Bordo’s text, Hunger as Ideology, is deeply rooted in understanding how advertising plays a role in constructing consumer identity, and cultural ideologies with regard to gender representation. Her focus in particular is the construction of women’s relationships to food, and their eating habits, as portrayed in advertisements. By narrowly signifying women’s patterns of food consumption and attitudes toward food, she argues, advertisers are creating a dominant representation that plays dangerously into (as well as constructs) larger narratives of “normalized” thin body images and unhealthy eating habits.
For a while now, Carl’s Jr. has been running ads that feature scantily clad (and physically fit) women suggestively devouring burgers. The most recent of which features Heidi Klum in an homage to the seminal film, “The Graduate”. It’s important to note here that the immediate success of the ad hinges upon its use of “cultural cannibalism” and intertextuality (Goldman & Papson). If you haven’t seen “The Graduate” or don’t understand the Mrs. Robinson reference, then it won’t resonate as strongly. However, even if one doesn’t understand the film reference, the strong sexual themes are so overt, they are impossible to misinterpret. Yes, she is seducing him with that burger. On a surface level, showing a thin icon of beauty (Klum) enjoying a large fattening burger might seem counter-hegemonic. However, by acknowledging the limitations usually placed on women engaging in such behavior, it becomes clear that the Carl’s Jr. ad isn’t subverting anything. Rather, it is directly supporting the idea that women can only enjoy food to such an extent when it is seen as satisfying a sexual appetite as opposed to their actual appetite. Bordo writes, “When women are positively depicted as sensuously voracious about food (almost never in commercials, and only very rarely in movies and novels), their hunger for food is employed solely as a metaphor for their sexual appetite” (180). Indeed, in this Carl’s Jr. ad, it is used exactly in those terms and as a pretty thinly veiled metaphor.
Given the ad’s grounding in a film reference, and its general outlandishness, some might write off its effects as being irrelevant, since we all know the movies aren’t real, and this ad doesn’t attempt to represent any semblance of real life behavior—gendered or otherwise. Bordo would argue that its furthering of unequal gender representation has more to do with the fact that it strongly romanticizes an unattainable standard of beauty and grotesquely objectifies women’s desires. In fact, the world as depicted by advertising often has little to do with actual interactions, and much more to do with a constructed realm in which supposed fantasies and desires (that are created through ads) run free and are made attainable by simply purchasing a product. Therein lurks the real danger.