Duane Reade (a drugstore chain) is welcoming weary New York City travelers on their subway ride with an advertisement playing into one of the most tired stereotypes – the emotional female eater. Take a look:
Don’t worry, the picture proclaims – by the fourth spoonful of our ice cream, you’ll begin to forget him! The gendered notions of this ad are clear, as it makes sure to emphasize that these issues of emotional eating are befalling women. ‘Him,’ we are supposed to assume, is the man who left/dumped/broke the heart of ‘you,’ the woman. And ‘you’ are coping with this tragedy, of course, by eating copious amounts of delicious ice cream – that’s how women deal with stress and disappointment, right?
Nothing here mentions taste or ingredients. This is an ad for a sugary stand-in to negate whatever distress a woman may be feeling, drawing on the idea that women use high-fat and/or sugary foods to fill an emotional void.
Emotional eating is a learned behavior. Like all learned behaviors, it is reinforced with supportive messages that can be both direct and subliminal. This ad isn’t trying anything new – media critics, most notably Jean Kilbourne, have for years been pointing out the tactic of equating a food item to an object of affection or even love, one that can stand in for a partner that a woman sees as falling short or who has deserted her. Movies and TV shows so often portray women nursing broken hearts being offered a pint of ice cream or other food by their friends (see: the entire Bridget Jones franchise) that The Big Bang Theory mocked the trope.
The association in the Duane Reade ad implies that a woman’s desire for intimacy isn’t something dynamic and fulfilling, based on a real connection with a human being, but rather a desire that can be filled with anything that won’t desert her, or that can be easily replenished, drawing on larger cultural message and stereotype of men being unable to emotionally connect and of women being too needy.
Larkin Callaghan is a doctoral student at Columbia University studying health behavior and education, with a focus on female adolescent health. She is currently working on her dissertation which explores the relationship between sub-clinical disordered eating behaviors and high-risk sex behavior, substance use, violence, and suicide. You can follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, and at her blog.
If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.