Years of dedicated advertising has created a strange myth about women’s eating habits. It seems that women, all women, cannot get enough yoghurt. Apparently, we love the stuff. It’s the perfect low-fat ‘treat’ to enjoy during a female bonding session (yoghurts are mandatory here, didn’t you know?), a sumptuous treat to enjoy for five minutes in between those typical female pursuits of shoe shopping, child-minding and taking care of the family home. It’s something of a rare and momentous occasion to watch television and not be bombarded with adverts of women getting unnecessarily excited over one of these little pots of dairy-creamy-oh-so-indulgent-luxury. Why? And more importantly, why should we care?
Women are (apparently) easily pleased, or so one Muller advert would have us believe (figure one). What do we need in life? A bubble bath, a fireman, (endowed with phallus-like hose) and a yoghurt. Creamy and indulgent, (the yoghurt, not the man) and crucially, it must have a low calorie count. That’s every woman’s basic desires covered, right? I want to address some of the myths about women, aside from our intense and persistent yoghurt-y fantasies, that yoghurt advertisements also perpetuate in their advertising style.
The above Muller advert for instance, what does it tell us about women? The scenery creates a frivolous fairy-tale setting, and with such a ‘happily-ever-after’ woodland scene, the woman is infantilised, in lieu with typified generalisations for young girl’s to dream of becoming princesses – the stereotypical narrative for female heroines within the fairy-tale genre.
This huge generalisation of girl’s and women’s wants, needs, and desires creates a non-threatening female persona to comfortably present on the television, and the bubble bath and fireman similarly show her to be ‘safe’ viewing for the masses through demonstrating her femininity, and her heteronormative desire. Who could this woman pose a threat to? What would the advert look like (and indeed responses to the ad) if her answer to ‘what more could you want?’ were more along the lines of ‘a McLaren MP4-12C Spider, a double cheeseburger and fries, and a pint’?
This advert presents a particular mode of femininity which is promoted over any alternative within societal norm; she’s girly, heterosexual, and happily contained in a Disney-esque dream world which continually presents women as girls, and thus subordinate to men and in need of (male) help and protection. Societal understandings of femininity are not challenged in the advert, and so a construction of femininity as girl-like, whimsical and somewhat silly is put forward. Patriarchy is unchallenged, and notions of ‘correct’ femininity, and by proxy ‘incorrect’ femininity, are continually reproduced.
Yoghurt advertisements are typically aimed at women, sometimes at children and rarely, if ever, at men. Are women the only people who eat yoghurts? There is a clear-cut difference in the way yoghurt is marketed to men and women, and there’s a key word that comes up over and over again when the demographic is women: indulgence. What do women want from their yoghurts? Muller Greek yoghurt is apparently ‘delicious’, boastfully ‘fat free’, and ‘creamy’; while ‘silky-smoothness’, ‘luxuriously creamy’, ‘delicate’ and ‘so indulgent’ yoghurts are promised from Perle de Lait.
The Perle de Lait advert, linked above, is particularly miraculous as it appears to hold the secret to achieving the ultimate feminine look. Watch as the yoghurt turns a head of hair (literally, she has no face) into a gloriously groomed young woman. Wow! The wording of this advertisement is something to pay particularly close attention to. Are they talking about the yoghurt, or the woman?
‘Silky-smoothness’ – Can a yoghurt be silky smooth? Women are expected to maintain a strict regime of hair removal when it comes to achieving a truly feminine appearance. Gillette Venus adverts frequently promise to give women ‘silky smooth’ legs of mythological proportions (cue ‘empowering’ Goddess music they’re so fond of). Feminine nudity isn’t about presenting the natural female body; femininity is carefully created and constructed. Confined within the realms of feminine appearance, women are expected to undergo painful hair removal procedures- shaving, waxing and plucking ‘excess’ hair into non-existence. Excess, here, is defined by societal restrictions placed upon women’s bodies, seeking to minimise the natural (unaltered) female body, and maximise societally defined notions of sex appeal. (Because femininity and feminine performance is, ultimately, constructed to attract a man).
‘Delicate’ – Typically, women are presented in damsel-in-distress roles of helplessness. Also, we’re not meant to be stronger than men. We’re fragile souls, weak and depressingly lacking in agency when it comes to certain tasks. That’s what the big strong men are for. Female delicacy can also be understood as a nod to women’s supposedly unstable emotional state, hyper-sensitivity and taking things too personally are so often stigmatised as ‘womanly’ traits, and are consequently mocked. Describing women as ‘delicate’, or marketing something for women by deeming it ‘delicate’ reinforces these irritatingly traditional views of women as weak and men as strong.
‘Every time, it’s perfectly flawless’ – This, to me, seems to be the pressure placed upon women to be ‘perfectly flawless’ in our everyday performances of femininity, or else a very strange description for something to consume. The women we are presented with in the media are not only meticulously groomed, but also airbrushed and photoshopped until they become only vaguely recognisable to even themselves, and yet these are the current beauty standards that are set for everyday women. The yoghurt seems to be promising to make women flawless, as demonstrated in the ad with these words being met by a smiling woman swooshing her glossy hair. Notions of flawlessness, and the pressure to be flawless, are perpetuated by the media and result in highly unachievable and unrealistic understandings of an attractive female appearance and feminine beauty.
Yoghurt is presented as something luxurious for women, an opportunity to relax and enjoy something that claims to provide the pleasure of more calorific foods through its creaminess, but is actually low in fat. See this Activia advert starring Gok Wan for example. The ad begins with Gok prepping a home, dimming the lights and using candles to set a more ambient mood.
(Figure One: Activia Intensely Creamy)
Gok says ‘You know what? We just don’t treat ourselves enough, you’re running around all day, you deserve a little more me time, a bit of indulgence now and then.’ Let’s break down what he’s really saying here. First of all, the type of woman that the yoghurt ad is trying to target. Presumably, if she’s running around all day, she leads a busy life style, and judging by her smart attire (see figure one), the woman in this ad is employed. To look at her, she’s sleek and groomed, sophisticated. She epitomises a middle-class persona.
Yoghurt, then, may be symbolic of middle-class-ness, women who painstakingly pay close attention to their appearance, carefully cohering with the strict expectations of female beauty, and having the finances to do so. They’re generally slender and impeccably groomed, capable of efficiently multi-tasking while still managing to look effortlessly glamorous, and their choice of ‘indulgent’ treat is a yoghurt. I hate that woman, don’t you? She probably never succumbs to the temptation of a KitKat Chunky, or similarly sweet-tooth satisfying snack. But here’s the thing, she isn’t actually human, I promise you. She’s a media invented superwoman, and she’s unaffected by the desires, wants, needs and cravings of the everyday human being, like me or you. Yet, she’s depicted as the average woman, and herein lies the problem.
The media depict a particular mode of femininity as normative through advertising, and yoghurt ads further perpetuate these myths of superhuman femininity as normal. While the middle-class, employed, (presumably well educated), slender and ‘beautiful’ woman is promoted, there is also a stark absence, a silence, for any deviation from this norm. In my sample ads, the women are all in-keeping with these aforementioned qualities. They are emblematic of the media’s average women, and maintain the extraordinarily difficult to manage expectations and understandings of acceptable feminine performance as a result, leaving these high standards for female appearance and behaviour unchallenged.
(Figure Two: Danone Activia, 2013)
These women are styled in stereotypically middle-class attire, and with Gok Wan starring in the ad too, perhaps you wouldn’t expect anything else. Gok is well-known for helping women to regain confidence and self-esteem in his show How To Look Good Naked, and for proving that style can be done on a ‘budget’ in Gok’s Clothes Roadshow. Gok’s presence on the Activia ad promotes middle-class-ness alongside typical notions of femininity because of the accessibility of a supposedly ‘bargain’ wardrobe, at £50.00 an outfit in the above show. Further, heterosexuality is naturalised through Gok’s employment of the male gaze when styling women, taking great care to emphasise their ‘bangers’ (breasts) if women are blessed with larger chests, and to cinch in waists to create that ‘classic’ hourglass figure designed to appeal to the heterosexual male gaze.
This class bias towards a middle-class audience isn’t necessarily a surprise. Indeed, Target Women do a wonderfully comedic analysis of yoghurt ads, stating the target demographic is an educated woman of a specific social and financial background, ‘I have a Masters, but then I got married’ (Target Women, 2013). The typical woman in a yoghurt advertisement oozes domesticity and conservative values of middle-class ‘family woman’ traditionalism.
Yoghurt advertisements continually confine women to the private sphere through implicit assumptions of women as care-givers, a key example of this is the Muller Greek Style Yoghurt (linked above), an advert with two friends discussing the implausibility of a creamy low-fat yoghurt, seemingly too good to be true. The ad concludes with one of the women trotting away (she’s half horse) to pick up her children from school. The overt use of mythology in portraying the women as centaurs is the key mythical element, which goes to naturalise the woman’s role as a mother and care-giver.
Each of these advertisements present a facet to feminine performance which all come together to create a very particularised version of femininity, and these advertisements work to promote particular understandings and expectations for how women should look, how they should behave, what they should wear, and even what they should consume. These subliminal messages implicitly reinforce patriarchal versions of femininity, and continually subordinate women through maintaining images of women as girl-like and delicate, or as sex objects.
Amy is a recent graduate of Lancaster University, where she completed her BA English Literature with Media and Cultural Studies. She is due to start her MA at Lancaster in October of this year, studying Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology. Her research interests surround nonhuman animals, activism, food anthropology, meat, femininities, masculinities and sexualities.
ActiviaUK (2013) ‘Activia Intensely Creamy Advert with Gok Wan’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbN4_UdslgY> [accessed 17th November 2013]
ActiviaUK (2013) ‘The new Summer Specials Activia UK TV ad with Gok Wan’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKUBCD9h6gY> [accessed 17th November 2013]
Muller Greek Yoghurt (2013) ‘Mullerlight Greek Style “Soya” Yoghurt’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLuu2h3Q9Qc> [accessed 16th December 2013]
Muller Light Desserts (2013) <https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/c0.22.851.315/p851x315/1278931_518026768278108_87927660_o.jpg> [accessed 16th December 2013]
Target Women (2013) ‘Target Women – Yogurt’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf_roIC9Pso> [accessed 23rd November 2013]
Who Knows (2013) ‘Target Women- Yogurt’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf_roIC9Pso> [accessed 17th November 2013]