Nutrition bars are sexist, at least according to feminist blogger Stephie Grob Plante. In her article “The Stereotype-Driven Business of Selling Nutrition Bars to Women,” Plante writes that, while protein bars emphasize building muscles and energy bars emphasize “food as fuel,” “nutrition” bars “target ‘health and weight-conscious consumers.’”
That, she says, is “veiled language for the belief that nutrition bars are supposed to be for women.” Plante goes on to attack the sexism in the marketing of the bars that are for women, such as Luna, Eat Like A Woman (ELAW), and thinkThin. “The blatant normalization of gender stereotypes in their marketing promotions can be troubling,” she contends.
For example, according to Plante, Luna’s website uses “lady-speak buzzwords like ‘decadent,’ ‘tempting,’ ‘indulge,’ and ‘crave.’ ELAW actually has the nerve to ask in an ad, ‘Have YOU been eating like a MAN and gaining weight like a woman?’”
Here’s the thing Plante seems to forget — marketing is about stereotyping. You invent a product for a specific demographic, and then you draw on what is largely true about that demographic in an attempt to appeal to it and get its money.
So what exactly would Plante suggest that nutrition bar companies do instead? What would make it totally fair? Wrapping every snack food in identical packaging? Labeling products by number? Giving it no description whatsoever to ensure it doesn’t offend anyone?
The advertisements are targeted at women who want to lose weight because the bars are intended to appeal to women who want to lose weight. How could this possibly be considered controversial?
First, for Plante to question whether or not “a nutrition bar, let alone any food, need[s] to be gender-specific” at all is ignorant. Men’s and women’s bodies need different foods because men and women’s bodies are different and do different things. If you think that is sexist, talk to God about it, but don’t blame snack companies for recognizing something that’s been scientifically obvious for hundreds of years.
Secondly, Plante doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge that some women like being thin. Some women want to lose weight to feel better about themselves, and that is totally fine, no matter how a company wants to describe it on a package label. It doesn’t mean that all of these women are “disordered.” There are perfectly healthy women out there who want to drop a few pounds and are interested in products that might be able to help them do that. What description would Plante suggest should be used to appeal to these women? One that is not “problematic”?
Plante argues that the name of the thinkThin bars is offensive because it sounds like “weight loss instruction.” I’d argue that it’s offensive for her to suggest that women are so impressionable that they would take instructions from snack packaging.
But the new feminism assumes that women are going to be hurt by everything, apparently even food labels. If a woman walks into a store and sees anything at the grocery counter besides “Gender Inclusive Body Image Bars” or “Just as Strong as a Man Giant Bulging Muscles You Can Be a CEO Too Bars,” that’s going to impact her self-image so badly that she will cry every time she eats bread.
To me, that is what’s the most offensive and sexist — assuming women are so mentally fragile that they care what a snack bar wrapper thinks about them.
That’s not to say there is nothing to criticize about the marketing claims. They’re called “nutrition bars,” but they aren’t even really all that good for you. These are large companies that recognize there are women out there who want to lose weight, and they tailor their advertising in a way to appeal to those women to make money — but that’s what all companies do. If you want to criticize that, that’s another discussion — but please, for the love of God, there’s no need to take it personally.
— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.