Vintage Sexism: Body Odor Edition

Let’s face it: women are human beings. Humans have glands. Glands secrete sweat. Therefore, women sweat. It comes as little surprise, then, that so much of the advertising for deodorant and similar products reinforces the idea that women are never supposed to smell in public. In fact, doing so would be social suicide (as the ad at top right states particularly bluntly).  Many advertisements of the past also led women to worry about  a very offensive “odor problem” particular to their gender only, as in the ad at above left, in which a mother wholesomely relates the “intimate physical facts” of vaginal douching to her daughter. “There’s a womanly offense greater than bad breath or body odor,” she – or Zonite, rather – says. Be ashamed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like a nice, generous coat of deo- for the B.O. as much as the next person. However, I cannot help but roll my eyes at the way these ads target women and attempt to create or amplify feelings of fear, social estrangement, rejection, anxiety, and paranoia in order to sell their product. The image at above right is a more recent ad for douching products necessary, we are led to believe, for “the odor problem men don’t have.” And much like the image from the first set of advertisements that claims, “Society simply won’t stand for indelicate women,”  the ad at above left capitalizes on the myth that whether a woman will be “showered with attention” is contingent entirely upon her soap purchase.

What do you think, ModReaders? Are there any advertisements or commercials in the media today that use fear as a way to sell a product? Do you think doing so is an effective marketing strategy?


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  1. Avatar
    Scatterbox 05/11/2010 at 5:06 pm #

    I’m too lazy to research it, but I’d love to know what the switch was that changed this thinking. Going from women who were supposed to be dolls on a shelf and/or housewives to sweaty athletes who cussed and wore pants. I’m sure the whole women’s lib movement was a prime catalyst, but yeah, the sweat thing is hilarious, considering how non-effective deodorants were back then, too.

  2. Avatar
    Eliza 05/11/2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Let me tell you, men have a particular odor problem too and it smells like dead squid and mushrooms. But that just makes them more masculine and virile, of course.

    Scatterbox, that’s a uniquely modern American dichotomy. Before the postwar prosperity allowing the middle class ideal of stay at home mothers/domestic slaves, women were sweating, working in factories or toiling on ffarms.

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    Jillian 05/11/2010 at 6:42 pm #

    Those feminine itch ones…where the chick is out and sees a reflection of herself in a gray hoodie ’cause she’s got issues “down there.” I hate those, and can’t even remember what brand they’re for.

    No need to be so dramatic, just act like you’re picking a wedgie. Everyone does it so nobody cares

  4. Avatar
    Kit 05/12/2010 at 12:01 am #

    lol! Can’t believe these adds!

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    Tara 05/12/2010 at 11:55 am #

    When oh when will they start making “down there” deodorant for men? If women are supposed to smell sweet, why should we have to put up with men’s offensive odors?

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    Andrea 05/12/2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Dove’s campaign for real beauty is definitely the antithesis of these ads. Dove is using a new marketing strategies and it has been effective.

    • Avatar
      Ksenija 06/15/2011 at 4:09 pm #

      Except Dove is owned by Unilever which also owns Axe body perfumes for guys, so Dove can pretend like they are all for womens empowerment, but really, they arent.

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    jh 05/12/2010 at 3:11 pm #

    These ads are pretty bad. However, the best thing to prevent odors is good old soap and water! And sometimes even just water… seriously, so frequently do I smell women that have that “odor” of being on their period I want to vomit. I am a woman myself.

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    Nikka 05/13/2010 at 5:16 pm #

    This reminds me of the Gardasil commercials. I feel like they use the fear of cancer to push their product. It’s a good idea to get vaccinated, but just because you don’t doesn’t mean your going to die of cervical cancer.

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    Eliza 05/14/2010 at 5:45 am #

    Actually Nikka I think they reinforce the cancer issue because so many parents have objected to the vaccine on grounds that it promotes promiscuity. (An editorial countered, “Does that mean children who get tetanus shots go running after rusty nails?”)

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    Morgan 05/15/2010 at 10:53 pm #

    Dove has been really good about this. I love how they use real looking people to promote my pruducts. Makes it more relatable and real. The women on the commercials are beautiful and healthy and they dont need to weigh 50 pounds to be pretty.

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    Anon 05/17/2010 at 1:46 pm #

    How are these ads any different than the women’s magazine we still throw our money away on every month? As women, we promote our own insecurities, but yet we’re surprised when advertisers appeal to them? I’m amazed at all the naive comments that think we’re somehow any different than we were 50 years ago. I dare you to name one woman’s magazine that isn’t about improving oneself. Even Oprah’s magazine, which is positive and uplifting by comparison is still about how to be a better woman and achieve social validation.

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    Kathryn 05/19/2010 at 1:06 am #

    Unilever really needs to examine their campaigns as they’re incredibly hypocritical. Although Dove is gaining customers through it’s real beauty campaign, it’s brother company, Lynx, is still exploiting the stereotype to sell deodorant to men.

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    anonymous 12/03/2011 at 4:55 am #

    Even if it sounds like an exaggeration, in my opinion nowadays they use sex to sell products as you can see in some ads on the TV. I hope that all this will change soon because it’s really annoying and sexist, I mean, what kind of role models are the younger one’s going to admire? a 6′ anorexic girl whose only worry is to look sexy? It’s time to make a change.

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