Monday, January 30, 2012

Want Creation

How old were you when the anglers of Madison Avenue began to hook your insecurities and lure you to stores where you parted with your allowance, or begged your parents for specific items that you felt would make you happier, more attractive, more popular at school? Younger than you think, I'll bet, even if you are, like me, beyond the Big-7-0. It's popular knowledge now that even very small children are told by TV that they can have the newest toy or cutest clothes. If you follow a mother with a kid in the grocery basket through the store you'll hear just which cereal, juice, candy the child knows is best.

I had a nice talk with a young woman who is researching and writing about how advertisers and the media "created" the teen-age girl beginning in the 1920s--yes, girls specifically were called teenagers at first, they had passed from little girls to beings who needed to learn femininity and domesticity in order to become marriageable. Boys, back then, tended to move directly from boyhood to "youth" when many had to go to work and leave school and those in school were headed directly for a profession. Women's service magazines began to print columns for mothers about molding their daughters for the ideal domestic life. My mother swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. In retrospect, I know that she was dedicated to giving me the skills, some of which she regretting not having herself, such as playing the piano and sewing. She actually gathered a few other mothers and started a chapter of the 4-H club so that I would have access to sewing instruction, Writing secretarial reports of those meetings and sending notices of activities to the local paper was encouraged as well as learning public speaking. I am grateful for all her efforts.

Meanwhile she educated me to a broader world via a subscription to American Girl [not part of the doll company as far as I know] and a bit later to Seventeen Magazine. Of course I read her McCalls and Lady's Home Journal. I saw the fashions in those books and the advertisements for cosmetics. I was so indoctrinated that when I had read a few times that nightly application of moisturizing face cream would insure a lifelong attractive complexion I developed a habit that has become as ingrained as brushing my teeth. I gave up on the Ponds face cream and moved to Avon and have since used nearly every brand on the market. And happily my complexion is withstanding some ravages of age but I don't know how much of that is genetic.

So my conversation gave me insight, not only into ways I was influenced by the, by then, rather robust advertising to girls, but into what motivated my mother's actions. Boys, said my friend, did not become the target of advertising until about the '60s. Of course we know now that, woebetide all of us, boys are the target of much of Hollywood's production. I'll return to this topic, the conversation gave me other things to think about also.



June -- Your post is fascinating. The idea that "teenagehood," designed only for girls, was a marketing strategy from the 1920s is bizarre.

My mother was like your mother and probably all other mothers of the time -- promoting us to all be good housekeepers and cooks.

Now we have the American Girl doll doing the marketing. I went with my granddaughter and daughter (under duress) to the American girl doll headquarters in Chicago. Oh what an eye opener that was. I thought Barbie was insulting to women but this was teaching all those little girls to be big time consumers and that their exterior looks was the most important thing to them. It was a multi-floor operation where you could even go to a real hair saloon for a new doll hairdo (at a very large sum of money). Sorry to say I found it eerily trashy. Of course I didn't tell my sweet granddaughter that.
Good post -- barbara

Ladydy5 aka: Diane Yates said...

Every time I read your blog there is a memory for me. American Girl, Seventeen mags I remember well. I never let advertisements sway me to buying back then, nor do I now. However, I did love my comic books and would like to have them now a they are classics.
Congrats on that interview. Don't know what happened to my diary or my autograph books I had.