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Publication Update! Toned Tummies & Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt & Gendered Digestion

I’m thrilled to share that my article, “Toned Tummies and Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt and Gendered Digestion,” was recently published in CuiZine: The Journal of Canadian Food Cultures. I blogged about this project when I first completed it about a year ago and could not be more honored that it was selected as CuiZine‘s best graduate student paper in 2013 by a committee featuring the food writers, scholars, and researchers Maeve Haldane, Ian Mosby, and David Szanto.

As I analzyed this probiotic yogurt that continues to populate the dairy case with its iconic green containers, I drew from print and online advertisements, product packaging, press coverage, and industry reports, as well as a variety of secondary sources that analyze digestion as a cultural act. When I first began this study, Jamie Lee Curtis served as a spokeswoman so enthusiastic that her commercials had become the stuff of Saturday Night Live parody. Most all Activia advertisements targeted women, many featuring feminine touches, from the product’s waist-like logo to commercials’ girly jingle—“Ac-tiv-i-aaaah!” Furthermore, whether a print ad or TV commercial, nearly every marketing effort featured a slim, toned, and at least partially naked stomach, most often light skinned, providing a taste of “gastrointestinal pornography.”

U.S. Activia website homepage, 2013

The 2013 U.S. Activia website homepage featured spokeswoman, Jame Lee Curtis, as well as feminine touches, such as pink navigation buttons, heart icons, and distinctly “girly” fonts.

In 2014, however, Activia redesigned its approach, swapping Jamie Lee Curtis for a trio of spokespeople—Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali and now a retired boxer herself; country singer and actress, Reba McEntire; and Dr. Travis Stork, a former “Bachelor” who is now a host on the daytime medical talk show The Doctors—who promote the probiotic yogurt as part of the new advertising campaign, “Activia Tummies. Happy People,” which aims to target a broader audience.

Although this campaign makes clear Activia’s intension to gain market share by bringing men into the probiotic yogurt fold—similar in some ways to the efforts of commercial weight loss programs to secure male clients—Activia’s 2014 marketing efforts also continue to emphasize digestion in a sexualized and gendered fashion. For example, new 2014 advertisements feature Columbian pop superstar Shakira.

U.S. Activia Website 2014

The 2014 U.S. Activia website homepage prominently features popstar Shakira.

Through Shakira—and her long famous belly baring and sensual dancing—Activia’s “Dare to Feel Good” campaign may attract new clients of both genders, albeit for potentially different reasons. Despite the conceivably increasing gender neutrality of Activia’s advertising, Shakira’s endorsement also continues to align digestive health with images of idealized feminine beauty, focusing directly upon an eroticized toned tummy.

Thanks to CuiZine’s fabulous online format and commitment to open access, you can read the full text of “Toned Tummies and Bloated Bellies: Activia Yogurt and Gendered Digestion” in the journal’s most recent issue, which features eight new pieces dedicated to the theme “Sustaining Foods and Food Traditions” and three book reviews—all ready now for your reading pleasure! 


    • emilycontois says

      Thanks for sharing this Miralax ad, Meg!

      You’re *so* right that it is doing all the same things as the Activia ads – only engaging women in discussions about digestive health through “girly” metaphors. Of course, fashion is the visual language of choice, as a woman’s purse/massive tote/adorable (and thin!) clutch embody the movement/passage/flow of her digestive system. I totally would have included this ad in my analysis if I’d seen it!

      Thanks again for sharing it, and for reading and commenting!


  1. I don’t have a tv and so my plain yogurt consumption is actually influenced by my partner who consumes lot of it daily with his fruit for breakfast.

    Aside from healthy digestive tract, I do think it’s regular exercise plus healthy eating that contributes at least…to my healthy tract and bowel regularily. I mean sorry, but if I don’t bicycle for awhile, I just feel constipated.

    The older one gets, the more conscious one becomes of “regularily” and digestive tract health. So maybe those ads should broaden to include older folks…with grey hair. 🙂


    • emilycontois says

      It’s true that the older we get, the greater priority we give to the health and regularity of our digestive tract. At more than one visit with my grandfather, the conversation revolved around little else! What I find interesting is how Activia’s sponsored research found that many people – far younger than we’d expect – experience constipation and these commercials talk about that fact openly, which shakes up some social gender expectations along the way. Keep up the biking! And thanks for reading and commenting!


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