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  • The Changing Image of Women in American Society: What Do Pregnant Women Represent in Advertising?
  • Susan Dobscha (bio)


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The portrayal of women in advertising has moved into a new realm: pregnant women. The media have “Hollywoodized” impending motherhood with an explosion of magazines geared toward new mothers. Pregnancy, a condition once considered embarrassing and unacceptable to look at, is now celebrated and even deemed sexy. This shift in perception and acceptance can be traced back to the famous 1991 Vanity Fair magazine cover with a very painted, very pregnant, very naked Demi Moore. The furor over that cover reflected the patriarchal values of U.S. society held until and through the era of Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. Today, in contrast, the image of the pregnant woman is present in all forms of media with very little fanfare about its appropriateness. For example, The Celebrity Baby Blog posts pictures of celebrities while they are pregnant and after they have delivered. This wildly popular blog allows everyday mothers like me to connect with this new hip, trendy element of popular culture on an otherwise mundane level. After all, even Gwyneth Paltrow looked bloated three days after she gave birth to Apple. This and other images of Hollywood moms give me some level of comfort about my own mixed mother/worker identity. Nevertheless, I am baffled as to how Hollywood actresses who go back to work are not questioned about their level of dedication to their children, yet mainstream mothers are.

During the course of my daily headline reading, one immediately caught my attention. Glenn Reynolds’s Instapundit blog is the most widely read and also one of the most politically conservative in the blogosphere. Because I enjoy “listening in” on the enemy, I read his analyses and criticisms of liberals and democrats. One day, he had a simple headline: “On the Changing Images of Women.” I clicked on the link, expecting him to reference an Ann Coulter-type rant decrying feminists, working women, and of course, Hilary Clinton. I was taken instead to a young woman’s MySpace page on which she had posted a print ad for Clorox bleach. Here is her original post:

Is crisp white laundry really worth the price?

Current mood: amused

I was glancing through a magazine during my lunch break when I ran into this ad for Clorox Bleach:

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It says: Trusted by six generations, all the rage since 1913.

Seems harmless enough, but let’s read on.

The caption below the ad says:

Trusted by six generations, all the rage since 1913.

This is a good advertisement. I am lured in by the crisp white fashion plates of the past century, and also reminded that people have purchased Clorox for nearly one hundred years. Why shouldn’t I buy it, too?

I have blacked out our generation because, of course, that’s my punch line. And if you know where I am going with this be quiet and don’t spoil it for everyone else.

Let’s break this down these generations together.

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1920’s Flapper Girl

She is carefree and enjoys that decade’s wealth. The 19th amendment has just granted women the right to vote, and the first female governor is about to be elected. This woman is doubtless among the almost forty percent of women that earned college degrees in the 1920’s, a number twice that of the previous decade. Not only were we (GASP) showing our ankles, but we were also competing in the Olympics.

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1940’s Army Girl

Standing tall, with her head held high, the woman of the 40’s is celebrating the fact that Congress has allowed her to serve in the U.S. Navy.

She joins the fighting men overseas while women back home listen to Rosie the Riveter’s advice and take their places in the assembly line. Maybe she dreams of joining The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was just founded.

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1950’s Marilyn...

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Launched on MUSE
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