Trimspa is one of the most well-known diet pill brands, infamously popularized by the beautiful, late Anna Nicole Smith in the early 2000s. During that time, Trimspa launched an advertising campaign that tracked and publicized Anna Nicole Smith’s weight loss progress while taking the diet pills. Upon her weight loss success (which included an intense diet and exercise regimen, though the Trimspa company was careful to obscure this fact), Trimspa made Smith the official product spokesperson and featured the model on all of their advertisement materials (including print ads, television spots and radio commercials). Anna Nicole Smith was publically celebrated for her regained beauty and adorned the pages of countless Trimspa marketing ads; however, the advertisements’ purpose was not to applaud Smith’s accomplishments or femininity but to exploit it, drawing upon and reinforcing assumptions about gender, in order to sell the product. A gender analysis of one of Smith’s most famous Trimspa ads reveals the many hidden messages about notions of femaleness that Trimspa and other companies exert and manipulate in order to cash in on popular perceptions and expectations of gender. By deconstructing the ad’s overt and implied images, messages, references, and even its spatial arrangement of elements, we can see how the hidden assumptions that inform this ad function as a “reproduction of gender difference and gender inequality” (Bordo 108). In result, we will glean insightful information about the relationship between notions of gender and American culture at large.
To begin, let’s first take a general, overall look at the Trimspa ad. Even upon an initial, sweeping glance, suggestions and promises of sexiness immediately emerge. Centered on the advertisement is a large, high-resolution, black and white picture of Anna Nicole, who is staring straight into the camera with a “come hither” look and wearing little more than her smile. With playfully messy blonde hair, pouty lips and sheer, lacy lingerie, Smith is depicted as the quintessential sexy woman. Although this is an advertisement for diet pills, there is no photo of the product anywhere on the ad. Instead, this sexy image of a former playboy bunny appears front and center, with two other sexy background images of the model buttressing the main, provocative photo of Anna Nicole.
The importance of these images is implied simply by the amount of space and attention they occupy on the advertisement. With that being said, the rhetorical purpose and meaning that this intentional imagery draws upon and reiterates (or, to use Bordo’s word, “reproduces”) bears some unsettling implications about perceptions of femaleness and femininity. The ad is not only exploiting sexiness in order to draw consumers’ attention, but it is also perpetuating stereotypical notions about what makes a woman sexy and what is desirable about women. The salacious images, even without their accompanying text (to be discussed in detail further along in this essay), make the strong suggestion that sexy women are women who have large breasts, small waists and wear revealing clothing. By placing this notion of sexiness front and center as the ad’s prime element, the ad functions rhetorically to imply to female consumers that the product can offer them the ability to achieve the sexiness that the ad portrays.
Looking at what is not front and center in the ad is also important to gaining insight about this advertisement’s hidden assumptions and rhetorical insinuations about notions of (feminine) sexiness. As discussed above, the ad employs and perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about women’s sexiness and desirability, but it also severely marginalizes other ways that women can be sexy and desirable -- such as through their accomplishments, hard work or strength. While the risqué images of Anna Nicole span the entire space of the ad, one tiny photo of her at her former, heavier weight is displayed in the bottom-right corner of the ad with the small caption, “Anna Nicole lost 69 lbs!” The tiny photo and caption are placed out of view and are clearly secondary to the ad’s main imagery, but why? Shouldn’t this be the main focus of the ad -- evidence that the product is effective and helped a woman to reach a goal and make a significant health accomplishment?
While this implication about the product (which is, perhaps, its most important claim) is included in the ad, it is pushed out of the main focus entirely, occurring as a small afterthought in an obscure position on the ad. The ad fails to promote the idea of a woman’s accomplishment, strength or dedication as sexy or desirable, favoring instead a superficial, idealized and stereotypical notion of what makes a woman sexy. What this reveals about the ad’s hidden assumption is that American culture at large favors and is more receptive to stereotypical notions of sexiness and desirability. The technique of drawing consumers’ attention to the product and constructing its appeal through stereotypical notions of female sexiness and desirability, while diminishing evidence of the product’s effectiveness (as well as alternate notions of what makes a woman sexy or desirable), suggests that American culture not only values but responds to superficial and clichéd notions of femininity.
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The ad’s textual elements serve to reinforce and reiterate the suggestions that the ad’s images convey about what’s sexy and desirable, while also promising other women that they can achieve the same sexiness and desirability by using the Trimspa product. The ad reads, “Get the attention you deserve . . . Anna Nicole is.” Important to note is that the word “you” is in bold face and is the largest font size, which functions rhetorically to suggest to female consumers that the product can transform them into what is being depicted front and center in the ad. Not only is this an indication that the company assumes their depiction of sexiness and desirability to be appealing and desirable to women, but it also makes the suggestion that the notion of sexiness and desirability portrayed in the ad will bring them attention. It’s not the idea of accomplishing a goal, putting effort into an achievement or making a healthy change that will get women noticed, but rather, the ad suggests it’s an attractive and appealing body that will make women significant to others. This only perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about gender while also promoting women’s role as sex objects within American culture.
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Last but not least is the product slogan, which appears centered directly under the red Trimspa logo sprawling across Anna Nicole’s provocative photos. It simply reads: “Be Envied.” This brief but powerful message reiterates the ad’s messages about the importance of physical attractiveness and its associations of femininity with sex appeal by suggesting to its target female audience that they will become the envy of other women if they use the product to achieve sexiness á la Anna Nicole.
The message that the ad’s textual elements combine with the images to convey makes a strong conviction about sex appeal and femininity in American culture. Simply put, the ad suggests that women are most desirable when they achieve physical perfection and adorn their sexy bodies with provocative clothing. It assumes that women seek to be sexy and desirable as defined in this light, and promises to help them look more like Anna Nicole. According to the ad, a body like Anna’s is what women need to gain attention from men and arouse jealousy in other women. These assumptions about what women want and what’s desirable about women are the basis of Trimspa’s marketing campaign, which suggests just how pervasive and embedded these stereotypes are in popular American culture. Ultimately, the ad functions to perpetuate gender differences and inequality by promoting male-centered notions of desirability, by objectifying women and by marginalizing feminine qualities and attributes such as dedication, hard work and accomplishment.
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On a final note, the advertisement is clearly targeted to women, which can be seen as a blatant discrimination against or exclusion of men, or as an insinuation that a woman’s appearance is more significant than a man’s, which is biased and unequal with regards to gender expectations.