This rather amusing compilation of stock photography from The Hairpin demonstrates a silly convention in commercial advertising: “Women Laughing Alone With Salad”. (See also: Women Struggling to Drink Water, This Pile of Bills is Making Me Touch My Head and Men Laughing Alone With Fruit Salad.) Like a word repeated until it begins to sound bizarre and nonsensical, these familiar generic images begin to feel weird and unsettling when viewed in succession.
Seen altogether, this collection of generic pictures exposes how little we scrutinize the meaningless (and yet, so meaningful) imagery we are bombarded with in contemporary culture. What is really troubling about these women laughing alone with salad is how normal they seem. In real life, if I threw on my generic cotton tee, slathered on a face full of make up and started maniacally laughing over a bowl of undressed lettuce, I would seem insane. Yet, these images present a convincing idea of what the healthy, happy, “normal” woman should look like (and what they should eat). I know these collections of generic photographic tropes were compiled as a funny observation about the world of commercial imagery, but they really drive home a rather serious point. For me, they sum up one of the reasons why I think contemporary art is culturally important: it attempts interrogate and offer an alternative to this kind of empty imagery that saturates mainstream culture.
“Women Laughing Alone With Salad” also reminds me of the very funny 9 Things I Learned About the World According to Stock Model Photography from the always irreverent Maddox (The Best Page in the Universe). My favourite observations from his list include “Hot curly haired black women go moist for wireless broadband routers and mainframes”, and “One-handed, one-knee laptop bullshit is the preferred way to get work done”.
Images above via The Hairpin; images to the left via The Best Page in the Universe.
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I am in one of these photos, age ~14. Actually I love salad (just not undressed salad with one leaf on the fork). For context on these stock shoots, on this same day I was photographed with a sufficiently-less-fun burger, suntan lotion, a fluffy dog in a beach tote, a boogie board. And actually the larger conversation is that photographers make bank on these “empty” stock images while models are paid a day rate and not residuals. I’m ~30 now and these are still being sold on Getty. I’m glad commercial photography has reached a more elevated place today but… I at no point viewed the salad pose as a torture device nor did the act of modeling such a bowl torment body image. (There is no somberness except when I realize these images still somehow sell for $$$ and I should’ve been paid more!) And yes, I am more than likely wearing makeup and a smile while eating salads IRL ‘cuz they’re delicious.
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The images confirm what women say about their salads: they are good,beautiful, healthy, nice, amazing, etc. Women in the US are constantly waging a war involving their appearance, trying to capture enemy targets via dieting, cooking, viticulture and fashion, placing in adoration whatever they put on their plate, hang in their closet, or stock in their pantry. To them, men eat like pigs, will die by 65, and will never understand Manolo Blahniks, I regard the stock photos as a reflection of women’s attitudes, and not with the unspecified paranoia from which the writer obviously suffers.
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I love this article, and the accompanied writing, and you’re blog! best internet discovery since a long time! thanks :)
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A really nice (i.e. loaded) salad always puts a smile on my face.
or perhaps the elected politician in awkward photo opportunities ? http://darrenmillarindifferentplaces.tumblr.com/
I’m not a woman, I’m not eating salad, but I am laughing. I didn’t realize the cliche until I saw these photos.
“In real life, if I threw on my generic cotton tee, slathered on a face full of make up and started maniacally laughing over a bowl of undressed lettuce, I would seem insane.”
Oh priceless! I was reading this post in my office and my colleagues got startled by my laughter. Wonder if they think ‘I’ am insane.
You just made me laugh out loud. While eating salad.
hilarious! (even though it is early, and I am not eating salad. what face do we make while drinking coffee?)
The stockbroker with his hand on his face is another oddly fungible image, albeit from news media more than advertising.
Hahaha that’s a great one. Good find, Paul.
I eat a salad for lunch every day. And I laugh a lot while doing so. The croutons, the lettuce,, the dressing, and then there’s the whole tossing factor. Hilarious. Salad brings me joy and fulfillment in a way that a human relationship never could.
I stand corrected.
… in addition, you can pet the cat after you’re done with salad.