In her recent
self-help book entitled Better Than Sex: Chocolate Principles to Live By,
British author Theresa Cheung claims that it was her long-standing “love
affair with chocolate” that prompted her to write this pocket-size guide
to better living through chocolate—“without feeling guilty.”[i]
She begins with some “Bite-Sized Chocolate
Facts,” the most intriguing one, I think, is that “according to
Cadbury’s spokesman Tony Bilsborough, a massive 60 percent of women
would rather have a one-to-one with a chocolate bar than have sex!”[ii]
The intimate connection between women and
chocolate has long been recognized.
Chocolate Sex: A Naughty Little Book
begins by stating:
Women lust after chocolate.
Their desire for it is overpowering; no
matter how hard a woman tries to restrain herself with visions of tight
black dresses or tiny bikinis, she knows in her heart she will
ultimately succumb to chocolate’s seductive call.[iii]
before women’s lust for chocolate was recognized, the connection between
chocolate and lust itself was made. Indeed, the conceptualization of
chocolate as an aphrodisiac dates to the sixteenth century.[iv]
By the start of the twentieth century as
the business historian Gail Cooper has argued, chocolate candy “as a
marker of the special occasion was clearly seen in its importance to
Men routinely bought chocolate for the
women they courted.”[v]
But today, women are free to indulge
themselves in the chocolate candy of their choice.
It has even been argued that women actually
need chocolate “to look and feel great.”[vi]
So why wait for someone else to fulfill
your most basic needs?
American women have now achieved relative power within
society—especially in legal terms—thanks to the vast accomplishments of
the women’s movement.
Women can attend university, enter the
profession of their choice, run for higher office, serve on juries, open
their own charge accounts—and, maybe with the help of those charge
accounts, buy their own chocolates, thus fulfilling their own needs. And
the marketing techniques of chocolate makers—from the global enterprise
of Godiva Chocolatiers to the Seattle-based Chick Chocolates whose small
bonbons are sold in packaging made to resemble a lipstick and are
“Fabulous, like you!”—reflect the tremendous social and political change
that has brought about this particular form of self-fulfillment since
paper, I want to briefly examine the representation of women and
chocolate in American advertising from the 1950s to the present as one
way of highlighting the impact of the modern women’s movement on
advertising in America
much of which now routinely uses feminism as a lifestyle that sells.
I believe that ads for chocolate candy are
especially well suited for such an examination.
As the historian John C. Super has claimed,
“food is the ideal cultural symbol that allows the historian to uncover
hidden levels of meaning in social relationships and arrive at new
understandings of the human experience.”[vii]
This is especially the case when food is
looked at through the lens of gender as I am doing here by focusing on
the representation of women in chocolate candy advertisements since the
focusing on women as consumers, food advertisements can serve as rich
source material for such an examination, a fact recognized not least by
According to Denise Fedewa, senior vice
president and planning director for Leo Burnett Worldwide, one of the
nation’s top advertising agencies, advertising in general is “both a
mirror of the culture and it moves the culture forward.”
Co-founder of her agency’s sub-unit called
“Leo-She,” Fedewa claims that “the best advertising, the most successful
advertising, is advertising that taps into a direction that we are
moving in, but we are not there yet, and it helps take us there.”[viii]
Whether advertising reflects our cultural
reality and/or helps create it, the historian Katherine Parkin has
recently noted the conscious effort of food advertisers to present their
products “as gendered and sexual,” particularly since the end of World
The ads I want to focus on here reflect
this very conscious effort.
contrast between ads from the 1950s and early 1960s and later ones
highlights the impact of the modern women’s movement on chocolate candy
Having survived the Great Depression and the
Second World War, many Americans entered a sustained period of relative
prosperity during the Cold War period. The American economy was booming
and the national birth rate boomed as well.
More Americans married and did so at an
earlier age than the previous generation.
According to the historian Beth Bailey,
teenage dating as an art form reached its zenith during the 1950s and
into the early 1960s—leading young women to their ultimate fulfillment,
a happy marriage.
union was enjoyed by Pat and Shirley Boone who are featured in a 1961 ad
for King’s Chocolates.
King’s Chocolates were “for American
Queens,” and were the “Greatest [for a man] to Give,” but were “even
Greater [for a woman] to Get!”[x]
However, not everyone eating chocolate
bonbons in the 1950s was in the “nuclear family in the nuclear age” as
Elaine Tyler May has put it. Hardly a typical suburban housewife, a
fur-covered and rather sultry-looking Lana Turner urged her fans in
another ad from 1953 to “Enjoy Brach’s Fine Candies,” especially their
more like the young housewife next door, the woman featured in an ad
from 1958 has just received a box of Whitman’s from “the nicest man in
the world.” With her wedding ring prominently displayed on one hand as
she holds a bonbon in the other, we can assume that “nicest man in the
world” is her husband who has fulfilled her deepest longings. It should
also be noted she holds that half-bitten piece of candy between her
first two fingers as one might hold a cigarette—perhaps the candy
industry was still competing with the tobacco industry for consumer
loyalty thirty years after the Lucky Strike campaign of the 1920s. But
within a few years, confectioners would face an even greater challenge
as a social revolution took off with the growing recognition among some
women that there was more to life than a nice man, a home in the
suburbs, and a growing family.
in 1963, Betty Friedan called it “the problem with no name.”[xii]
Widely-read especially by white, educated middle-class housewives, such
as the one who just a few years earlier was eating the chocolate given
to her by the nicest man in the world, Friedan argued that the socially
proscribed dictum that women’s sense of fulfillment was best achieved by
meeting the needs of others while ignoring her own longings explained
women’s oppression in general.
Furthermore, advertisers were complicit in
perpetuating this oppression through the words and images they used to
sell a plethora of products. But in the 1960s profound social changes
would usher in a new era—for women and men and their relationships with
each other—and in their chocolate consumption.
historian Beth Bailey has argued that “By the late 1960s, a new
incarnation of youth culture and the beginnings of a new feminism
challenged some of the values embedded in the dating system and undercut
some of the public controls effected by convention.”[xiii]
So too was the consumption of chocolate
candy, at least as purchased by a man for a woman, effected.
Anticipating perhaps 1967’s “Summer of
Love,” Brach’s advertised a heart-shaped box of chocolates for
Valentine’s Day that same year, promising the presumably male purchaser,
“Free kisses with every box of Brach’s Valentine Chocolates you give to
The growing rejection of sexual mores of
the past, made possible in the age before AIDS, in part with the
introduction of the birth control pill in 1960, was increasingly evident
in 1960s America.
Within the so-called “free love”
generation, one’s parents’ courtship practices were seen as
old-fashioned as the Whitman cross-stitched adorned candy box itself.
social impact of the women’s liberation movement at the end of the 1960s
further emphasized for many the sexist tokenism represented by the man’s
gift of a box of chocolates bonbons to a woman he sought and the
advertising industry responded to these changes in the rules of
heterosexual relationships in its own quirky way.
historian Juliann Sivulka has noted, “During the 1960s, the social
forces of feminism hit Madison Avenue.”[xv]
By the early 1970s the advertising
community periodically assessed itself regarding how its presentation
might or might not be appealing to, as they called them, “women’s
liberationists.” Articles with titles such as “A Woman’s Place: A
Follow-up Analysis of the Roles Portrayed by Women in Magazine
Advertisements” and “Women’s Role Portrayal Preferences in
Advertisements: An Empirical Study” asked questions such as “Do women
who believe most strongly in the tenets of the Women’s Liberation
Movement also tend most strongly to perceive a product as more desirable
when the woman in the advertisement is portrayed in a working role?”[xvi]
Interestingly, the answer was that it
depended on the product.
If it was a “family-related” product such
as a refrigerator, than a woman appearing in such an ad as within the
bosom of her family was deemed appealing to both liberated and
non-liberated women alike.
But if it was a product associated with
personal use, such as deodorant, then women’s liberationists responded
more favorably to ads using “career women.”
But chocolate bonbon advertisers were faced
with a double burden.
Not only would they have to redesign their
ad approach to reach the newly liberated woman, they would have to do so
for a product that for many represented a pre-women’s liberation
early 1970s the chocolate candy industry was also challenged by the
growing health consciousness of many Americans.
As part of the mainstream adoption of some
aspects of the counterculture, carob beans were touted as an
alternative, healthier source of chocolate taste than cocoa beans.
Increasingly, chocolate in any form was
seen as something bad for you, but that was nonetheless so good it had
to remain available if only as a very special treat. But now, instead of
being a token of courtship given by a man to a woman, chocolate could be
shared as a decadent delight or even consumed by a woman as a solitary
“sensuous bedtime snack,” while reading
perhaps, thus fulfilling her own needs.[xvii]
process, chocolate itself became more publicly eroticized, not
surprising given the centuries-held notion of chocolate as an
aphrodisiac, as noted by a cover story from a 1975 issue of
High Times. The
cover image sets the tone for the article inside and reflects the
increasingly openly erotic relationship between women and chocolate.
Behind the cover blurb, “Deep Dark Secrets
of Chocolate,” is a woman’s naked breast, the erect nipple pointing
upward as chocolate is poured from an unseen source above the
Yet another cover blurb, above the title,
reads: “Does Grass Really
Make Your Breasts Grow?,” an article that discusses the effect of
marijuana on male breast growth.
While this 1975 issue of
High Times may
have focused on both male and female breasts, its content matter
regarding chocolate as a kind of drug was part of a growing literature
on the chemical properties of what
High Times called
in 1975 the “delicious temptress.”[xviii]
decadent and self-indulgent Reagan era of the 1980s it was still
possible to find that yellow box of Whitman’s at the local drug store.
But, high-end chocolate candy—preferably
handmade and European in origin—became a commodity whose very purchase
symbolized one’s status.
Thus it remained appropriate for a man to
give a woman chocolates, as long as they were European and expensive,
and meant to be shared in an intimate moment, such as “Baci,
most romantic—and delicious chocolate.”
A Baci’s ad from 1988 features a young,
attractive woman, apparently naked and buried up to her chest in a pile
of Baci bonbons, who “knows, in Italian, Baci means kisses.
And she also knows that with kisses, it’s
best to be generous.”[xix]
Here is evidence of the ultimate in
self-indulgent, even decadent consumption as she shares this erotic
treat with her partner as she gives her kisses, fulfilling her own
longings as she continues to fulfill those of another.
mid-1990s American women had achieved relative power within society,
especially in legal terms, reflecting the impact of the modern women’s
No longer should women expect to find their
fulfillment outside themselves.
Rather, women could and should feel free to
fulfill their own longings, including those for chocolate.
In 1995, dietician and self-help author
Debra Waterhouse published
Why Women Need Chocolate
arguing that if women sensibly recognized their biologically-determined
craving for chocolate, they’d “feel better, function more effectively,
eat less, enjoy the food more—and you’ll never have to diet again!”[xx]
the same time,
women have repeatedly been told over
the last several years, in countless articles and books, that the
craving much less the need for chocolate appears to only intensify when
in the throes of pre-menstrual syndrome because of shifting hormones.
Thus, scientific rationale has legitimized
what for so long seemed an irrational longing of overly emotional women.
Confectioners and their advertisers quickly
adapted this theme of rationalized need for their own uses.
co-founder and current editor Lydia
Sargent has recently stated, “Feminist liberation is anything that sells
And what could be more liberating than consumption of a PMS chocolate
candy bar? According to a PMS candy bar wrapper from 2003, on which in
bright primary colors is depicted an angry–looking woman who appears to
be in mid-howl, that chocolate is really “for ANY TIME of the MONTH!”
Part of the “True Confections” candy line,
the PMS candy bar is just one of the many chocolates aimed specifically
at women for self-purchase. According to Renee M. Corvino’s “Special
Report: The Feminine Side of Chocolate,” for the industry’s trade
2005, chocolate candy manufacturers “have finally decided to cease their
coolness of heart and return the affection—with special packages,
shapes, and marketing messages that speak the modern female’s language
Chocolates and Godiva Chocolatier are excellent examples of the
recognition of feminist liberation as a lifestyle that sells products,
even those products formerly associated with a pre-feminist way of life,
or at least pre-feminist liberation practices of courtship.
Chick Chocolates are, according to their
byline in 2005, “like you, fabulous.” Like True Confections which is
based in western Massachusetts,
the Seattle-based Chick Chocolates is a woman-operated company and makes
sure its consumers are aware of that fact.
According to “Chief Chick and CEO” Jean
Thompson, “For women, chocolate is more than a food choice, it’s a
And in this case, it is a relationship over
which the woman has a fair amount of control as the consumer of a
product made with her needs in mind.
Certainly, the proliferation of these
smaller, high-end candy makers are part of the growing trend in
handmade, quality chocolates in America at the end of the twentieth
century and into the current one.
But only some, such as Chick Chocolates
sold in lipstick box-like packaging, unabashedly shape their product to
“appeal” to women longing for self-fulfillment, three portion-controlled
pieces to the box.
also, as the twenty-first century reaches into its first decade, those
larger chocolate concerns that craft their ads with a more subtle,
seemingly gender-neutral appeal.
Russell Stover’s and Whitman’s both offer
low-fat, low-carb versions of the perennial favorite box of chocolates
in response to the diet concerns of many Americans, both male and
But, there are also those among the giants
of the confectionery industry who consciously craft the marketing of
their products to appeal to the feminist within every woman.
Godiva Chocolatier, long recognized as one
of the premier makers of mass-produced but still high-end chocolate
bonbons, launched an ad campaign in 2004 that plays on its famous name
at the same time that it capitalizes on the recent trend to recognize
certain women performers as “divas” as feminist inspirations for a new
generation of women.
the Godiva advertisement in the “GO DIVA” series that shows a sensuous
young woman, her sweater pulled off one shoulder to reveal a ruffled
sheer slip underneath; she sits sidewise but gazes directly at the
viewer/consumer, delectable Godiva truffle in hand mid-air, presumably
on its way to her mouth and not someone else’s.
Feminist Divas know that true pleasure lies
With nary a man in sight, the ad text
states that “Every woman is one part DIVA much to the dismay of every
In selling products, especially perhaps
chocolate, it seems that advertisers have chosen to take the notion of
self-empowerment around which women’s liberation revolved and turn that
concept into a marketing strategy based on the notion of
cooptation of a potentially revolutionary movement by mainstream popular
culture, thus leading to the devolution of that movement, is hardly a
new argument—just ask any student familiar with the work of Gramsci.
In any case, it does appear that some
chocolate makers today, such as Godiva and the Chick Chocolate line, are
very consciously crafting their product and its presentation by using
feminism as a lifestyle that sells.
Does this represent a cooptation of a
movement of great social change, leading to a lessening of its ultimate
Perhaps…but at least while concerned women
ponder that, they can also reach for a piece of chocolate, made just
with them in mind, and just like them, “fabulous!”
Kathleen Banks Nutter
This paper was originally
presented at the Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Association Conference,
Nutter is currently a Lecturer in the History Department at Stony Brook
University; she is the author of numerous articles as well as 'The
Necessity of Organization': Mary Kenney O'Sullivan and Trade Unionism
for Women, 1892-1912 (Garland Press, 2000). At present, she is
finishing up a manuscript tentatively titled Women and Chocolate:
Production and Consumption in Twentieth-Century America.
For an expanded version of this
paper, see the author’s article, “From Romance to PMS: Images of Women
and Chocolate in Twentieth-Century America,”
Kathleen LeBesco and Peter Naccarato, editors (SUNY Press, 2008).
For more information, see:
Theresa Cheung, Better
Than Sex: Chocolate Principles to Live By (York
Conari Press, 2005), p. 2.
A. Richard Barber,
R.M. Whitin, and Anthony Loew,
Chocolate Sex: A Naughty
Little Book (New York: Warner Books, 1994), p. 3. NB: my
examination of women and chocolate has been greatly enriched
through conversations with my colleague and friend, Jane Elkind
Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe,
The True History of Chocolate (New York: Thanes & Hudson, 1996), p.
31, emphasis added.
Gail Cooper, “Love, War, and Chocolate: Gender and the American
Candy Industry, 1880-1930,” in
His and Hers: Gender,
Consumption, and Technology, Roger Horowitz and Arwen Mohun,
eds. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998), p.
Debra Waterhouse, Why
Women Need Chocolate: Eat What You Crave To Look and Feel Great
(New York: Hyperion, 1995).
John C. Super, “Food and History,”
Journal of Social History Vol. 36, no. 1 (2002): 165.
Eileen Fischer, “Working for Women within the Organization:
Eileen Fischer Interviews Denise Fedewa of LeoShe,”
Advertising and Society Review Vol. 4, no. 4 (2003): 9 [available
online through John Hopkins University Project Muse, retrieved 4 April 2005].
Katherine Parkin, “The Sex of Food and Ernest Dichter: The
Illusion of Inevitability,”
Advertising and Society
Review Vol. 5, no. 2 (2004): n.p., [available online through
John Hopkins University Project Muse, retrieved 4 April 2005].
“Greatest to Give!,” King’s Chocolates, Inc., 1961.
“Enjoy Brach’s Fine Candies,” Brach’s Confectioners, Inc., 1953.
Betty Friedan, The
New York: Dell Books, 1984; orig. pub.
Beth L. Bailey, From Front
Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: John Hopkins
University Press, 1988), p. 7.
“Free kisses,” Brach’s Confectioners, Inc., 1967.
Juliann Sivulka, “Historical and Psychological Perspectives of
the Erotic Appeal in Advertising,” in
Sex in Advertising:
Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal Tom Reichert and
Jacqueline Lambiase, eds. (Mahwah,
Erlbaum Associates, 2003), p. 59.
See also: Thomas Frank,
The Conquest of Cool:
Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip
Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) pp.
Louis C. Wagner and Janis B. Banos, “A Woman’s Place: A
Follow-Up Analysis of the Roles Portrayed by Women in Magazine
of Marketing Research Vol. X (May 1973): 213-214; Lawrence
H. Wortzel and John M. Frisbie, “Women’s Role Portrayal
Preferences in Advertising: An Empirical Study,”
Journal of Marketing Vol. 38 (October 1974): 41-46, quote, p. 41.
“Private Time” column,
Glamour (Feb. 1983): 39 and 238-240. See also: “Chocolate to
Sin By,” Cosmopolitan
(Feb. 1970): 98-99, 147; “Valentine’s Day Delights,”
Harper’s Bazaar (Feb.
Robert Lemme, “The Deep Dark Secrets of Chocolate,”
High Times Vol. 1, no.
6 (Oct/Nov. 1975): 40 [thanks to Tom Brinkmann for showing me
“Baci to You,” Perugina Chocolates, 1988.
Cover blurb from Debra Waterhouse,
Why Women Need Chocolate: Eat What You Crave to Look Good & Feel Great
(New York: Hyperion, 1995).
Lydia Sargent, “Feminism in the
It’s the Best if Times; It’s the Worst of Times,”
Z Magazine http://www.zmag.org/lydiatalk.htm [retrieved 4 Sept 2005]
28 April 2005]
1 May 2005]. (web page no longer exists. Ed)
“Every Woman is One Part DIVA,” Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., 2004
[thanks to Sandra Krein for sending me this ad].