Vintage Sexism: Kiss and Makeup

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Tenaciously holding onto the tails of time, makeup has stuck around for over 6,000 years, dating back to when ancient Egyptians wore it in hopes of sharpening their sight and protecting themselves from malicious spirits. Of course, the reasons for wearing makeup have changed since ancient history. In fact, they’ve even evolved since the 20th century, as evidenced by these vintage ads that imply that women wear makeup to attract a mate – or have they? Let’s investigate!

“Nothing draws a man to a woman like Crushed Rose,” states the ad above. “You smooth it on, and suddenly, love is just a kiss away!” Hm, so let me get this straight: smarts, personality, kindness – they’ve nothing to do with attracting a mate? That’s what this ad implies! Simply sweep on a coat of Crushed Rose, and you’ll become a man magnet.

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Or, what about this one? It’s definitely more understated than the former, but it implies the same message. Just take a look at how the oh-so-dapper gent garlanded by a finely waxed mustache leans over his cloche-crowned counterpart with intent interest. Juxtaposing this scene with the words “…the skilled woman knows that in Manon Lescaut Face Power she has an ally that leaves her beauty undimmed by the sun and wind,” we can surmise that the gentleman in the ad is drawn in by the lady’s lovely visage, as perfect by face powder.

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These last two ads lay it out there pretty clearly. The one at top effuses, “Straw vote among males shows a landslide for the gal with the ‘natural’ look. That’s why so many of the sweet-enough-to-treats go for ‘Seventeen’ makeup…young-minded cosmetics that catch the eye and win the heart.” And the one at bottoms glibly gabs, “Frankly, he was Fascinated…” by her lipstick (obviously; what else could draw a man to a woman, after all?). Thus, this pair of promotions says that makeup is the perfect bait when a gal is fishing for a significant other.

Do you think much has changed around the society-fueled reasons for wearing makeup? Is the media still trying to convince us that we’ll only catch a mate thanks to the clutches of our blush brush? Or, is the pressure now for women to wear makeup to impress other women? What about maintaining manners and sustaining personal pride — does that come into play? Let us know what you think!


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  1. Avatar
    Abby 11/08/2011 at 10:52 am #

    These ads are funny and outlandish, but you make it seem like sexism has died away in advertising. “Vintage” sexism? How about modern sexism? It’s all around us every day. Ads may have become more subtle, but the message of “get sexy to get a man” is alive and well.

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      Jo 11/08/2011 at 1:03 pm #

      I agree with Abby wholeheartedly in the fact that advertising hasn’t changed, it’s just more subtle!
      Make-up is all about looking good! And why do we want to look good? In evolutionary terms, it is exactly the reason these vintage ads state: to attract a mate. We can’t get away from that! It’s built into us… so it’s not really sexist to think women want to attract men with their looks… it’s just FACT! Sure it may be an unpleasant fact to digest but it’s true!

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    Elizabeth Moore 11/08/2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Abby I think you’re right, it is alive and well. But I don’t think Hannah is suggesting that sexism is vintage, rather that these ads are. There are a million reasons why women wear makeup in our society. Largely because it is so ingrained. I would venture to say that MOST women probably wear makeup. I think it’s interesting to investigate the reasons why we do this, why I do this, but there’s no clear cut answer. I don’t do it for men, but I don’t NOT do it for men either. I think it makes me look prettier, but is that because that’s the idea that I’ve always been bombarded with be it media, men or other women? Our ideas of gender are so pervasive its difficult to separate out what is inherent and what has been constructed by the societal norms around us…much less what we do for us and what we do for them.

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      Julia Green 12/01/2011 at 3:50 pm #

      Personally, I must say I slightly disagree here. For me, I wear my make up despite my guy telling me not to. He thinks that I look better without it. I do agree that it is hard to separate most things, but I wear my makeup for me. I feel better when I wear it so I do. Not for anyone else or for any other reason. Just my point of view 🙂

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    MeganVG 11/08/2011 at 2:39 pm #

    I believe the former two comments are true to an extent. I believe that sexism is still there very strongly today. Look at perfume ads!! I do not however agree that it is a fact that we only look “good” to attract a partner. I believe there are subtle messages in todays society that try to engrave this into our minds subconciously. For the sake of values, your life style, or just for their business. You decide. Make up is not ALL about “looking good” for a partner. There are many people, or rather artists, who use makeup as a medium in art and creativity. I think it is simply up to the consumer to decide why they are buying and wearing the products. What is the goal with the products?

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    Manda 11/08/2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I think the most striking difference between these ads and modern make-up advertisements is the presence of men. Today’s ads tend to downplay the purpose of make-up as a tool for attracting a mate. There are not a lot of men in commercials today acting fascinated by Drew Barrymore’s Covergirl Lash-Blast mascara. I’m not sure whether this is a step forward or backward, though, as it could be argued that these ads still play on women’s insecurities about their physical appearance and encourage the idea that a woman’s value as a person is mostly derived from her physical appearance. A more optimistic interpretation is that cosmetics companies are now trying to appeal to women to choose make-up based on how they want to look rather than how they think men would want them to look.

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    Jay 11/08/2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Well, appearance *is* the first impression you make, and it is usually the first thing that attracts us to a partner. And like it or not, the men of today (not all) notice the girl with the “red lips” first. Now, that doesn’t just mean a girl with a pretty face full of makeup, but a girl with CONFIDENCE; Who is bold enough to wear red lips.

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    Madison 11/08/2011 at 5:49 pm #

    Yes, sexism is alive in well. But I believe in advertising now-a-days the real threat is the portrayal of the “acceptable” beauty image. When you think about it you can’t turn on the TV, watch a movie, or flip through a magazine without seeing women inaccurately or unrealistically interpreted. Anyone that doesn’t fit the narrow perspecctive of beautiful is considered “inferior” or “ugly”. These images target young girls and women, causing them to think less of their self-worth. I believe this a very important cause! Think of what this leads to: bullying, suicide, eating disorders, etc. We all need to work to improve our country’s perception of beauty. It starts with each one of us. I don’t have children. One day if I have a daughter, I don’t want her growing up in a world with this serious issue. Making a change starts with each one of us…

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    bluuseas 11/08/2011 at 7:14 pm #

    Women today are still told that they are only worth something if they’re beautiful and that the easiest way to make yourself ‘perfect’ is through makeup. Some of us use it to hide things that draw attention to ourselves (red spots, pimples, etc) but I’d guess that most women wear makeup because they think it makes them more beautiful.

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      Jen 11/09/2011 at 1:02 am #

      Yes…I think that majority of us do wear it for ourselves..I wear make up because it is fun to be a girly girl 🙂 we grow up watching women wear beautiful clothes,heels,and make up and I was ” 13 going on 30″ before I ever turned 4 🙂

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    agnesdeer 11/09/2011 at 6:25 am #

    I don’t think sexism has died in ads aimed at women. There is sexism everywhere, in most of fashion ads, and certainly in make up and cosmetics publicity most of the time.

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    Anna 11/09/2011 at 7:15 am #

    What I find funny is that one of the ads is a huge paradox, advertising makeup for a “natural look”? That’s preposterous! I agree completely with you, bluuseas. But the thing to remember is that it is after all only advertising. If women choose to believe those things then that, while unfortunate, is their choice.
    And some women wear makeup for fun! Or yes to impress others, to cover imperfections, etc. The worst sexism in these kinds of advertising is assuming that all women are just looking for a man. Really the battle starts in us, to not believe in these cheap buys for our attention when really all the companies care about are monetary gain. Know yourself, and know that you are beautiful. 🙂

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    Crystal Dawn 11/09/2011 at 7:39 am #

    That bottom ad is hilarious. It almost looks like she is military, and with the description of the ad, Womens Air Corps. What better way to snag a military Man,

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    bittersweetpony 11/09/2011 at 11:10 am #

    Have you guys seen the ad for the new American Eagle Aerie push up bra? A teen-aged girl is basically dancing around in her underwear with her boobs totally taped together? Sexism is alive and well, yo.

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      Madison 11/09/2011 at 6:12 pm #

      Not only that, but American Eagle as well as other manufacturers made padded string bikinis for toddlers. Absolutely preposterous!!!! I saw it on the news around the same time as that ad. The swimsuits were eventually pulled though, thankfully.

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    Samantha 11/10/2011 at 8:12 am #

    I actually feel the most pressure to look nice around influential women in my life, like my mother or my friends. While modern make up ads do send the message that a woman needs to be powdered to look her best, I would say that the targets for a gal to impress are no longer just men. For example: I knew someone who was told by her (female) boss that she needed to look more professional at work. She was a student teacher at the time, and had a hard time looking appropriately “older” than her high school students. One suggestion her boss gave was wearing make up. Translation: “You look like a child and make up will make you look like a professional adult.”

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    Christen 12/12/2011 at 8:12 am #

    I don’t think it’s necessarily sexism…or at least just aimed at women. Guys are pounded daily with ads about how they need to step it up with their clothes or grooming to get the girl. I agree that women should think for themselves and be treated as valuable people regardless of the amount of lipstick they put on, but I find it funny that people are so set on “fighting the man” about women’s ads and no one stands up and complains about the ads that demean men in so many ways. Our culture is shallow, period. Not just toward women. I compare the ads about men on TV to how I view my husband and I’m as insulted for him as I am for myself when I see awful things aimed at women.

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    Megan 12/14/2011 at 6:17 pm #

    I don’t think the sexism is as prevalent in makeup ads today, and it’s because women today are encouraged to wear makeup for themselves! I usually don’t wear anything more than mascara, and I still feel pretty enough to catch someone’s eye! The ads shown definitely display sexist thinking, but today I think women wear makeup to feel good/better about their appearance- and that’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with a little makeup to play up your favorite features!

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    anna 12/23/2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I think the messages within certain ads, vintage or modern, damage us in many ways. Crushed Rose eh?? Compare this ad with any Axe commercial of the day…… what millions of young girls think is attractive and what millions of young men think will happen in reality-swarmed by multitudes of sexually hungry impossibly gorgeous young woman. These ads condition us to believe in a brands’ idea of what is attractive in a woman today(or man for that matter). They encourage a woman to be in a constant loop of finding “outside” markers-clothing, make-up, perfume, body shape or size, etc., which will supposedly make us acceptable to the rest of society and if we are to believe what the majority of brands say- we should be desirable to everyone, at all times, 24/7. On one hand that can be a good thing, depending on the message and the brand but all too often the messages are diminishing to our potential and woman do internalize these messages whether we realize it or not. Let’s face it, we are now living in a culture where plastic surgery for a young woman’s graduation present is the new normal. In the crushed rose ad, the woman is underneath the man, she looks like someone’s version of “snow-white”, petal perfect. The man’s face is lined and rugged, he is allowed to have a few “imperfections” in this ad. The text of the message essentially says that “nothing draws a man to a woman like”……. “crushed rose” and we see this phallic shaped tube of red lipstick called “crushed rose”. At this point the message is obvious-a woman should submit to a man, all the while looking ravishing, and allow him to crush her rose…. now I wonder what a rose symbolizes in this context? Perhaps her virginity or her very purity? At the time, maybe 50’s-60’s, unfortunately, the majority of people believed that was all a woman had, her purity. The pill did not come until the 60’s. A woman could not buy a house or get a credit card without her daddy or husband signing for it until the late 1970’s and third wave feminists in the 1990’s started up fighting ridiculous problems that still exist today-sexism in the workplace-with the Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas sexual harassment case. One of my best friends is a big wig in the marketing and advertising industry, has worked with all the big brands, and the stories I hear of sexism against woman in the workplace are ferocious. We’ve got a long way to go ladies and looking at what your brand is saying about your gender is a good place to start.

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    M 01/07/2012 at 3:31 pm #

    I don’t notice men playing as significant a role in beauty advertising today (perhaps with the exception of perfumes), and advertising certainly doesn’t lay out an entire back story for the image! Now you just see a hairless dude necking with a gorgeous model in a perfume ad. And I chalk alot of that up to the fact that advertisers only have a couple of seconds to capture our attention. I think wearing makeup has become so ingrained in our society and mostly because women are still very much valued for the way they look.Personally, I love makeup because it’s fun. I think it’s kind of sad that men don’t have something equivalent to it. God knows alot of them could use some concealer.

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