Saturday, 21 April 2007

Who gets cravings for choclit?

We all get cravings for choclit, don't we? No food is as emotionally loaded as choclit.

Who remembers these Flake ads? I mean, she's virtually fellating it.

Why have cotton when you can have silk? Why indeed.


Okay, I'm the first to admit that I know bugger all about the history of chocolate advertising, but for as long as I can remember, chocolate has been marketed almost exclusively to women and almost exclusively with sexual imagery and undertones and/or the idea that it is a naughty/indulgent treat.

The best example I can think of to illustrate just how powerful marketing can be has little to do with feminism at all. Everybody remembers the Ferrero Rocher adverts - Mr Ambassador, with these Rochers you are really spoiling us! Ferrero also make this stuff called Nutella, which is marketed as a chocolate spread for kids. Now, I don't have any concrete proof of this, I have not sent samples off to the lab or anything, I only have my taste buds to guide me on this one, but after, erm, extensive research, I am damn sure that the soft centre of Ferrero Rocher is exactly the same as Nutella. Same stuff, different positioning.

Come to think of it, the chocolate and diet industries kind of feed off one another's advertising campaigns:

1- Chocolate manufacturers convince woman that she should be "naughty" and stuff her face with chocolate

2 - Diet companies (Special K, anyone?) make woman feel ugly and fat and in need of their services

3 - Woman feels guilty. She gives up chocolate and eats Special K bars instead.

4 - Woman feels emotionally deprived, not to mention bloody hungry. That family-sized bar of Dairy Milk has never looked so good.

5 - Repeat from Step 2

Why should a food make you feel emotionally deprived? It's just food. Chocolate will not make you happy, nor is eating it a terrible sin. You're not a chocoholic - you've just been duped into thinking that because you're a woman you need the stuff, particularly when you're on your period.

I love chocolate, I really do. And occasionally I do get cravings for it, which are usually satisfied by a small bar of Green & Blacks milk chocolate. Or Cadbury's Whole Nut. Mmmmmmm.....nuts...... Well, you are what you eat. I also have a particular fondness for Curly Wurlys, Chomps, Toblerone (especially those mammoth ones you get in airports!), Twirls (like Flakes but less messy) and Creme Eggs.

I have nothing against chocolate in itself, but I wish that women would stop seeing it as their friend, saviour, ultimate source of comfort, etc etc, because it's quite frankly pathetic.

What to wear to flatter your figure

The latest issue of Glamour brings us another of those “what to wear to flatter your figure” articles. I can’t help noticing however that the models used to represent these six types of figure all look EXACTLY THE SAME. Could Glamour not bring themselves to sully the pages of their magazine with a voluptuous or pear shaped model? Apparently not. Perhaps the pictures are there not to represent what type of figure the reader has but what type of figure to which they are to aspire.

I hate these articles anyway. For starters, I always feel like a freak for falling into more than one category. Petite girls: tight trousers will make your legs look longer. Hourglass girls: steer clear of tight trousers – they will make your arse look like an elephant’s. Bugger! But there’s also the implication that you’re supposed to be changing the way you look, hiding your flaws. Wear this to make your legs look longer, wear that to make your bum look smaller, wear this to make your boobs look bigger, steer clear of horizontal stripes, hide your tummy, conceal chunky thighs, only skinny girls can wear skinny jeans, wrap dresses are flattering, wide-leg trousers skim your curves - fuck off!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Boycott Special K!

Some things are easier to boycott than others. Nestle for example - I like KitKats as much as the next girl, but there are plenty of equally yummy alternatives that don't involve giving money to baby murderers. McDonald's* isn't too difficult to boycott either, because their food is utterly vile. I do however have trouble with Special K. It's the most delicious cereal ever invented, and yet their advertising campaigns make me want to hurl my bowl of the stuff at the television.

I was really hoping that I'd be able to find loads of clips of these nauseating adverts on YouTube, but sadly (?) nobody has uploaded them so you'll have to make do with a description: Smug, slim, scantily-clad woman talks to camera in conspiratorial honeyed tones about the secret of her svelte figure, whilst idiotic neanderthal male model runs around after her like an adoring puppy. I'm a smart woman because I eat Special K and thus keep my figure. If you eat Special K, you too can be a smart, sultry woman, wearing red hotpants despite the fact that she is pushing thirty, cocking her perfectly-plucked eyebrow at fatties in their living rooms. You too can turn your man into a dribbling imbecile with a killer six-pack. Eat Special K, keep trim and get a man. Excuse me whilst I vomit.

These advertisements are unusually obnoxious in that they manage to insult both men and women. They imply that women have a duty to maintain their figures and that they will be less attractive if they eat normal cereal. They imply that the ultimate achievement for a woman is to have a man wrapped around her little finger. They also imply that any man will turn into a slack-jawed goon in the presence of a svelte Special K eater.

Another reason for boycotting Special K is of course the fact that it's twice as expensive as any other cereal. Anything marketed as a diet product is always way more expensive than calorific alternatives, because manufacturers and retailers know damn well that women are going to pay for it. I'm buggered if I'm paying twice as much for a packet of cereal just because it's "diet food".

Special K isn't actually marketed as a diet product, more as a "weight maintenance aid" if there is such a thing - it's a lifestyle choice that women are encouraged to make on a permanent basis in order to maintain their figures. This is not a question of paying through the nose for the stuff for a few weeks in order to shed a few pounds - it's a question of paying through the nose for life.**

I'm not the only person of the opinion that Special K is the yummiest cereal ever - it's definitely got the popular vote amongst everybody with whom I have ever discussed cereal preferences, male and female, dieters and non-dieters. They don't need to market it as a diet product. But as long as they continue to do so in such a vomitous fashion, and as long as the price reflects this, it's cornflakes all the way.

*I have nothing against globalisation in theory - it was their advertising campaigns that made me vow never to set foot in the place. Aggressive campaigns aimed at children, specifically stating that their products will make you happy? Ronald McDonald had better cock off before I shove his burgers where the sun don't shine.
**Actually, they have started marketing it as a diet product recently, in a copycat version of the Slim Fast programme (for anyone whose mum lived on milkshakes in the early 90s). I have to say, all credit to them, when I put my height and weight into their BMI calculator and came out with a figure in the normal range, the advice was not to go on the diet.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

So, you wanna lose weight?

We like the Oasis Sports Centre.

The Oasis Sports Centre is very close to my office, and a large number of my colleagues go there. After much nagging, I told them that I would join on one condition: If at any point during the induction process it was assumed that I was joining the gym for weight loss purposes, I would tell them to naff off.

I joined a gym for a while during my first year of college. As I was filling out all the forms, I was asked by my slimy new "personal trainer", "So, you wanna lose weight?" Ridiculous enough under normal circumstances, but particularly risible considering that having suffered from a chronic loss of appetite during my last year of school, I was actually trying to gain weight at the time. It's a fundamentally bad question to ask: if the woman in question is fat, it's insensitive. If she's not fat, then it's just plain stupid and she shouldn't be being encouraged to lose weight. I don't honestly know if they ask men the same question in the same way, but I suspect not. In any case, since men by and large are not so sensitive about their weight it wouldn't really matter so much if they did.

On Friday, I went along to Oasis and headed to the enquiries desk, ready for battle. I have to admit that part of me was quite looking forward to making a scene, but in the end I didn't have the opportunity to do so. There was a question on one of the forms asking me why I was joining the gym, one of the tick boxes being "weight loss", but that is an entirely reasonable question posed in an entirely reasonable manner. Other than that, it was just general medical stuff that they'd need to know. Overall, I'm pretty pleased so far.

My induction session is on Wednesday, and we have yet to discover what that will bring. Will my "personal trainer" give me diet tips? Will they pinch my imaginary rolls of flab? Will they give me specific exercises to do in order to make me thinner? Will I punch them? Watch this space!

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Math is hard!

Today I've been thinking about an acquaintance of mine. This girl has lots of lovely redeeming features, but something that really annoys me about her is her stubborn refusal to admit to any competence in anything traditionally "male".

A while ago, she asked me to show her how to use basic HTML tags (and we really are talking basic here - just line breaks and stuff). She sat at her desk sporting a rabbit-in-headlights expression, repeating phrases such as "Oh no, I really don't understand this" "I'm so useless with computers" rather than actually concentrating and making any real effort to learn how to do it for herself. The same goes for anything maths related, anything computer related, anything vaguely logical, carrying heavy things*... It may come as no surprise that this girl irons her boyfriend's shirts. (Actually, I used to iron my last boyfriend's shirts. But only because I was better at it than him. And he used to make me breakfast whilst I was doing it.)

This is the case for quite a lot of women. They assert their femininity by refusing to become proficient in "male" activities, as if coding their own HTML will magically turn them into a fat ugly cow. Women are not supposed to be good at certain things. There is a long list of skills that women are not allowed to have. This is just what I can think of off the top of my head:

Computer programming
Parallel parking
Wiring plugs
Assembling flat pack furniture
Reading maps

On average, women are slightly worse at these sorts of activities than men. On average, women are better at language and communication, and have better empathy. But what you never ever get told when bollocks newspapers report on all these bollocks surveys that for some reason scientists manage to get funding for is firstly that these differences between men and women are tiny and probably attributable to differences in upbringing rather than brain chemistry, and secondly that there is massively more variation between people regardless of gender than there is between the genders themselves. Bottom line is, we're all different. Some talents and shortcomings might have a greater bias towards one gender than the other, but if you happen to be good at parallel parking this does not make you any less of a girl. You wouldn't regard a considerate man with a wide vocabulary a poofter. A man has nothing to fear by excelling in anything to which he puts his mind. A woman is regarded as unattractive for being good at the wrong things. I myself was repeatedly accused of being a "lezzer" at school because I took maths and physics A levels. Nobody would have batted an eyelid had it been English and history, but nor would they have batted an eyelid had a boy taken these subjects.

Because women are all too happy to perpetuate this myth that they are incapable of adding up because it makes them feel more "feminine", men are all too happy simply to go along with it, seeing as it asserts their superiority. You don't see men bemoaning their narrow vocabulary for example, making a show of asking women for help in writing letters. Attention is not drawn to male "shortcomings" in the same way. Therefore we have an image of men as competent in everything, including "female" activities, but of women as incompetent in these traditionally "male" fields. We have a general culture of inferiority perpetuated by social conditioning that tells girls that math is hard and that they'd better not grow up to become a computer programmer or else they'll be a greasy-haired freak in NHS glasses playing World of Warcraft at three in the morning and never getting laid, ever.

And then of course, there's the fact that at school, more value is placed on the "male" maths and science subjects - they are regarded as more difficult than "female" arts or humanities. If you subscribe to this theory, then check this out. It's an online version of the entrance exams that Cambridge admissions tutors are using to put potential undergraduates through their paces these days. I don't know about you, but I sailed through the maths/spatial awareness/data analysis type questions to the extent to which I wondered if they were trick questions, whilst really, genuinely struggling with most of the more humanities-biased questions.

Anyway, bottom line is, unless you are genuinely bad at something and genuinely want help with it, do it yourself, because you are just as competent as a man. And if you're so unsure of your gender that you feel the need to bemoan that math is hard, just take a look in your pants.

* Actually, I do think that as a general rule, men should help women carry heavy things. It's good manners. There's no shame in accepting that men have more brute strength than women. I was however none too impressed by the man who once offered to help me (an attractive nineteen-year-old at the time) carry my bags with which I was clearly having no trouble, ignoring the fat old lady next to me who was struggling with hers. That is not chivalry.

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