Yes, it’s true; the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps this is most true when looking at vintage magazines, books, and other publications devoted to women.
Certainly this makes sense when it comes to certain matters of home life — those domestic skills one’s home ec teacher prattled on and on about.
What’s really changed in sewing? The machines have become lighter, the threads stronger and more color-safe, and even the fashions go in and out like the tide; but these things only improve upon the good-old-ways and reinforce that a few basic vintage sewing guides are all girl needs to re-vist retro fashions or to become a modern DIY maven.
And what about cook books? Despite what this 1956 Woman’s Day magazine says, little has changed in cooking. (Real cooking that is; not the microwave making, open box & follow instructions, stuff we do today — that’s food preparation, not real cooking.)
Again, the appliances have improved, the utensil materials have changed to withstand dishwashers and be kinder to the slick linings of pots and pans, but a dead chicken or raw carrot must be prepared the same old way.
And did you know that recipes cannot be copyrighted? So what does it matter if your Betty Crocker book was printed in 1950 (as my dear Grandma’s copy was) or 2008? OK, the flours may have ‘improved’ and you may have to know your shortening from your butter (neither are exactly the same as today’s margarine), but these are small adjustments any good cook can make. Or so I am told; I just have to follow the info Grandma wrote, scripted in her own hand, in the margins of the pages. My homemade cakes are waaaay better than the boxed versions, and when I make our traditional holiday cookies, they are really the traditional cookies. (Especially when I use Grandma’s bowls and vintage cookie cutters — it’s like she’s still with me, in the kitchen, singing Silver Bells… Even if it’s June.)
So it makes sense when some publications stay the same; they have no reason to change. But others…
Others you think would change — would have to change. Like magazines targeting women.
We are modern women, right? Our needs are different, so the issues presented to us would need to change… And the covers, not just in the images but in those attention-grabbing tag-lines, those, one would think, would need to change to reflect the times and our lives. But sometimes, it just seems that all that’s really changed are the fonts, the faces and the fashions.
While I spend lots of my time — one could easily argue that I spend too much of my time — mocking magazines, catalogs, and holiday crafts of yore, what is equally readily identifiable is that we women have not come a long way, baby. No matter what the Career Girls Game may try to tell us.
Mixed in with the acceptable & ‘understood’, like recipes and the tips to make life easier (most of which are recycled, issue by issue, decade by decade), are the more insidious.
Fashion, having long ago replaced individual style because it sells more ad space, still doesn’t stress the combination of form and function.
Beauty isn’t really about appreciating what you have; it’s about projecting what others want — be it men, your boss, or the cosmetic company. Beauty isn’t about confidence, but insecurity. Aging, of course, being the largest fear.
1949′s Beauty After Forty, by Edith Thornton McLeod, proclaims that “the mature woman has the right to life, love and happiness. She should pursue that right without loss of dignity!” Message: Beauty is the only ticket to happiness and dignity. (Sounds like how many magazines out today?)
And then there will be the children…
Parenting is not about raising safe & sane children, but about making them into little fashionable things about which we can boast. Or, at the very least, not be embarrassed by; we can, if properly tutored in the magazine, always quote from the latest teacher and their school of thought to prove we really are doing the best we can. (And now, today’s modern woman can do the same for/with her dog — from dressing it, to pet nannies.)
Even celebrity obsession isn’t new. The Internet and digital photography may make it more rapid, but the rabid nature of the beast — to have us consume the people, profiles and products — has not.
Take a tour through vintage women’s publications and you’ll see that the times have not changed. Or that publications do not think we women have. Or is it that women have not changed in all this time?
We may no longer drive pink cars and control pink vacuums, but we’re still being pandered to as if we’re the ‘little woman’. And the arrow in this modern little woman’s heart is that we still buy it.
At least some of us do.
Me? I have no subscription to the latest women’s magazines, paper or online. I’ve got all these stacks of old magazines; and when I compare the old to the new, I find the pages aren’t the only things which are yellowing and brittle.