Design Icon – McDonald’s Golden Arches

McDonalds is one of the largest fast food chains in the world, it was founded in 1940 operated by Richard and Maurice McDonald. The first McDoanlds franchise to open with the famous Golden Arches logo was in Arizona 1953 (1).  The fast food establishment was first opened in the UK in 1974, and now has over 1250  restaurants serving millions of customers (2). The design icon of McDonald’s is the Golden Arches, this famous logo was created by the companies design consultant and psychologist Louis Cheskin who suggested leaving the icon with just the Golden Arches. It was said, according to the BBC, in 1960’s, McDonald’s wanted to change their logo but Louis Cheskin insisted that they left the Golden Arches. He supposedly said customers will unknowingly recognise the logo as a “symbolism of a pair of breasts.”

In this essay, I will be exploring the iconic McDonald’s Golden Arches logo, the meaning behind the famous icon, and what the connotations and denotations are of the Golden Arches. I will be researching into why Louis Cheskin designed the logo like this, and I will find out how the franchise has been able to get away with the hidden meaning behind the icon. I will be proving how this design icon effects the public and customers to this franchise. Also, I will prove what this icon means to feminists and how it effects them with todays society on sexualisation. I will be finding these resources by primary and secondary research.



What does the icon of the letter ‘M’ mean?

Well, this icon has been seen all over the world in just under a hundred countries, all people will have an opinion of what the restaurant means to them and what they see when they look at the Golden Arches. It is even recognised by more people than the cross.

A recent article from Cosmopolitan magazine titles – “The McDonald’s logo has a hidden sexual meaning” – was released early February 2017. The article starts off with, “you’ve probably always assumed that the McDonalds logo – those famous Golden Arches – is an M for

McDonalds. While this is true, there’s actually some subliminal sexual message hidden in the design: boobs” (3). In the 1960’s McDonald’s hired designer consultant Louis Cheskin to design a new logo, in the book ‘Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal’, author Eric Schlosser revealed that Cheskin convinced McDonald’s executives that breast-shaped arches would send a subliminal message and help bring in customers. Whilst the business was rebranding, Cheskin was helped the transition and called the Golden Arches “mother McDonald’s breasts.” It has been 57 years since Cheskin’s design choice was made and McDonald’s is still bringing in customers. More young people go to McDonald’s then older people, as it is seen more as a social gathering, with affordable food.

This logo can be seen as the female gaze to males, as quoted from Cheskin “they are the mother McDonald’s breasts” with the shape all too familiar to every male. Also, it gives a representation of females that they always have to do the stereotypical cooking and men just go to them after a “hard” day at work. This can be seen by Richard Dyer’s theory of representation, as he says that stereotypes are always about power – as males created this chain, and had the power to use certain symbols of a female for the female gaze.


Freudian theory comes from Sigmund Freud, who developed the psychoanalytic theory of personality development, which argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures of the human mind: the ID, ego and superego (4). During the time period of the first look of the new Golden Arches icon, the effects of Freudian theory were continuing to reshape the world. Cheskin’s suggestion that the shape of the Golden Arches has a subconscious sexual meaning in the mind of the viewer which is a deeply Freudian concept. Freud believed that most of our impulses are influenced by libido and early childhood experience. He also said that “we are effectively cognitive icebergs with most of our ‘thoughts’ occurring below the water line .”(5) The question of, was it absurd for Louis Cheskin to imply sexual/reproductive/fertility symbolism in the shape of the Golden Arches, or was he correct that we perceive this sexual imagery somewhere ‘below the water line’ of our conscious thoughts. The connotations of the Golden Arches is that it is symbolic, historic and has emotional matters connected to people from all around the world. By applying the hypodermic needle theory, people as young as three know at least what the symbol of McDonalds is, due to advertising on television and embedding on social media, which gets customers to recognise the logo easily.

Some feminist theory provides an analytic framework for understanding how women’s location in and experience of social situations differ from men’s. For example, cultural feminists look to the different values associated with womanhood and femininity as a reason why men and women experience the social world differently. As traditionally growing up, men would be the ones to work and leave the house, whilst women stay at home and clean, cook, and look after the children. As the mother is the main focus of the family, children are more prone to be with their mothers, as they are more comforting and giving. The Golden Arches represents the breasts of a mother giving their child food. Feminists feel men rely on women most of the time to provide them with their needs. So from Cheskin admitting that the icon represents breasts, show that men have certain needs, and this can be shown through both women and food.

Other feminist theorists believe that the different roles assigned to women and men within institutions better explain gender difference. Some feminist theorists focus specifically on how masculinity is developed through socialisation, and how this development interacts with the process of developing femininity in girls.


However, the Golden Arches have also brought countries together. Between 1978-1985 was the Cold War between America and Russia, which was brought on after World War ll. Only five years after, McDonald’s set up its iconic Golden Arches in the then Soviet Union, on January 31st 1990 (6). McDonalds has now been open for over 25 years, this shows how the iconic restaurant chain can bring people together, and how it can make them happy. When people and customers look at the iconic Golden Arches of the ‘M’, it can mean freedom as it is a place to go to enjoy yourself with friends and family. This usually represented in an advert targeting families and friends, and the usual genre of the clip is American by location, accent and name of product.


The Golden Arches…over the years the real meaning of what they initially stood for from the designer has now faded away, and has been given a new meaning to people all around the world, that no one any more sees them as breasts, but as the iconic, family friendly, fast food chain that is McDonald’s. I have shown that the original meaning of this design was a pair of breasts, to symbolise motherhood feeding it’s child, i.e. fast food chain feeding its customers.

Over the years stereotypes and sexualisation have been a common problem, and the original meaning has more or less been forgotten. Adults today do not know what the original meaning and look was behind the icon, this shows how Cheskins design has given different connotations and denotations.

I was surprised that I could not find a lot of articles or blogs to do with feminists against the Golden Arches, but I was able to apply theories to my essay. From my research, I have found out how McDonald’s has actually brought people together, and even countries together, and that the icon has more meaning behind it to people all over the world. When looking at the Golden Arches, it seems to symbolise more of freedom, and spending time with family and friends. Looking at the fast food chain today, you will always see family and friends enjoying themselves together and being in each others company which is most important.


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