A woman must be thin. A woman must be delicate. A woman must be disciplined. “A woman must continually watch herself. She is continually accompanied by her own image of herself… The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female.” (Berger 37-38) And goddammit, a woman must not eat a cheeseburger at a diner. Or at least, if she does, she better look fucking fabulous doing it. This is a billboard I have seen passing between Center City and University City. It is problematic on multiple levels.
This woman is obviously posed, but the text in the ad suggests she has been ambushed. This is a popular advertising technique. It shows how women embody Berger’s idea of being both the surveyed and a surveyor. She is cognizant of the image she is presenting, and according to the text, she knows it’s shameful. As per societal standards, a glamorous model like her surely doesn’t eat, or at least eats something else.
Even further, a woman who is bad (she had to be “caught”) is a woman who is sexy which means she’s asking for attention; she is posed and looking at the screen after all. As Sut Jhally of Dreamworlds 3 puts it, women in media are portrayed as “desiring the look.”
In approach, this ad models a trope discussed in Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly 4. Which is: you may have slipped up in your presentation of yourself in this aspect, but you can make up for it by buying this unrelated product! You may be breaking your diet, but at least you can look (sorta) classy in our jewelry!
- Berger, John. “From Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. By Amelia Jones. New York: Routledge, 2003. 37-39. Print.
- Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex & Power in Music Video. By Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation, 2007. Transcript.
- Killing Us Softly 4. By Jean Kilbourne. Perf. Jean Kilbourne. 20010. DVD.