If, before reading Susan Bordo’s Hunger as an Ideology, I had been asked to identify a genre of commercials where gender inequality is an issue, my first instinct would have been to bring up cleaning advertisements. I mean, have you ever seen in a commercial a man Swiffering the floor or a boy using Bounty paper towels on the counter? Absolutely not. In fact before reading the article my small understanding of gender inequality in food commercials only went so far as “women prepare the food and men eat the food.” After reading Hunger as an Ideology though, I am left blown away by Bordo’s accurate points about the portrayal of women in food commercials.
One ideology within her article resonated very much with my experience with food advertisements, and that is the representation of “sexual appetite as a metaphor for eating pleasure.” To illustrate this idea, I decided to look at one of Carl’s Jr’s recent ad campaigns featuring a number of famous women such as Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Audrina Patridge. Let’s look at Kim Kardashian’s ad:
First of all, the visuals in the commercial are explicitly sexual; the ad features a half-naked woman lying on a bed and then in a soapy bathtub, taking enormous pleasure in eating her Carl’s Jr. salad. But what is more interesting to me is the auditory content of both the lyrics in the song, and the voiceover spoken by Kim Kardashian. The first lyrics that we hear in the commercial are “When I’m alone, after work is done…No one else around.” What the viewer is supposed to take away from this is that the eating that is taking place is happening in a very private moment, behind closed doors, and only after all work has been done. Incidentally, Susan Bordo talks about these ideas several times, saying, “female eating is virtually always represented private, secretive, illicit. The woman has stolen away…to a secret corner where she can be alone.”
The voiceover itself also had some subtle and not-so-subtle sexual content. In one instant Kim Kardashian is saying “the best things in life are messy,” a statement which is paired with a close-up shot of Kim’s smoldering eye contact with the camera. Who here thinks Kim is only talking about the salad? Anybody? That’s what I thought. The statement has some pretty obvious sexual undertones, especially when combined with the visuals in the ad. Another quote, this time said by the male Carl’s Jr. narrator, is “who said salads can’t be hot?” This quote not only makes a sexual point about the commercial, but in a way it also demeans Kim Kardashian’s narrative, insinuating that the only reason she is in the commercial is to sell the product via use of a hot chick – not an unheard of advertising technique these days.
The Carl’s Jr. ad campaign correlates very strongly with Bordo’s points about food, sexuality and desire. In many commercials, Bordo says “food is constructed as a sexual object of desire, and eating is legitimated as much more than a purely nutritive activity.” In my opinion Kim Kardashian’s and the two other women’s Carl’s Jr. commercials (linked below) are extremely good examples of food being sold as not just food, but also as an object of sexual desire.
Paris Hilton’s ad:
Audrina Patridge’s ad: