Juxtaposition and misleading/mixed messages

I just read this great piece over at No Cheese, Please about the trend of marketing departments to capitalize not only on the huge levels of guilt-ridden discontent we are socialized into accepting into our daily lives but also to seize upon the insecurities taught and instilled into women throughout their lives regarding their (our) lack of self-control.  To quote the author of the post:

This circular’s cover [for Bed Bath & Beyond] reminds me of magazines like Woman’s Day: a picture of a beautiful cake on the front, with the headline, “LOSE 23 POUNDS WITH POWER WALKING!” Translation: make a cake for your family while you eat celery and work out every day. It’s sickening how often women around food is correlated with some kind of lack of control.

I wanted to highlight not only this thought-provoking post but also I want to elaborate on the point I emphasized in the quote above.  How often have you ever idly glanced at the magazines waiting in a grocery store line and noticed this same thing?  Any magazine geared towards women (which are what are found in grocery store Last Minute purchase display racks since of course only women do food shopping, natch) seems to LOVE to find new and fun ways to display amazingly decadent looking desert images, while highlighting text to the effect of “Lose weight now!”  This juxtaposition of indulgent foods with dieting messages is trying to make, I think, two pulls upon the women for which they are artfully crafted.

1. You are meant to look at this beautifully colored and laid out display of “naughty” foods and immediate imagine yourself making and or at least eating it.  By adding the large font text pertaining to diets just next to this “naughty” desire provoking image you are then immediately supposed to feel the guilt and shame of even mentally giving in to your wild female impulses, for your lack of self-control, and are drawn to the snake-oil salesman pitch for the latest and greatest food-restriction tips.

2. By placing a luscious food item in full color right next to a tip for dieting, you also get the simultaneous (and confusing) impression that whatever hew “diet tips” or “weight loss magic secrets” are shared within the glossy pages of the magazine will somehow allow you to EAT the pictured item.  Sorry honey, but the misleading message is not to be believed, despite the mixed signals it gives to your brain, believe your gut instincts which say that no matter WHAT those diet tips or tricks are going to be, no where in them will there be a mention of making and eating that delectable treat on the front cover.

I have always scoffed at such women’s mags with “Lose weight NOW!” poised above a lovely image of some fiddly to make but fantastic looking (and in our imaginations at least, wonderful smelling and tasting) chocolate desert. Even when in our hearts (and at the back at least of our minds too) we KNOW that the magazine cover is playing to our senses and triggering the advertisers desired results; even KNOWING that they are just using tricks of juxtaposition to guide our hand to purchasing the magazine; the urge is still there to give in to both the guilty desire for that tasty-looking desert recipe and the self-loathing inspired demand to read the diet tips in retribution for even THINKING about eating something “naughty” and once again being feminine and “losing control” over that battle against our body.

I’ve always felt (and feel more so now after my exposure to concepts here in FA and elsewhere regarding the tricky methods of marketing in general) that these sorts of covers  which should have to have, even if only in small print, the same disclaimers that Weight Watchers and the like are forced to add to commercials which states explicitly to the viewer that: “No, our methods for forcing your body to change its size does not include allowing you to actually EAT anything seen on this delicious looking cover”.

At least that would be a bit more honesty in advertising than we’re used to seeing.

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14 thoughts on “Juxtaposition and misleading/mixed messages

  1. I love this post. It is like another version of the madonna/whore complex. We are providers of decadent homemade (and time consuming!) baked goods, nurturing and loving homemakers for our families and to ourselves we are strict disciplinarians depriving ourselves these decadent foods (or purging ourselves of these foods which our family can eat impunity.)dieting, exercising, keeping our skin silky soft, our hair perfectly styled and our body free of wrinkles, hair etc.ALL SO THAT WE WILL SOMEHOW BE WORTHY. Worthy of society’s approval, worthy of a man, worthy to simply exist.

  2. Puellapiscea you have a good point. It does seem that the entire drive behind this sort of self-deprivation amidst all the generous giving to others is supposed to render our ill-controlled feminine natures worth the space they take up. Interesting (and deeply disturbing) connection!

  3. Like the Special K commercial where the kid mistakes her for Santa Claus, so she atones by eating nothing but overprocessed special K crap while they enjoy their christmas breakfast, presumably.

    I hate this world, sometimes.

  4. Very true. As puellapiscea notes, moms make the dessert, but are not allowed to eat it.

    It’s like that ghastly commercial for the chocolate-flavored diet cereal where the woman has been making a chocolate cake for her family. Her son is hovering over the cake plate in delight and she’s taking the frosting bowl to the sink. Just as the woman starts to dip a single finger into the bowl to take a tiny taste, she’s frozen in time and the voice over starts in about how she needs to resist the cake she’s just spent at least a couple hours making from scratch and eat FAUX CHOCOLATE CEREAL INSTEAD LIKE A GOOD GIRL!

    I made chocolate cupcakes yesterday. I made them from scratch. I not only ate one, I LICKED BOTH THE MIXING AND FROSTING BOWLS, and it was goooooooooooooood! I’ll have another cupcake today because I love them and I made them and I’m worth a damn cupcake.

    I refuse to nurture everyone else and then fail to nurture myself. I am worth nurturing, too. As women, we need to start understanding that simple fact.

  5. Twistie I need to make some kind of cake soon, it has been forever since I did it! And I don’t even bake from direct scratch for most cake recipes but still think I merit getting to actually EAT one after spending all the time to make them. 🙂 Maybe Lemon Poppyseed. Mmmm

  6. I’ve been complaining about these magazine covers for years. Either share the recipes and leave out the diet tips (which would be the best alternative—or, leave out diet tips and offer recipes for people who still want their dessert but need a lower fat, lower calorie, non-chocolate version) or don’t share the recipes and devote the cover to dieting & weight loss.

    Many of the recipes are ones I’d love to try, but I refuse to buy the magazine because they want their readers to always be focused on weight loss for appearance reasons, or they play on women’s fears about going out in public without makeup, without high heels on, and heaven forbid, without a man on your arm.

  7. I have ranted about the women’s magazine cover phenomenon many times, but the BBB circular takes the cake. I can’t believe they are just putting it out there so baldfacedly–“Here’s our marketing plan. Buy this this and this so you can make this. And then afterward, buy this this and this so you can erase the [likely imaginary anyway] effects of using the other stuff we told you to buy. But remember, this all depends on your belief that you’re inadequate both as a caretaker and a sex object, so don’t let us down!” Unbelievable.

  8. Yeah, I always look askance at those mags in the checkout aisle too. Those and the tabloids maundering on about celebrity cellulite are enough to make me rage. I don’t care if Cher has cellulite! I’m not interested in losing 23 lbs “without being hungry!” (as if). If they put magazines like Mental Floss or Bitch at the checkout, I might be tempted to buy one. 🙂

  9. The magazines at the checkout counter are a billboard for the amorality of the culture’s expectations of women.

    Being feminine means giving to everyone else while sacrificing your own needs, desires and whims. Stars without makeup! (Let’s bring these privileged bitches down a notch, shall we!) Get six pack abs in 6 weeks! (If you don’t achieve it in that time, you’re doing it wrong!) Celebutante caught in lesbian scandal! (What is with these insatiable women-children!)

    And if I never see another breathless Cosmopolitan cover exhorting the one thing that drives him wild in bed (fellatio, it turns out. What a revolutionary suggestion!)

  10. Oops. I didn’t finish my sentence.

    If I never see another breathless cover of COsmopolitan again, I won’t shed a tear.

  11. I tend to figure any magazine with “diet” or “lose weight” on the cover is automatically not useful.

    Another litmus test is whether a magazine pushes 8 glasses of water a day. That’s been totally debunked.

  12. First: omg yay someone linked to me! Heheheheee I feel special.

    Second: Wow, actually, I never noticed the wealth of women’s magazines at the checkout. Good one! Great observation.

    Third: I love this post.

  13. PS:
    “It’s like that ghastly commercial for the chocolate-flavored diet cereal where the woman has been making a chocolate cake for her family. Her son is hovering over the cake plate in delight and she’s taking the frosting bowl to the sink. Just as the woman starts to dip a single finger into the bowl to take a tiny taste, she’s frozen in time and the voice over starts in about how she needs to resist the cake she’s just spent at least a couple hours making from scratch and eat FAUX CHOCOLATE CEREAL INSTEAD LIKE A GOOD GIRL!”

    I talked about this, too! I HATE that advertisement.

  14. I think it all leads back to our (women’s) cultural/social status as the primary providers of pleasure and comfort, but never the “consumers” of (physical) pleasure and comfort. So many of the double standards and self-loathing we fall prey to are born in this dichotomy.

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