Sunday, March 12, 2006

This is NOT your mother's women's magazine

Oh, wait a minute... yes it is! I have a confession to make: back in the early seventies when I was ten or eleven, I might have snuck the occasional peek at my mom's Cosmopolitan magazines.

There were ladies in their underwear in there!

Of course by 1974 the sexual revolution was well under way. Halter tops were getting shorter and mustaches were getting longer, people were streaking and Playboy bunny logos were multiplying like, well, bunnies on t-shirts, keychains and even mudflaps. Nudity was not exactly a big deal. But I had regular access to that great teacher of popular cultural history, the television rerun, and therefore had a very thorough understanding of what life had been like for mankind during the decades before my birth: from Ward and June to Rob and Laura to Fred and Wilma, it was pretty clear that men and women slept in separate beds, never went to the bathroom and kept their clothes on 24 hours a day.

Or did they?

Did young boys of the forties and fifties ever flip through their mom's icky ladies magazines and find themselves suddenly confronted by something like this? Just what the heck were those straight-laced, God-fearin' folks in America's heartland looking at in filthy rags like Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post?

This week we'll, ahem, take a closer look.


  1. Great post, Leif. I love the way that so many great illustrators for women's magazines (such as Al Parker and Coby Whitmore) were prurient guys salivating to paint nude women-- a topic that must have been of little or no interest to the magazine's female readership. I find these suggestive paintings, prepared under great restraint and snuck into the marketplace, far more interesting than the overt pin up work that talented illustrators like Al Moore were doing over at men's magazines like Esquire around the same time.

    By the way, this isn't a new phenomenon. Tolstoy used to get upset that artists hired by the church to paint religious themes would dwell lovingly on some naked concubine over in the corner, while neglecting Jesus or John the Baptist. The temptation of St. Anthony was a very popular subject for the same reason. The artists didn't give a damn about St. Anthony but oh, how they loved that temptress!

    As with your posting, it was really just a question of how much they could get away with and still get paid.

  2. From personal experience, I can tell you nothing's changed - I guess its a law of human nature - there's a little purient in every guy. ;-)

    What's interesting to me is the role the AD played in this: someone had to give the final ok to Stan Klimley to include the curve of that bare breast ( only an eighth of a turn away from exposing nipple ) and it would have been the AD, I'd think.

  3. I think the AD's incentive was that he got to take home a semi-nude picture after the illustration was photographed for publication.

  4. Yup. I know that would be my incentive too! Still, that bible-belt readership could certainly be vociferous when presented with scandalous imagery. This sort of thing must have taken some courage to print...

  5. Anonymous8:22 PM

    My dad, who was a boy in the 1940s, skipped school to go skinny-dipping with his friends in the creek. When their teacher (a woman) caught them sunbathing naked afterwards, she just told them to get back to school. Nudity wasn't the big deal; skipping school was. Do kids skinny-dip anymore.

    Nudity seems like a bigger deal now than it was when I was growing up. I can't believe the fuss people make about a nipple.

  6. Yup, good point, anonymous, but I think the distinction would be that your dad was akid at the time and society has always tolerated childhood nudity much better than adult nudity.

    The nipple thing is a weird modern backlash I still don't quite comprehend... I can go down to the variety store and rent a Disney DVD from a shelf right next to which is a row of "Girls Gone Wild" movies.

    Turn on regular tv and every ad or music video shows girls in next to nothing gyrating like strippers, but one nipple exposed and the wrath of the Great American Taliban is unleashed on the nation! Bizarre...

  7. Lyberty5:57 PM

    Sex sells. Now, then, and forever. Advertising is about tricking people into paying attention to you.

  8. Can't argue with that, lyberty. What struck me about these examples was how overtly the use of sexualized imagery was for the times. :-)