Hispanic advertising in the United States has become more popular in recent years. More Latino ads means that advertisers deem the Latino audience a valuable market, but these ads have some faults that need to be addressed, especially those that feature women. Ads today that feature Hispanic women only do so if they make apparent that the woman is conventionally sexy. This blog post will strive to illuminate some complications with over sexualizing Hispanic women in advertisements and formulate a sketch around these ads in the style of Sarah Haskins’s Target Women.
There are several recurring themes in these types of ads, which almost always include the Hispanic women wearing tight or revealing clothes with high heels and having long, wavy, darker hair (but not black). The ads also use words such as “hot,” “passion,” “sexy,” or even “naked.” Finally, the ads show Hispanic women using their bodies rather than words to emulate a feeling or emotion. I will use three television advertisements that star Hispanic women to support my argument: a L’Oreal hair product ad featuring Jennifer Lopez, a Kmart ad featuring Sofia Vergara, and a Sheba cat food commercial featuring Eva Longoria. These ads feature nonwhite casts, but they all utilize tactics, which will be discussed below, to avoid alienating white spectators.
The ads, especially the Sheba and Kmart commercials, portray women in general in an interesting light. Some would argue that these particular ads subtly support feminism. Although not as overtly as The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, these ads utilize commodity feminism to help sell products. As Goldman, Heath, and Smith explain in “Commodity Feminism,” ads such as this take commodity feminism and incorporate it into their advertising campaign, usually by using signs that “connote independence, participation in the workforce, individual freedom, and self control” (337). The Sheba cat food commercial does this by showing Eva Longoria in a very luxurious home that is assumed to be her own. The ad never shows a male figure, suggesting that she is the homeowner. Similarly, in the Kmart commercial, Sofia Vergara is actively taking part in designing the clothing. She is the one calling the shots and people, including men, are shown working underneath her. These are positive things, but as I will explain below, the ads still promote a conventional meaning of beauty and state that women should strive to be sexy like the Hispanic women in the ads.
The fact that the advertisements hypersexualize Latin women is problematic for a variety of reasons. Not only do these ads perpetuate certain stereotypes, but they carry specific ideologies. According to Goldman and Papson, there are four ways ads carry ideologies:
- They socially and culturally construct a world,
- They disguise inequalities, injustices, contradictions, and irrationalities,
- They promote a normative vision of our world and relationships, and
- They reflect the logic of capital.
These types of ads culturally construct a world because they imply that all Hispanic women are sexy, vivacious, loud, and confident, and that they all have light brown, long, wavy hair with hourglass figures. They disguise injustices because none of these ads touch upon hardships Latin women face living (or wanting to live) in the United States, such as racism and immigration issues. They promote a normative vision of our world by suggesting that women should aspire to be sexy and fiery like the women in these ads. Finally, they reflect the logic of capital by using Hispanic stereotypes and commodifying “Hispanic-ness” to sell products, whether cat food or hair gel.
Another negative aspect of these ads is that they create an image of the Hispanic woman that is not realistic. In Latinos, Inc., Arlene D’Ávila explains that ads utilize a whitewashed version of “Hispanic-ness” to avoid alienating white consumers. They do this by utilizing techniques such as unaccented “Walter Cronkite Spanish” and lighter hair and skin (114). As a result, women aspire to look like the women in these ads, which is usually very hard to achieve and sometimes not even possible. The L’Oreal, Shiba, and Kmart commercials can get away with less whitewashing because the women in the ads are all already famous in the United States. Therefore, the white viewers are already accustomed to them. If Sofia Vergara were not famous, it is presumed that her accent would not be as strong. However, the ads still utilize some whitewashing. For example, Vergara and Lopez’s hair is lighter than the average Latin woman. Similarly, each of the three women’s skin is olive and on the lighter side. These are attempts to not alienate white consumers.
If I were creating a spoof of the advertisements that hypersexualize Hispanic women, I would begin with a stand-up comedy portion. In the style of Sarah Haskins, the host would use humor to expose the problems in the ads. He or she (the host would more likely be a woman) would comment on the ridiculousness of using sexuality to sell cat food in the Sheba Eva Longoria ad and say something like, “I’m pretty sure the cat just wants her to stop dancing and serve the food.” Then he or she would comment on how they placed a dancing Longoria in the commercial just to distract people from realizing that brand of cat food is not very good. Finally, the host would comment on the Kmart commercial with Sophia Vergara and say something like, “because obviously when it comes to being sexy Hispanic women are the only ones who know anything” in a sarcastic manner.
Next, I would show some spoofs of the ads discussed above. One option for this would be to replace the women in the ads with men. For example, in the L’Oreal Jennifer Lopez commercial, show a man making the exact same movements as Lopez. This would be humorous because it would look silly and would not make any sense. Another option would be to make the host show the commercial then immediately after that, show the reality of performing everyday tasks. This would work especially well with the Sheba ad. It could show the host pouring the cat food in a very mundane, boring, unsexy way. This would help illustrate the absurdity of the advertisements.
The hypersexualization of Hispanic women in advertising must be exposed because it is a plain misconception that all Hispanic females are the vivacious, whitewashed women they are portrayed to be. This creates an image Hispanic women try to emulate, when in fact it is nearly impossible to achieve this white version of Hispanic-ness for most women. Similarly, the spoof is necessary to “achieve transparency, that is, to mitigate the asymmetrical effects of power” in advertising (Carducci 118). In other words, this sort of culture jamming is essential to society to give more power to the consumers by illuminating the flaws in this specific kind of commercial.
Carducci, Vince. “Culture Jamming: A Sociological Perspective.” Journal of Consumer
Culture (2006): 115-38. PDF.
Dávila, Arlene. “Images: Producing Culture for the Market.” Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing
and Making of a People. N.p.: U of California P, 2012. 88-125. PDF.
Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.”
The Consumer Society Reader. Ed. Juliet B. Schor and Douglas B. Holt. New York: New
Press, 2000. 81-98. PDF.
Goldman, Robert, Deborah Heath, and Sharon Smith. “Commodity Feminism.” Critical
Studies in Mass Communication (1991): 331-51. PDF.