexually deprived. With this knowledge, viewers of the advertisement might be forgiving of an indiscretion such as if the undertaker were to have sex with a living coworker next to a cadaver. Instead, the undertaker is shown having sex with a cadaver, something completely taboo, something no amount of sexual deprivation excuses. The intended message of this advertisement is that people should buy Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but the choice to use such an extreme example of female hunger also sends the less obvious message that a woman’s lust for food cannot be excused even if there are extenuating circumstances. A hungry woman will be completely conquered by her desire, will lose all semblance of decency, will behave in ways that are disgustingly immoral. A hungry woman is always a monster. This is how female hunger is condemned. “Stiff” depicts female hunger as something that is disgustingly offensive and should be regarded fearfully. The implication is that if women do not control their hunger then they will lose control of it.
If “Stiff” is a cautionary example of what women must not be allowed to become, then “The French Girl,” an advertisement for yogurt by Yoplait (Daily Commercials), is the shining example of what women are taught to strive for. Advertisers play upon women’s repressed desires by offering them carefully contained indulgence (Bordo 1993). But of course, this indulgence is only for women who have an iron control of their desires. Melanie, “the French girl,” leads an effortless lifestyle, and at the center of that lifestyle is a cool, effortless relationship with food. She is shown casually eating a dainty bite of bread while standing in a kitchen with sunlight filtering in through the window. Her house is stylish, her clothing is simple yet stylish, and her hair is messy, but casually, sexily messy. Her French bulldog is appropriately small and quiet, and her elegant, heeled shoes make gentle clicks as she walks through gorgeous scenery. The voiceover is done by a man with a French accent who tells us that for Melanie, there are more important things than being practical. Melanie sits down at a chic outdoor restaurant, and the audience is introduced to her three attractive male lovers. The waiter places a small container of Oui yogurt before her, and she demurely takes a bite, leaving no trace of yogurt mess on the spoon or on her face. The voiceover says that she will focus only on her yogurt, then shows Melanie making slow, deliberate eye contact with each of her lovers. The voiceover tells us that the lovers will wait for her to finish her yogurt, and we see that they are bored but that they are not pressuring her to speed up. The voiceover is in English, but with grammatical peculiarities that viewers are meant to find endearing. The consumption of French bread, the French bulldog, and French lovers are all things that are stereotypically French. In this advertisement, the consumption of yogurt is romanticized, building on our infatuation with the superior sophistication of Europe (Bordo 1993). Sophisticated European women are the enviable “other” that have transcended the desires of the flesh, indifferent about the basic material necessities for survival (Bordo 1993). The contrast between Americans and Europeans is even explicitly stated by the voiceover: Melanie is not practical. The unspoken second half of this is that Americans are practical, and that this practicality is what holds them back from achieving Melanie's effortlessness. While American women must hold back their desires, Melanie is free to indulge. For Melanie, there is no danger in indulging because she has control over her hunger.
Figure 2. Yoplait. "Oui by Yoplait: The French Girl” (Daily Commercials).
“Oui” yogurt seems to be part of a lifestyle of indulgence in which women can finally satisfy their cravings, with Oui yogurt representing food desire and the three lovers representing sexual desire, but it is not. This advertisement is actually about having the discipline to experience pleasure without giving into cravings. Yes, Melanie has three lovers, but she is making them wait, glancing teasingly at each of them before ignoring them. She takes small bites of yogurt but does not zealously spoon it into her mouth. Melanie does not finish her yogurt, but there is no question of her asking for another yogurt, even though the container is so small. While real women would feel unsatisfied with such a tiny serving, Melanie is fine because she has a cool relationship with her desires (Bordo 1993). When control is presented in this way--that is, as the preventative solution to becoming the hunger monster woman--then an obsession with controlling hunger develops.
Women watch these advertisements and seek to emulate Melanie’s state of enlightenment, because they believe that by living like Melanie they will be immune to the monstrosity of the undertaker. What they may not realize is that these two extremes are not separate states. They are part of a larger issue of women’s unhealthy relationships with food. In “Stiff,” a woman with a voracious appetite commits a taboo act, cementing the idea that a woman who indulges without restraint is monstrous. In “The French Girl,” a woman with a carefully controlled appetite is shown indulging with careful control, generating the idea that female hunger is only permissible if it is restrained. Together, the two advertisements paint the picture that in order to avoid the danger of uncontrollable hunger women can never lose control of their hunger. This obsessive attitude towards food keeps women constantly hungry, searching for answers to their hunger in the very advertisements that create the problem. Breaking the pattern of fear, deprivation, and hunger will require acceptance of women who satisfy their desires rather than controlling them. Advertisements that depict women with a healthy relationship with food are the key to showing real women that they do not have to have extreme eating habits and that they can instead find a happy medium in which hunger is not something to be feared.
Bordo, S. (1993). Hunger as Ideology. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western culture, and the body, University of California Press, 99-134.
Daily Commercials. (2017?). Oui by Yoplait: The French Girl [Video]. Daily Commercials. https://dailycommercials.com/oui-yoplait-french-girl/
Saum, R. L. [Rickey Lee Saum]. (2016, July 3). "Stiff" - Mike's Hard Lemonade Commercial [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hs3QG_J50So
About This Paper
Lens Paper Instructions
Choose one or more of the assigned texts and use them to examine 2-3 ads of your choice. Examine and compare your ads by looking at them through the same lens(es):
- Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. British Broadcasting Corporation ; Penguin Books, 1982.
- Bordo, Susan. “Hunger as Ideology.” Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, University of California Press, 1993, pp. 99–134.
- Gill, Rosalind. “Empowerment/Sexism: Figuring Female Sexual Agency in Contemporary Advertising.” Feminism & Psychology, vol. 18, no. 1, Feb. 2008, pp. 35–60. doi:10.1177/0959353507084950.
- ———. “Beyond the `Sexualization of Culture’ Thesis: An Intersectional Analysis of `Sixpacks’,`Midriffs’ and `Hot Lesbians’ in Advertising.” Sexualities, vol. 12, no. 2, 2009, pp. 137–60. doi:10.1177/1363460708100916.
- Williams, Raymond. “Advertising: The Magic System.” Advertising & Society Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1, Advertising Educational Foundation, 1960, 1969, 2000. doi:10.1353/asr.2000.0016.
State your thesis and motive in the first paragraph and revisit the motive with one last “So What?” in your conclusion. The structure of your essay is otherwise up to you, but it is usually a good idea to introduce your lens text(s) early in the paper. Summarize their major claims, and explain why you chose them. You can then introduce finer points from the lens(es) with your close readings of specific ads. In your claim (body) paragraphs, you will want to refer to specific passages in the lens text(s) by direct quotation and paraphrase.
Audience. Think of your readership for this paper as people like other students and instructors at Brandeis—educated, intellectually curious people like us who are not taking this class and have not read the lens texts. Illustrations. Incorporate images of your ad, such as screenshots from videos, into your text; use up to the full width of the page if resolution allows.
Be sure to observe the Ten Lens Commandments.
Cover Letter for Draft
With the rough draft of your essay, you are required to write a cover letter, addressed to your readers, in which you reflect on your process, answer the following questions and present any other concerns.
- What point are you at with this draft? If you had more time, what more would you do?
- What close reading techniques from Writing Analytically did you use to develop your thesis? (See How to Approach the Lens Paper).
- What is your thesis? (quote it from the draft)
- What is your motive? (quote it from the draft)
- What are the biggest problems you’re having at this point in the writing process?
- What is your favorite sentence? What is your least favorite? Why? (Quote directly from draft.)
- What’s the #1 concern about your essay—thesis, structure, use of evidence, persuasiveness, style, etc.
Revision Cover Letter
Reflect on your re-thinking and revision process from the draft to the final version. Write a cover letter describing this process and turn it in electronically with the final version of your paper.
- What did you set out to accomplish in this revision? Do you feel you succeeded?
- How did your thesis or motive change? Explain. You must show thesis development since the draft.
- What steps or stages did you go through in your revision process?
- Did you use the Writing Center? If so, please describe your experience.
- Comment on the pre-draft, peer review process, and your conference with the instructor. Were these helpful to you? What could have been done to improve them?
- Add any further comments.
- Please do not resubmit your Draft Cover Letter.
Length = 6-8 pages not including cover page, cover letter, and illustrations.
Citation style: APA 7 Student. Follow the format of the Purdue OWL’s APA 7 Student Sample Paper scrupulously except:
- Include a Draft Cover Letter on page 2 (or Revision Cover Letter for the final version), addressed to your readers (see further instructions below)
- An abstract is not required
- Subheadings are not required
- Use Times New Roman 12 or Cambria 11 as your font.
Other format notes
- Notice that citations for quotations require page numbers as well as the year.
- Quotations should be used judiciously. You should have a specific reason for quoting; if a paraphrase in your own words would do just as well, do that.
- Illustrations are encouraged
- In this course, advertisements should not have in-text citations but must be cited in References (bibliography) at the end of the paper.
How to Approach the Lens Paper
Here are some thoughts on how to conceptualize and approach writing the lens paper in this class. There are at least three critical/intellectual tasks:
- Close Reading
- Choosing and Applying a Lens
- Evaluating the Lens
For Close Reading, apply the techniques from Writing Analytically that we’ve been talking about and practicing so far. Suspend judgement. Look for details. Organize the details into patterns, contrasts, and anomalies. Rank what you have noticed and focus on what you think is most important.
Notice and focus on one aspect and do 10:1—try to find ten observations about that aspect. (The 10 is random; you could find any number). Or do 1:10—is there one observation that you can apply to ten or any number of details or aspects?
You can apply the prompts: “interesting,” “strange,” “surprising,” “revealing.” And then ask yourself why you responded as you did. Apply the formula, “Seems like X, but is really or also Y.” Try freewriting—set a timer and write continuously without stopping and see what emerges.
Always ask So what? I’ve noticed an interesting thing; now what else does that observation suggest? And always ask, What do I still want to know? In other words, practice negative capability.
Most important of all, perhaps, is to look at lots and lots of ads and pick ones that really interest you and which you can’t immediately draw conclusions about. The ads should use or refer to sexuality in some way and/or or refer to gender standards. Remember, if you DON’T know what to think, initially, that is a good thing. Confusion is a productive state of mind. Expect your ideas to evolve even when (or especially when) you start writing about them. Trust yourself, and the interpretive leaps, the insights, will emerge.
Choosing and Applying a Lens
Think of our collection of lens texts as a tool kit: choose which tool you want to apply and try different ones. Find out which is or are most productive for you.
Use the lenses to generate questions. HOW does this ad generate glamour and enviability? What does it “magically” promise in addition to the thing itself? How does it address and exploit our deepest fantasies, longings, day-dreams? How does it appeal to and exploit our insecurities and dissatisfactions? What social and personal values does the ad teach us—and HOW and WHY? How does an ad sexualize food and use food to construct and regulate gender? Does it produce something like the tropes Rosalind Gill identifies: the "midriff," "hot lesbian," or "six-pack"?—or does it produce OTHER types that you can productively identify and compare to Gill’s?
It addition to the scholarly texts, there are always questions that arise from the basic premises of advertising. How is this ad selling the product? Why did the advertisers choose to do it this way? What audience(s) is it likely to appeal to?
Evaluating the Lens
Remember that the lens texts are tools in your tool kit. They work for YOU; you do not work for them. It is not your job to attest to how correct and brilliant any of these scholars are. Or maybe you DO want to highlight how remarkably well a lens text written in 1950 or 1972 or 1993 or 2009 still applies today.
How does a shift in context create dissonance between the ads you are looking at and the lens texts? What does it mean for Susan Bordo if a supermodel in a red bikini takes a giant chomp from a juicy burger instead of a tiny bite of diet Jell-O? Do you find instances of sexualization of male and female bodies that are quite different from the the types Gill identified more than ten years ago?
It’s up to you to evaluate the lens texts; view them with a critical eye. Your ideas, if you can support the with evidence and argument, are no less legit than theirs.
This is probably the most difficult aspect of the paper to do well. I am mostly interested in what you have to say about the ads, your thesis, your claims in the first sentences of each body paragraph, and the evidence you invoke to support those claims. But it is conceivable to treat this assignment mainly as a critical close reading of a lens text, with ads invoked to support your critique.
Carina Luo and her instructor Doug Kirshen spoke about her paper with University Writing Program Senior Lecturer Bofang Li.
Bofang Li: Hi everyone welcome I'm here with Carina Luo and Doug Kirshen to talk about Carina's paper "Condemnation of Female Hunger" about two commercials which Carina considered through the lens of Susan Bordo's "Hunger as Ideology." And before we get started Carina I just want to turn to Doug for a little while and to just talk about your UWS course and the evolution of this assignment that you have given your students.
Doug Kirshen: Well the course is called "Sex and Advertising" and in the last few years I've been offering sort of a menu of lenses for my students to choose from. The approaches to advertising that I think are most fruitful are either Marxist or feminist, so the students can choose from among those and they can combine them if they want to. So Carina chose ... a classic feminist text by Susan Bordo that was published in 1993.
Bofang Li: And Carina, why did you choose the texts that you chose and how did you come about with regard to the commercials themselves.
Carina Luo: I actually started out with a different lens I was going to use John Berger's "Ways of Seeing," but then I was looking at the advertisements on Professor Kirshen's Pinterest board and I wasn't finding any advertisements that I could slot into that lens so, then I tried a different approach, and I just kind of threw the idea of choosing a lens first out the window, and I just looked at ads that I found interesting. And then the advertisements that I did find interesting fit more with Susan Bordo's lens.
Bofang Li: And when you were choosing adverts Doug it sounds like you had a bunch of ads that you had pre-selected for your students What was your selection process?
Doug Kirshen: Well I've been collecting — some of my students find it disturbing that I collect ads for Sex and Advertising — but I've been collecting them on Pinterest boards for the last five years I’ve been doing this class, but most students will choose their own ads — they can choose whatever they want if it fits into the course and Carina certainly did that. I don't think I was particularly familiar with either one of these ads.
Bofang Li: Corina, what drew you to the ads that you chose?
Carina Luo: um one of the advertisements that I chose seems to be about necrophilia and I was just fascinated by that idea because it's taboo, it's interesting. And I thought it was really interesting that's something that we were taught in the Sex and Advertising course, if we notice something is interesting, we should wonder like, why is it interesting? And so, then I decided to explore exactly what I found interesting about it in my paper.
Bofang Li: And was your process of beginning the paper and applying the lens and getting through that first draft stage.
Carina Luo: First, I wrote about what I noticed about the ads, like the details that stood out to me, and then I applied the lens and I did this over the course of several days I didn't procrastinate. So I would definitely recommend that future students not procrastinate and then after I had written a rough draft I sent it to the Writing Center, and I got feedback and revised, and then I actually sent it again to the Writing Center and got more feedback, and then Professor Kirshen read it — so it's several rounds of revisions.
Bofang Li: What were the major areas you were advised to revise, because I know that people go to the writing Center and sometimes can expect that it's just going to be a proofreading service or grammar check. Was it like that, for you or did they help you more holistically?
Carina Luo: I would say that helped me more holistically, they helped me identify ideas [that could be] extended or areas that were repetitive.
Bofang Li: Doug, how did you approach feedback on Carina's work?
Doug Kirshen: For all of these papers, the lenses that I'm offering them, especially this lens, is kind of right on the nose: the lens is about women and food and advertising, and the ads that Carina chose are about women and food and advertising. So what I’m looking for is someone who's not just sort of matching things up, taking all the points and attributes of the lens and match them up to something else and say this is just like that, this is just like that. Carina did not do that, she dug much further into the lens. She picked up on some aspects [that] others missed. She brought that forward and made that the basis of her paper, she picked up on one of those ideas. I don't remember [if Bordo] says this exactly but of course Carina says, female hunger is a monster, female desire is monstrous whether it's desire for sex desire for food, whatever.
And I think that's something that struck Carina and she found this commercial that seems to be about necrophilia, that was interesting, that was a monstrosity, and she could characterize it like that, and that association was very much her own. So in doing that she was able to relate a commercial of now to a text that was written, you know 20 years ago.
Bofang Li: That’s great. Carina, how did your paper change from the initial draft that you produced to the final draft that is now being included in Write Now?
Carina Luo: I initially didn't have the underlying theme of control, I thought it was, or at least I needed to revise that a little bit. Initially I thought that women either indulge out of control, or they didn't indulge at all, but then in the revision process, Professor Kirshen pointed out that in the second advertisement I looked at, which is an advertisement for French brand of yogurt, the woman did indulge but the caveat is that she was holding herself back, and so then it's about control, it's not about indulgence or not, and so, if you don't have the control you become a monster. I had to revise my thesis a bit.
Bofang Li: Absolutely, and speaking about the kind of skills that you've learned during the lens process, using someone else's ideas and applying them to something that may seem at first to be easily understood and finding complexity and depth in those issues, have you found yourself using these skills in your other writing and your other courses?
Carina Luo: This semester I'm taking a class on Malcolm X and it's just begun, but there will be some essays in that class and I expect that the skills, I learned in UWS will come in handy for that.
Bofang Li: Great that's what we like to hear! Thank you so much for speaking to us, thank you Doug, congratulations on your inclusion in Write Now! and on a really fascinating essay.
Doug Kirshen: Congratulations!
Carina Luo: Thank you.