Covering Up Women’s Health at the Check-out Rack

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Publix, my (generally wonderful-other-than-their-refusal-to-support-the-CIW) regional grocery chain, saw fit to conceal this recent TIME Magazine cover on the rack, in the traditional manner of hiding pornography (I uncovered it to take the photo). As you can see, this issue—with the cover story discussing women’s changing approaches to breast cancer—was adjacent to Shape,  also concealed, presumably due to the scantily clad model on its cover (who was herself adjacent to a headline screaming “Shrink Your Belly!”).thumb_IMG_2832_1024 [At least, I’m guessing it was the model’s barely covered breasts that earned the Shape cover-up, and not the general offensiveness of reproducing tired and destructive messages about the female body and the need to make it ever-smaller. ]

Certainly, it’s intriguing that TIME chose a naked and conventionally slender female torso to make its point about a woman’s wrenching choice when it comes to investigating her propensity for breast cancer. On the other hand, the magazine is clearly depicting a woman doing a self-exam—not a sexual act—and yet the store has  relegated it to the status of quasi-pornography on the check-out rack. (This juxtaposition seems particularly evocative when we also consider the widely socially accepted sexualized discourse around breast cancer—the “save the tatas” movement.)

Surrounding these two magazines—one actually about women’s health, the other about marketing women’s bodies and sexuality—both covered in the manner of pornography—are other magazines promoting multiple varieties of American consumerism and intersecting it with gender, in the home, in the bedroom, in the mall. These messages, of course, gain no such censure.

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Love For Sale, Installment Two

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More examples of food as love, love in places of food, love for sale alongside food. . . at a central Florida Publix, prominently displayed in the front of the store en route to cheese and deli. IMG_1753 IMG_1752

The text reads “love is fleeting,” which doesn’t seem like the most promising message for Valentine’s Day (especially since the champagne is fleeting as well).

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prescriptive displays–some ideas for making use of your Valentine’s Day supplies.

Your Childhood Teddy Bear Grows Up

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Apparently, the Vermont Teddy Bear company has produced a “Fifty Shades of Grey” bear for Valentine’s Day, complete with handcuffs. I thought this was a joke when I heard about it on a news show. ( I’m still not convinced it isn’t, though evidence suggests otherwise, in form of the company’s website. And if it is a joke, then multiple news outlets include The Today Show were also taken in. It would be a great hoax, for sure.)

The copy on the company’s website reads: “If you want to dominate Valentine’s Day, skip the roses and send the limited-edition Fifty Shades of Grey Bear. Inspired by the best-selling book, the adult gift is specially designed for fans obsessed with Grey, biting their lips with anticipation over the movie. He features smoldering gray eyes, a suit and satin tie, mask – even mini handcuffs.”

Only 89.99.This particular bear comes with a safety warning: “Contains small parts. Not suitable for children.” Indeed.

The 50 Shades Bear is only one of a panoply of special Valentine’s Bears. They include: “The hoodie-footie bear,” “The I-Love-You-More-Than-Bacon Bear,” and the “Zombie Bear.” These specialty bears all average around $80.

I want to write about how the Fifty Shades bear shows an interesting trajectory for the classic teddy bear–from kids’ toy/love token/ to BDSM signifier (or at least, the book’s version of that). There’s really something rather brilliant and hilarious about turning a cuddly teddy bear into a symbol of sexual domination. As irony, it works. But here, I get caught in the conundrum of questioning intent–is the bear supposed to be funny? a pricey gag gift (surely no pun intended) as Today wondered, in a typical product placement bonanza on its website listing listed multiple Fifty Shades products? Or is it just seizing an opportunity? Who will buy the bear?

This column from The Daily Beast by Melanie Berliét makes very interesting points about how BDSM has been used as an advertising tool in recent years, along with critiquing the film and book’s portrayal of the practice.  Seen in this light, the Fifty Shades Teddy Bear is certainly nothing new. But the trend that Berliet describes raises another perpetual question in popular and consumer culture–once a subversive or alternative viewpoint or lifestyle becomes commercialized, what happens to it and its perception? Does the commercialization increase knowledge and change attitudes or just dilute the meaning of the original? Though Berliét’s article–and the teddy bear–reference a specific set of sexual practices, this question exists for lots of trends in popular culture.

Thus, the universe of “Fifty Shades” themed products merits discussion, though such cross-marketing is no surprise. We’d be more surprised if a potential movie block-buster did NOT arrive with products in tow. (And of course, this movie, given its subject matter and arrival on Valentine’s Day Eve, just begs for marketing tie-ins. The marketing of the film itself–with its emphasis on romance and its promise that love is sometimes neither black or white–is also intriguing, perhaps casting the book in a softer and more romantic light for film audiences?

Also, of course, this bear is just one artifact in a universe of Valentine’s Day goods, itself worthy of another post I promise to make soon.

And now I see my own Vermont Teddy Bear (very plain, devoid of props, received as a gift to celebrate some long-ago accomplishment) in a totally different light.