Perched in front of the computer screen the other day, a sponsor’s commercial once more interrupted the streaming TV show I was watching. I heaved a sigh as a Dove Cream Oil Bodywash ad rippled out in tasteful grayscale, featuring an array of radiant women with a secret in their eyes, robed in suds. A swingy singer crooned, "I'm...blowing bubbles..." as the women smiled coyly over their bare shoulders. The female voiceover informed me of their "richest blend of cream and caring oil" in warmly familiar tones. The images of swirling lotion and magical nutrients reminded me of nothing so much as food porn. I was being brought in on a delicious secret – and what was more sensual, more rich than butterfat?
That got me to thinking. Over a half-century of hit-‘em-on-all-fronts public health campaigns, we've been thoroughly trained in self-denial. A virtuous diet has long been the new holiness. What is clean, and unclean, that which will elevate cholesterol and that which will be your talisman against cancers...all this has been made known, brought down to us by leaders in white coats. Away with saturated fats and simple sugars! What they'll do to your heart, your blood, and your metabolism is downright sinful.
This might be very helpful for overtaxed health-care systems. For a purveyor of consumer products, however, the popularity of virtuous self-discipline might have been troubling at first. Fortunately for consumer society, marketers clearly rose to the challenge: One brilliant approach has obviously been to charge people more money for less product. In recent years, repackaging of said product in cool shades of “eco” green or “light” blue was an additional triumph. Bonus points went to products that managed to work “thin” or “natural” into their names. More subversive marketers have even played it both ways, advertising the sinfulness of a treat while halving its volume. There’s nothing like a daintier, more preciously wrapped wafer to signal fake indulgence.
All this I’d noted before as a grocery-aisle skeptic, raising my eyebrows at “new and improved” labels. What I had not previously considered was how often the hunger for richness transcends the grocery aisles altogether. If a woman's desire to eat her emotions can't be exploited as reliably, why not encourage her to sublimate cravings for rich foods into more acceptable outlets? After all, ad men established long ago that desires are easily transposed. This may be Marketing 101, but it amuses this layperson to articulate the observation: so that explains the proliferation of edibles in cleaning products, cosmetics and skin creams.
If you can’t take it internally, simply purchase the topical application and take it in by osmosis! Wearing the indulgence on your skin or as a scent in your home spares the waistline and, more importantly, the guilt. The more advertisements evoke decadent consumption without the messy guilt-triggering process of actual ingestion, the better. On the menu we've got whipped coconut-lime creams, cocoa butter masques, oatmeal-and-brown-sugar scrubs. How cathartic it is to slather on the forbidden fruit, fats and carbs! Drugstore aisles overflow with mouth-watering combinations, putting frozen dessert aisles to shame. This foolproof strategy ensures that we indulge liberally and often. Why should flavours exist, if not for sampling?