Tag Archives: Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber

This Coca-Cola commercial highlights Coca-Cola’s efforts to combat the “epidemic” of “obesity” and unproblematically links weight to amount of calories consumed to health. The ad states, “All calories count, no matter where they come from, including Coca-Cola and everything else with calories.” Any other factors influencing health and weight are thus erased, Coca-Cola portrayed as healthy as long as you drink it lite, in an example of the equation of “’lightness’ with health” that Hesse-Biber criticizes (68). As Wann states, “health is not a number but rather a subjective experience with many influences” (xiii). The ad, however, does not consider that factors such as nutritional value, rather than simply calories, may be more important for health, and does not broach the question of whether the lite drinks are truly healthier, or if the process of making them “lite” may have made them more dangerous. The human diversity of body shapes and weights that Wann points out is also ignored, “obesity” portrayed as something that must be fought (by everyone) – the implications here may extend to an encouragement of harassment of fat people under the justification of concern for their health and for “the health of the nation”. Moreover, the advertisement of smaller portion sizes and labels of calories on the front “to make it even easier for people to make informed decisions” comes off as extremely paternalistic, as well as further reinforces the misleading notion that calories are directly correlated with health. Due to the lack of accurate information regarding health, weight, and the nutritional values of Coca-Cola products provided in the ad, it seems that Coca-Cola, in fact does not want consumers to “make informed decisions” – perhaps because that would mean losing a large part of its customer base.

Works Cited

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Wann, Marilyn. “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution.” Foreword. The Fat Studies Reader. By Esther D. Rothblum and Sondra Solovay. New York: New York UP, 2009. Ix-Xxv. Print.


Cultural Pressures of Thinness and Disorderly Eating


The above video shows a mildly clothed thin woman on the beach eating a large sandwich. This video is from a Hardees television commercial that depicts Nina Agdalin in provocative poses in comparison to the sandwich. When I first viewed the commercial I noticed the way she devoured the food in a sexual manner. After viewing a second time I noticed how this commercial has the potential to promote disorderly eating. As Biber mentions “The media bombards us with images of every imaginable food…at the same time women are subjected to an onslaught of sources devoted to dieting and maintenance of a sleek and supple figures” (67).   Physical perfection is displayed in advertisements of thin women eating immense portions of food. Physical perfection is often associated with thinness but yet foods that are harmful to the heath and have the possibility to make people fat are promoted along side skinny women. The representation of a skinny woman eating unhealthy food is damaging to a society that polices body conformity. Many people try to control their body weight by not eating fast food in order to obtain a similar body to ones viewed in commercials such as Hardees. These kinds of advertisements promote disorderly eating in an environment that juxtaposes unhealthy eating habits with unattainable figures.

Source: The Cult of Thinness by Sharlene Nagy Hesse- Biber


How Much Power Do We Actually Have?

Watching Jean Kilbourne’s film “Killing Me Softly 4,” I thought about questions that come up when thinking about who’s responsible for the proliferation of harmful products and messages we receive in advertisements: is it the corporations for creating and promoting these ads and products, or the people who buy products from the companies who create these harmful messages? While this is an important and interesting question, I decided to reflect more specifically on: How much power do we as consumers have in stopping harmful advertising or practices when not all of us have the economic luxury to do so?

According to Hesse-Biber, “The National Cancer Institute funded a $1 million ’5-a-day’ campaign to encourage people to eat their daily allotment of fruits and vegetables, but must compete for consumer appetites against a $500 million McDonald’s campaign” (67). In many low-income neighborhoods there are “food deserts” where markets with affordable produce are either non-existent or barely any are within an easily-accessible distance. Despite residents in low-income neighborhoods not having easy and affordable access to fresh produce, cheap fast food places such as McDonald’s are installed in many of these neighborhoods.

For people who may not have the economic means to stand up to industries that promote harmful products or messaging: is there a way that they too can make an impact on these companies?

Works Cited:
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

What Is Oppression?

What is oppression? In the words of Bette S. Tallen, quoted in “Reading the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” “the reality of oppression is replaced with the metaphor of addiction.” Often, the ways in which women are oppressed are insidious, made manifest in seemingly innocent ways that do not occur to consumers buying fashion magazines, weight-loss products, and beauty products. In “Reading the Body Beautiful,” Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber reveals the ways in which women are made to feel physically inadequate, which create a “fixable” problem that many women obsess over and that covers up deeper issues of inequality, poverty, education, racism, and sexism. Women’s issues are pushed to the side, secondary to the daunting task given to women by society of achieving the “ideal” feminine look.  While women have gained considerable influence over the past few decades, the fact that their appearances are still scrutinized and criticized is discouraging. As Hesse-Biber says, current culture focuses the reason for women’s problems away from social forces and onto women themselves. This is a way of oppressing women, by creating bogus problems for our culture to focus on so that the injustices being perpetrated against women are not realized and so that action is not taken against maintaining a patriarchal society.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N.  “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.” The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

What is fairness in media representations?


In class we have discussed endlessly the different ways the media chooses to represent both mainstream and peripheral identities. We have also discussed that some of these identities are symbolically annihilated (Wan-Hsiu 11). But what is fair? Is misrepresentation worse than annihilation?


Of course this is a gray area; in some cases — take trans women — the misrepresentation takes us miles back away from acceptance and tolerance — she is often sensationalized or the butt of a joke about undermining the cis-hetero-masculine sexuality (Wan Hsiu 8-9). But on the other hand, the IKEA and Mistic ads of the 1990s brought awareness of gay and lesbian identities to an ignorant general population. These representations were highly palatable because they conformed to many heteronormative values.

On the other hand, we can look at fairness in representation of attractiveness in television characters. How many sitcoms center on a funny father/breadwinner/head-of-household who is perhaps a little overweight (cue the midnight snack jokes!) and his naggy and subjectively more attractive, thin wife? This never ceases to bother me. Why is beauty a prerequisite for female entertainers but only a recommended trait for male success in entertainment? It is the combination of our culture’s obsession with thinness and the patriarchy’s ability to use that to keep women powerless.

george-lopez-show-marie2 King-of-Queens-the-king-of-queens-868387_1024_768

“If women are busy trying to control their bodies through dieting, excessive exercise, and self-improvement, they are distracted from other important aspects of selfhood that might challenge the status quo” (Hesse-Biber 63).

Kind of reminds you of this poem, eh?

  • Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.”The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford Unviersity, 2007. 61-83. Print.
  • Wan-Hsiu, Sunny Tsai. “Assimilating the Queers: Representations of Lesbians, Gay Men, Bisexual, and Transgender People in Mainstream Advertising.” Advertising & Society Review 11.1 (2010): 1-15. Print.

Perfume Ad Perpetuates the Ideal Slender Woman


In Chanel’s “Chance” perfume ad, a waif-ish woman is curled around a bottle of perfume, hair and body covered only by pale pink flowers. The woman has a childlike face and fragile, boyish body, with eyes closed and limbs on the verge of snapping. She lacks a “womanly” figure, mimicking the “boyish slenderness” that, according to Susan Bordo, becomes the dominant attractive form in times of gender role change. These images are often described as “female desire unborn.” Fittingly, the woman’s body language calls to mind the image of a fetus curled up inside of its mother’s womb.
The placement of ads like this in magazines like Allure and Instyle maintain the “slender” standard for women and perpetuate women’s obsession with thinness (Hesse-Biber, The Cult of Thinness). This ad reinforces slenderness as the current ideal for women, in which excess body weight signifies inadequacy thinness symbolizes the well-managed self (Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body”). The slender body is stereotypically female (as shown in the ad). Advertisements of slim women “overdetermine slenderness as a contemporary ideal of specifically female attractiveness” (Bordo, “Reading the Slender Body”). If current trends continue, female models will soon be no more than skin and bones, perpetuating a dangerous ideal in which women’s bodies are seen as attractive only when they appear to be withering away to nothing.

Works Cited
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: “Reading the Slender Body.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. 185-212. Print.
Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. The Cult of Thinness: “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery”. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 61-82. Print.

Ad critique: Common themes in SKYY vodka ad and music videos

Watching an advertisement for SKYY vodka, I noticed several elements of the standard music video. In the advertisement, women far outnumber men and women are heavily made up. Women’s bodies are fragmented and sexualized, with the camera frequently cutting to a close angle of women’s legs and hips. The setting is one typical in a music video: a hedonistic party scene, replete with alcohol and money. The main difference between this ad and a standard industry music video is the presence a product, SKYY vodka. The insertion of the product serves to further objectify women; shots of women’s body parts are interspersed with close ups of the SKYY bottle, suggesting a connection between women’s bodies and the product.

The similarities between the SKYY ad and standard music videos point to a common theme astutely summarized by Hesse-Biber: “Our society encourages women to see themselves as objects” (Hesse-Biber 62). The setting of the advertisement and the product itself (alcohol) support the truth of this statement; they tell women that their presence is only important as accessories to men in a drunken dance party, not in any type of substantial, intellectual setting.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.” The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. 61-82.