Feel Good

See women in advertising through the decades and then tell us International Women’s Day isn’t important

Heaven forbid we have a period

Written by High Life North
Published 06.03.2021

With International Women’s Day just around the corner, Yoppie – pioneers of personalised, organic period care delivered through your letterbox – has taken a look back through the ages to see how advertising for women’s hygiene and beauty products has changed through the ages.

It’s no secret that women have played a huge role in advertising since, well, since the concept of advertising first began. But what is now left in the shadows – in an age of increasingly fair, positive and inclusive representation – is just how far women in advertising   have come, and how much our designated ‘role’ within society has changed.

1930s

FEMALE HYGIENE? OH, THAT’S FOR YOUR HUSBAND

Although the 1930s was the decade in which the modern-day tampon was first invented, advertising of period care products was a huge no-go, (and remained a no-go until the 1970s).

Of course, there were still adverts for women’s health and hygiene in the way of cleanliness and beauty products, but the overriding theme was more on how to maintain yourself for the benefit of your husband.

1940s

A WOMAN’S ROLE IS TO LOOK AND SMELL GOOD

This was something that continued into the 1940s. Women were encouraged to look after their bodies and personal hygiene not for their own health and wellbeing, but for that of the man in their life. The adverts that were showcased at this time wanted women to believe that their role in ensuring a successful marriage was looking and smelling good. 

It wasn’t just men that the women had to impress though; some companies used shame tactics and paranoia as a means to sell their products, too – using women as a weapon against each other. Advertising began to create the perception that you were judged for being single: emphasising that this was down to you not using the latest soap or hand cream, or simply because you didn’t have the “right” sized chest.

1950s

A WOMAN’S PLACE IS AT HOME

inferiority to men remained a common advertising theme in the 1950s.

It was made abundantly clear that the woman’s place was in her home and the mere idea of a woman in the workplace was unimaginable. 

Instead of promoting women in the workplace, companies played on the fact that being beautiful was women’s business and, therefore, their ‘job’.

1960s

YOU CAN HAVE A CAREER BUT REMEMBER YOUR PLACE

Although there was a shift in attitudes towards women in the 1960s – particularly around the acceptance of women pursuing an education or even a career – there was still the obvious exploitation in advertising. 

Companies continued to suggest that women were inferior to men when promoting their products but, as well as portraying women as the lesser, they also overtly sexualised them.

One such advert portrayed a naked woman laying on the floor next to a man’s shoe and the words: ‘keep her where she belongs’.

1970s

A STEP FORWARD?

With period care products hitting our billboards in the 1970s, the expectation was that the advertising world had taken a positive step forward.

Although this was true in some ways, an underlying theme of shame remained when it came to periods, and advertisements continued to pitch women against each other with the overall benefit still being seen as being for the man, not the woman herself.

1980s

WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE (FINALLY!) AND A MOMENTOUS CHANGE IN ADVERTISING TRENDS

Adverts showing strong, powerful women in the workplace came into play in the 1980s. Companies wanted to have a woman in their adverts as the main feature: they wanted them to look fearless, empowered and equal to men. 

There was very little exploitation and the stereotyping, if any, seemed to be a lot more subtle. Finally, there was a positive change.

1990s

SEX SELLS

However, despite the positive progress of the ‘70s and ‘80s, the ‘90s was a case of one step forward, five steps back. Namely because the theme that ‘sex sells’ swept through advertising. 

The only saving grace of this decade was an air of some equality – albeit while sending the wrong message. Although women were massively sexualised, they were not always (‘always’ being the appropriate word) portrayed as the inferior sex and actually, male models were also exploited.

While the focus was largely on beauty – many ads portraying models within advertising – other darker themes of non-consensual sex and the objectification of women also emerged, largely throughout the gaming industry.  

The new millennium

WHAT HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST 20 YEARS?

Women are still massively sexualised within advertising, that goes without saying, even today. But it isn’t as blatant as it has been and, thankfully, themes of inferiority and overt sexism seem to have rapidly decreased.  

In its place, the theme of empowerment has taken centre stage. Advertising now covers all areas of life for the modern-day women: whether that be as a mother and wife, a career professional and everywhere in between. 

While there is still very much a focus around looking good, advertisements around women’s beauty and hygiene products are now focused on the actual health care benefits they bring and feature women of all shapes, sizes, races and ages. Convenience and how a brand can benefit the busy life of the modern-day woman has also taken centre stage, with many juggling both family life and a career, leaving them with little time left once the two have been taken care of. 

Another big step forward in recent years has been the de-stigmatisation around periods, and while discretion often remains a theme, brands like Yoppie are helping to tackle the subjects of periods and the wider menstrual cycle head-on.

STILL WORK TO DO

However, despite these positive steps forward, a recent survey of UK women by Yoppie has found that there is still a lot of work to do!

Yoppie’s research found that 51% of women don’t believe women are fairly represented within advertising. A huge 86% don’t believe advertising portrays real women and the reason for this is pretty clear. 

When asked what they felt was the biggest issue with the way women are portrayed in advertising, 27% stated there was too much focus on beauty and improving personal appearance. 22% believed there was not enough diversity in body shape, while 15% thought women were still overly sexualised.  

A further 13% want to see more diversity in overall looks, with 9% believing there is still too much focus on women solely as mothers. 8% would like to see more race diversity, with 5% also wanting more diversity in sexual preference.

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