Alyssa M. sent in an ad that gives us a window into the advertising aimed at tween and teen girls. The ad, for Auntie Anne’s pretzels (an American chain that appears mostly in shopping malls) appeared in Seventeen magazine. The copy reads “Pick A Reason to Get One — Any Reason” and, in the background, is a long list of reasons.
I’ll let Alyssa take it from here:
..the reasons in the background reflect gendered expectations that are placed on [teen girls]. One of the reasons, for example, is “I’ll run another lap during P.E.” This reflects the idea that women should feel guilty about eating food, and that they should make up for eating a salty pretzel by exercising more. It also illustrates that women must justify eating by promising themselves that they will prevent any weight gain, which would stray from the type of woman that society deems best (the thin woman). Another reason provided is that “It’s the one thing at the mall that always fits!!” This again reflects the social necessity for women to be thin, as it implies that women are concerned with the fact that clothes at the mall are often too small, which implies that the women are too large. This ad very much focuses on girls’ size and waistlines and illustrates that a thin girl is the best girl, and that to be accepted by society, teen girls must act in accordance with this expectation.
Another theme seen throughout the ad is that food can be consumed in order to ease the emotional pain of a traumatic event such as a breakup. For example, two other reasons given are that “My almost-boyfriend dumped me” and “It’s the perfect breakup snack.” Both suggest that a breakup warrants an unhealthy indulgence like a pretzel, but this also implies that unhealthy foods like this are only acceptable during a bad experience like a breakup. Eating is okay when you need it to comfort yourself, but if you are not going through such an experience, then you need to watch your weight and “run another lap during P.E.” Those who break this rule are at risk of being policed by others and losing the body type that society appreciates most. This ad therefore supports the expectation placed on teen girls to be thin and concerned with their weights.
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Alyssa’s analysis reminds me of Jamal Fahim’s argument for how chocolatiers convince women to indulge in their product.
Willow — December 16, 2010
The ad includes the word "jeggings." It has lost all hope of credibility with me.
Also - "lamer" is underlined; assumption that reader will have a car/expects to have a car; more heteronormativity than a mainstream wedding magazine could deal with.
But does "It’s the perfect breakup snack" really send the message that it's ONLY a breakup snack? I understand it, especially in the context of a bunch of lousy but not breakup-related 'reasons,' more as "Food is how women deal with a breakup." Which has a whole load of sexist and ableist problems of its own. (But I open this up to the greater hive mind--is this something bleedingly obvious that I am missing?)
Jihad Punk 77 — December 16, 2010
They don't NEED to convince me to get a pretzel. I always get one whenever I walk by Auntie Anne's. Yum. The smell is enough to entice me...
bbonnn — December 16, 2010
What's weird is pretzels aren't that bad for you in the first place. Pretzels are boiled & baked (not fried in oil), don't have a lot of fat (even with butter, total fat is 5g), are made from pretty simple ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt), and according to Auntie Anne's website you can get them without salt. They have 340 calories, which is not a "lite" snack, but not horrendous. It's almost as if the ad is presenting the product as something worse than it is, in order to capitalize on the "indulgence" pitch which seems to be popular in advertising in the last couple of decades. Like, "You've already gone over the cliff in deciding to break your restrictive diet; among all your choices of luxurious food sins, pick our product for your guilty pleasure."
P — December 16, 2010
The breakup-snack's message isn't actually "This is comfort for a breakup."
The full line reads: "It's the perfect breakup snack. You take half, I'll take half. See ya!"
Although it's quite clear from the others that it's a sexist ad... kind of like the rest of Seventeen Magazine.
K — December 16, 2010
Love the use of little circles to dot the i's. Also, what is a mermaid braid??
ellipsisknits — December 16, 2010
How does the statement that none of the clothes at the mall fit imply that women should be slimmer?
I'm very slim and tall. I have a very difficult time finding clothes because they tend to not come *small* enough. Or, if they fit me around, they are too short. Or a dozen other quibbles related to different parts being different sizes.
I think difficulty in finding properly fitting clothes is universal to women, as there is a high variation in female body shapes. Any reference to aspirational thinness in that comment is being projected there by Alyssa herself.
ElkBallet — December 16, 2010
There is no group of people in the United States more despised and given more of a narrow box to conform to than teenage girls. Too fat and they're considered worthless, too thin and they're made fun of for an eating disorder. The pressure on teen girls to be thin enough (yet also have enough body fat to have large breasts and a sizable enough butt) is enormous. I don't know any teenaged girls who don't have self-esteem problems.
Lauren — December 16, 2010
Also interesting that if you buy one, you can get a "free one to share," emphasizing stereotypical femininity (i.e. - women are expected to be generous)...I highly doubt that an ad geared toward young men instead of young women would mention sharing
Beth — December 16, 2010
While I agree with most of the criticisms about this (really dumb) ad, I want to point out that having trouble finding clothes that fit is not only a problem for people who are overweight. I'm quite petite and I often have trouble finding clothes that fit. Clothes can be too tight, too loose, too short, too long, or just have an overall "weird" fit. We can't definitively say that the ad is portraying the person justifying this pretzel purchase as overweight.
Seriously though, how hard is it to sell a delicious pretzel? I walk by those places and my mouth starts to water.
tarquin — December 16, 2010
My first thought to the line "I could run another lap in PE" runs more along the line of "Food gives me energy, which allows me to do more" instead of desperately trying to lose weight. I don't think everything to do with exercise is necessarily about losing weight. Why not be promoting the fact that food makes you stronger?
I know, I know, I doubt that is what the ad intended. But then again, it is presented as a reason to eat one, not suggesting punishments for doing so.
sleep — December 16, 2010
I'm not saying the ad is good or even not sexist but I wonder if the individual who has offered the critique may be looking through his/her own heteronormative lens. I'm just wondering does the phrase "my almost boyfriend dumped me" have to be an opposite sex relationship. Also, unfortunately there is a large yet undiscussed number of young men who suffer from disordered eating and might think similar things about running extra laps. Unfortunately since I cannot read all of the ad even when it is enlarged but it did seem that there may have been some "male centered" things in there as well. Again I'm not sure.
I will also second or third the idea that women's clothes do not always fit well regardless of size but also the way they are cut and the style.
I wonder again if this is perhaps another "if all you have is a hammer" moment.
SW — December 16, 2010
It's horribly problematic that a woman even needs a reason (excuse) to eat. Like "I'm hungry" isn't enough.
Kyra — December 16, 2010
I can't read everything on that sheet, but let me guess: "I want one" is not present on it.
They could take a lesson from the seasonal-goods store that I drive past on my commute: one of thier billboards read "Fresh-dipped caramel apples: you deserve one." No extra lap or trauma required.
Hopeful — December 16, 2010
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the second line in the 3rd photo: "My math skills are, like, nonexistent." Ummm, wtf? I can't think of how that has anything to do with eating pretzels at all.
Violent Violet — December 17, 2010
Oh, well, if you fail at math, you can console yourself by eating a pretzel, natch! Hopefully the person serving the aimed-for teen girl at Auntie Anne's isn't a teen girl herself, otherwise how will they ever navigate through all those dollars and cents correctly enough to finish the transaction?
Sickening. It really seems as though society hates young girls unless they have $$$ to spend.
Silliness — December 17, 2010
I generally find this blog worthwhile and interesting but many posts like these are just reaching for controversy. I can concede a fair bit of gender stereotyping in an ad such as this, but a lot of the legitimate points are obscured by a desperation by the original author and some of the comments.
Please, the more non-issues that get inflated the more the real ones get drowned out. I would like to say that this is a rare occurrence, but during my short time reading this blog, its a frequently recurring theme.
For example, the first point by the original author insists that the ad "reflects the idea that women should feel guilty about eating food". Or the ad could could reflect the idea that women are not complete idiots and DO feel guilty about eating crappy and unhealthy mall food!
Unless the author thinks that saturated fats coated in sodium should be a culturally encouraged dining option, I fail to see the sway of her opinion. Not all food is created equal, and culturally defined prescriptions with regards to what and when and how food should be eaten all over the world prove that.
Do not be so quick to call teenage girls intellectually bankrupt. They know unhealthy food when they see it, and that is not some social tragedy.
Links of Great Interest: WTF, Luisa? | The Hathor Legacy — December 24, 2010
[...] Anne’s encourages teen girls to self-medicate using food and to punish themselves for [...]
Casey — June 10, 2011
I buy a pretzel every time I go to a mall. Simple as that.
Arsi — June 17, 2011
I agree strongly with Silliness' post, and I would add that alongside the supposedly gender-stereotypical reasons in the ad that were cited by the blogger are plenty of reasons that directly oppose those reasons and suggest that it's perfectly normal and acceptable for women to indulge themselves in unhealthy food. Observe:
There will be ZEEEERO crumbs in my car
My life is a reality show
Brown is the new black
I'm into earth tones
There are tons of reasons why a young girl would want to indulge in a pretzel. Some of them reflect gender stereotypes about culinary concerns and others don't. This ad reflects both.
Megan Fulton — August 25, 2011
These reasons are what many women, particularly those with eating disorders, already tell themselves. The use of breakup and school references are interesting and I think must be due to the anticipated mall customer. It seems as though chocolate ads usually aim at the slightly older female with references to work and time maintenance, such as a quick treat in the break room at lunch, just home from work and taking high heels off, or the supermom momentary mental retreat.