Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Temptation, Insatiable Desire, and Sexy.... Food

I am a woman. I also happen to love food. These two things are not mutually exclusive. However, in the eyes of the American advertising gurus who make their livings trying to warp the minds of myself and the other 50% of the US who happen to have XX-chromosomes, they are.

The piece I am going to discuss, Hunger as Ideology by Susan Bordo, was an absolutely fascinating read for me, as a woman -- and a scholar -- who happens to have a particular interest in women's issues and gender studies. I could write pages, and pages, and pages about this article, but, for the sake of this blog post (and your attention span), I will limit my discussion to a critique of Bordo and her discussion of the sexualization of food.

Before I discuss Bordo, I would like to first divide up the sexualization of food/eating into three sub-categories that I saw repeated throughout the piece:

  1. Food as a substitute for a romantic relationship, or used to fill some sort of emotional void
  2. The need to control/dominate one's consumption of food, and the proximity of this desire to that of sexual domination and powerplay
  3. The substitution of descriptive language used to illustrate things of a sexual nature, for things concerning food/eating; the innate relationship between sex and eating both as primal needs for survival

While Bordo herself acknowledges, analyzes and critiques, in-depth, the perceived relationship between women and their food that is shown to us in advertising, she makes some of the same mistakes that she is chiding (like using "sexy" language to describe food/eating) in the 12 pages of writing leading up to the section 'Food, Sexuality, and Desire,' (which is where she finally delves into the direct correlation that advertisers create between hunger and a sexual appetite, and successfully calls out/critiques examples of the sub-categories listed above). Examples of Bordo's snafus include:

  • "Undominated by unsatisfied, internal need, she eats not only freely but without deep desire and without apparent consequence" (102)
  • "... free and easy relations with food are at best a relic of the past" (103)
  • "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 relationship to food, to find it dangerous and frightening (especially rich, fattening, soothing food like ice cream" (108)
  • "... the depiction of women eating, particularly in sensuous surrender to rich, exciting food is taboo" (110)
  • "... an advertisement depicting a young, attractive woman indulging as freely, as salaciously as the man in the Post cereal ad" (110)

Is she really talking about food here? She is, truly, but bits of language used throughout the piece certainly evoke ideas that are much more.... salacious. This is not to say that Bordo's piece does not have it's redeeming qualities -- as I said, I found the entire piece a wonderful and thought-provoking read -- I just don't have the space to discuss it in its entirety. That'll have to be saved for another blog post.


  1. I found Bordo's piece, and your blog post, to be quite interesting. However silly it may sound, and whether or not people actually realize it, the frequent use of sexual words to describe food, or a woman's relationship with food, is quite prevalent in today's modern world of advertising and media. While reading this article, certain song lyrics came to me. I couldn't stop my mind from sifting though the words of John Mayer's song "Your Body is a Wonderland." "One pair of candy lips and your bubblegum tongue," to be specific. Even songs are not shielded from this seemingly inevitable relation between food and sex.

  2. Thia, your post is a really lovely model of how to distill the elements of a hefty reading in a way that brings the primary points to the fore. I also appreciate your ability to attend to Bordo's language and to offer a potential critique, though I wonder whether Bordo was simply parroting or evoking the tactics of the ads themselves.

    As for Saige, good point too about music's complicity in this food-sex equation for women. Think also of Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy"... I'm sure the list could go on and on.