What (N)ever Happened to Aunt Jemima?

In Nonverbal Communication we began the semester by talking about physical appearance and how it affects the way you are perceived by others and the way we perceive others. Based on these judgments, we decide whether or not we interact with others, or form a friendship.

This concept got me thinking about the products I buy from stores all around me. The producers of the products I choose to buy have to make the products attractive to me, the consumer. Does this mean that producers upgrade the image of the product’s “mascot” every so often to coincide with society’s current trends? This article by Doris Witt proves that this is exactly what they do:

“Aunt Jemima, one of America’s oldest packaged food trademarks and a symbol of quality breakfast products for 100 years, will be given a new look this year. The facial appearance is unchanged. Noticeably different, however, is a new, stylish, grey-streaked hairdo, and her headband has been removed. Other changes include cosmetic touches such as a different style of collar and the addition of earrings. ‘We wanted to present Aunt Jemima in a more contemporary light, while preserving the important attributes of warmth, quality, good taste, heritage and reliability,’ said Barbara R. Allen, Vice President of Marketing for Quaker Oats Company’s Convenience Foods Division, makers of Aunt Jemima products. ‘Based on the results of consumer research over a five-month period, we think the new design does that.” (Witt, 98)

Furthermore, in this example, the image being changed to fit new American standards is that of Aunt Jemima, a black woman. Some may argue that this action is taking away the heritage of the black “mammy” figure. Some may also argue that Quaker is promoting changing your image in order to better “sell” yourself to the world. It also could be inferred that America’s expectations for the image of black women is changing, and furthermore, that black women should model themselves after people like Oprah Winfrey (after her weight loss and makeover) and the new and improved Aunt Jemima.

Does physical appearance matter so much to us in the United States that we have to not only drastically change our own appearances by surgeries, tucks, make-up, and tanning, but we also must give our mascots, like Aunt Jemima, a make-over as well?

Witt, Doris, What (N)ever Happened to Aunt Jemima: Eating Disorders, Fetal Rights, and Black Female Appetite in Contemporary American Culture, Discourse, 17-2 (1994/1995:Winter) p.98.


One thought on “What (N)ever Happened to Aunt Jemima?

  1. Awesome job! Your reference to the Witt article and how you incorporated it into your reflections is “dead on”. Keep up the good work. I look forward to learning more from you this semester and witnessing the evolution of your site.

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