This archive is built to demonstrate the ways that women were portrayed in advertisements from the 1950s to the 1970s. Through this archive, I would like to bring attention to the insidious ways that these trends are still at play in advertisements today. This archive consists of three collections of popular ad campaigns from the 50s to 70s that demonstrate the idealized version of femininity that was marketed to women. To learn more about this archive, you can go to the About Page.
While searching for advertisements to include in this archive, I found that there was a severe lack of advertisements featuring women of color in any open-source archive. Therefore, the collections included on this page are very whitewashed, which further demonstrates trends at play in the ad industry. To address this archival silence, I have included a page focused on analyzing African American women in advertisements.
While navigating this archive, keep in mind the limited ways in which women were depicted in these advertisements and the impact this had for people who did not fit into these defined categories. At the end, take a look at the Current Page to learn more about how these trends, although subtler, are still at play and continue to impact women today.
Breck Girl Collection:
Ideal Womanhood and Beauty Standards
Breck Shampoo is an American shampoo brand that became popular for its Breck Girl advertisement campaign. Breck Shampoo, invented by Dr. John Breck, was one of the first liquid shampoos to hit the US market. The ad campaign began in 1932 and grew to become one of the longest running ad campaigns in US history. The Breck Girl campaign had real women model for the illustrations in the ads (Minnick 2). One Breck advertising manager said the ads were images “depicting the quality and beauty of true womanhood” (Minnick 2). All together, this campaign built a picture of idealized American femininity, which heavily emphasized appearance.
In this collection, take a look at the homogeneity of the faces used. All the women drawn in this collection have very similar facial features and skin tones. There is one African-American woman included in this collection, but even she is light skinned and has identical facial features to the rest of the women drawn. The Breck Girls campaign is not just selling shampoo, but an ideal about how women should want to look. Together, these images function as a visual representation of American beauty standards.
That Ivory Look
Ivory is a soap brand owned by Proctor and Gamble. Ivory became famous for the fact that their soap was so pure that it floated. Their two popular slogans were “It Floats!” and “99 44/100 % Pure” (Cox 213). The ads for Ivory soap were marketed towards woman with an emphasis on promoting youthful skin. Their main selling point was that the soap could be used on both babies and women, keeping women looking youthful as ever. Common ads showed three generations of women, claiming nobody could tell the age of the oldest generation woman. One ad in the collection reads “Young looking skin. Isn’t that good reason for you to switch to regular care and use Ivory?”, while another ad reads “sneak away quietly with the ivory” (“Ivory Soap Advertising Collection 1883-1998”). In promoting youthful skin, these ads place a stigma on looking old, pushing women to hide their true age. These messages tell women that ideal beauty is associated with looking young. Since this soap is also advertised for use on babies, women are exposed to the messages of this brand from a very young age.
Body Image and Dietary Habits
This collection contains a range of advertisements for drinks featuring women’s bodies as one of their selling points. These ads promote their diet drinks as a way for women to either keep their thin figure or attain a thin figure like the model in the ad. These mediated images encourage thin bodies as the ideal body type. The language used in these ads further supports the attitude surrounding body image and thinness. One of the Pepsi ads reads “be glad you’re so slender, so easy to dress, so admired wherever you go”, while another reads “that slender figure she prizes so much reflects wholesome habits that will add years to her life” (“Pepsi-Cola Advertising Collection 1902-1982”). By focusing on a woman’s body in combination with her dietary habits, these ads are selling the idea that the ideal woman has to be skinny and watch what they are eating and drinking. Some of these ads also have the woman lying down, which makes them appear more vulnerable and sexualized. The last two Pepsi ads have skinny women serving drinks to men, rather than being the ones who consume them, which further instills the idea that women should be consuming less in order to keep their figure.
Cox, Jim. Sold on Radio: Advertisers in the Golden Age of Broadcasting. McFarland, 2013.
“Ivory Soap Advertising Collection 1883-1998.” Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=set_name:%22Ivory Soap Advertising Collection 1883-1998%22.
Minnick, Mimi. “Guide to the Breck Girls Collection.” Archives Center, National Museum of American History, July 1998, sirismm.si.edu/EADpdfs/NMAH.AC.0651.pdf.
“Pepsi-Cola Advertising Collection 1902-1982.” Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=set_name:%22Pepsi-Cola Advertising Collection 1902-1982%22.
I would like to give special thanks to the CERES toolkit team for helping me make this archive possible.
―This archival exhibit was created by Nupur Neogi in Literature and Digital Diversity, fall 2017.