A Story Of How Far We’ve Come
In the pandemic summer of 2020, Elizabeth MacDougall and Natalia LaRosa worked as the summer students at the Musée Vankleek Hill Museum. They were delighted to find a ‘Teen’ magazine from August 1970 on display. After an eager look through the magazine, they were taken aback by what they saw in text and in advertising.
In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations declared March 8th as International Women’s Day. From then on, the date March 8 became the tradition.
To mark March 8, 2021 – a pandemic and vaccine year – we present the students’ interpretation of what they saw in Teen magazine – stretching across a 50-year divide.
It was fascinating to see that many of the clothing styles popular at the time have come back, and we both agreed that many of the outfits featured could be worn today.
On the other hand, some of the messaging in the articles and advertisements would definitely not be considered acceptable today. We thought we would take advantage of this chance to study the changes in messaging to teens over the years by highlighting some of the things that surprised us, having grown up in the early 2000s.
If you have any old magazines lying around, we would love for you to send your thoughts about any pieces that jump out at you.
Body Shaming Article
Among the many advertisements concerning weight loss, one article stood out in particular. Fat-shaming and body-shaming in general are still a major concern today, especially on social media apps such as Instagram and Facebook. However, this article surprised me in how blatant it’s messaging was.
The article’s title immediately communicates that being fat means being unlovable, and the description on the first image states that “being fat can really make you matronly-looking.”
(l) It’s not about health. It’s about being “dateless.”
The side-by-side comparison of a picture of the girl in high school compared to when she is writing the article could be said to foreshadow the before-and-after pictures so common on social media today.
Today at least, we are beginning to see some resistance. In 2019, Instagram announced a policy that would see content geared to advertising diet or weight loss products blocked or removed for users under 18-years-old. This came after pressure from campaigns such as I-Weigh, a community promoting body-positivity, made it difficult to ignore the issue.
Fifty-years ago, challenging this type of message would have been more difficult. The article goes on to explain how the young woman lost weight and even lists the woman’s measurements before and after her weight loss.
The article ends with the woman describing all the attention she got from boys after losing weight, and her perfect relationship with her new husband, “a sergeant who’s now in Vietnam,” which seems to imply that this was all made possible through her diet.
It is uncomfortable to imagine the self-esteem issues this kind of article would have promoted in young readers.
The “Editor’s Hurrah,” titled ‘Restoration of Cool’ – sound familiar? – did not immediately grab my attention. However, upon taking the time read it, I was surprised to see how readily the magazine positioned itself against “the liberal outlook that has dominated the U.S. scene for too long.”
Two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, this article claims that “shouters and marchers have reached the point where they are the repressors (sic) and not the repressed.” It even goes as far as to say that “many, if not most, are professional dropouts, floating and churning beyond the realities of our society.”
Most young people today grew-up learning about the civil rights movement and second wave feminism in school. We celebrate figures such as Martin Luther King JR, Rosa Parks, and Gloria Steinem who protested against such things as racial segregation and discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
It is interesting to see the type of criticism that social rights movements faced in the 1970s in light of the Black Lives Matter movement today. The BLM marches that began in June 2020, in response to ongoing police brutality against Black people received much media coverage for the vandalism and violence generated as an adjunct to the protests.
Similarly, the ‘Editors Hurrah’ explains that the “vandalism, vicious speech, assault, bullying, incitement to riot- all have caused much more than material damage.” The article ultimately champions the “return to reason and order” and praises young readers, “who choose to wait and watch- rather than leap and lament.”
This last quote positioned the editor directly against the message of standing-up for what you believe in, as I would say most people are encouraged to do today.
Do Something Nice for your Father
We thought this Dr. Pepper advertisement would be interesting to include because it seems to perfectly encapsulate the ideal family dynamic of the 1970s. This ad got the attention of readers by stating that you could win a scholarship for college so that “your father could stop worrying about his wallet for a change.”
Today, the idea that the father is the only one that works and worries about money seems very outdated.
(l) This 1970 Dr. Pepper ad clearly does not recognize women – in this case mothers – as financial contributors to their families. The ad is in direct contrast to the women’s rights movement taking place at the same time.
It was around this time period that second wave feminism would have seen more and more women entering the workforce.
The ad finishes by stating, “your father’s been good to you. Now you can be good to him.”
The whole ad encourages and relies on girls wanting to be ‘good’. This message seems funny today because of how blunt it is. However, the notion is not foreign to girls today. I think girls definitely still feel this pressure today to be good in order to please.
Here is another image from the August 1970 issue of Teen: