I Like Big Butts

"Have I told you that you rock that bustle?" Tissot
“Have I told you that you rock that bustle?”

Go on–admit it. You’ve looked at Ladies Home Journal at the dentists’ office. And maybe you’ve subscribed to a women’s magazine once or twice. Ever wonder how they came up with the health and beauty–fashion–decorating–fiction–cooking concept? They owe it all to Sarah Hale of the 1830’s. After an amazing love affair with her husband who cured her of tuberculosis before dying of pneumonia himself, Sarah started a magazine to make cash for her five children with the idea that women should be “improved for education and freedom.”

Bustle-icious Bustle Picnic by Tissot
Bustle Picnic by Tissot

Not a single thing has really changed in the structure of “ladies” magazines (back in the day the word woman was considered crass). Have you ever noticed that these magazines have a tendency to scold? The do and don’t pages of unsuspecting women’s fashion mistakes come to mind. They aim to teach (sending the subtle message that we need to learn) how to be attractive, good cooks and smart–did I mention we need to remain attractive?

Little hottie in blue. Renoir
Little hottie in blue.

In Sarah Hale’s mind one of the reason’s the feminist movement of the 19th century was so slow in getting started was because the leadership was so damned ugly–no anorexic Audrey Hepburn or  buxom Susan Sarandon to rally the troops. Sarah thought it best to lead subversively–through food, manners and sex (fashion). If you really think the Victorians were against sex, take a better look at the bustle. What do you think the men were looking at?

Subtle persuasion. The Honeymoon by Duez
Subtle persuasion.
The Honeymoon by Duez

In her book The Lady Persuaders, Helen Woodward, writing in the late 1950’s complains that the educational material in women’s magazines “has taught women to be sympathetic and sorry for all kinds of people, but does not remind them that they must pay for their sympathy through increased taxes. Political parties, especially those which do not have a glamour boy candidate are worried about the women’s vote. They find it unpredictable because it is apt to be based on whim, and seldom on ideas or principles . . . But no matter how tedious and confused the magazine propaganda is, one object is clear. To pull down the man and to uplift the woman, to make the man more feminine and the woman more masculine.”


Here I admit that when I’m at the dentist’s office I rarely sift to the bottom of the pile of old magazines looking for Foreign Affairs or The Economist. No, I read back to front–recipes I’ll never try, craft projects with kids I’d never have patience for and what not to wear. Did I miss the section on the first lady’s cute little garden? I have five kids so I’ll catch up next time. There’s a weird comfort in these fluffy magazines that struck a chord right from the beginning in the 19th century. Are women fluffy? I must admit that I’m not sure if I was more embarrassed for women when Hillary Clinton resorted to pounding her fists and crying at the Benghazi hearings or when I found out women relate to the show Girls. Is embracing fluff something like embracing the word “bitch”?

I guess I need more education. The next book on my agenda is Century of Struggle–The Woman’s Rights Movement in America by Eleanor Flexner 1959–  brought to me by the Militant Labor Forum. I think it will have a different slant.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Brenda says:

    I think you’re perfect just the way you are. And I like a little fluff, a little romance, soft lighting, delicious chocolate and not belonging to a gym. Let’s stroll in the park, smell the flowers, wear comfortable shoes, and then have tiny sandwiches and tea made by someone else. Sigh of pleasure at the idea. And the rest of the time, work pretty darn hard.


    1. That sounds absolutely perfect. As I get older I’m more at peace with my feminine side. I think I could get really into dressing like a Gibson Girl (woman) because while it’s a more feminine look than jeans it still has a modern feel–though getting out of a minivan with a big hat would be awkward. 🙂


      1. Brenda says:

        As long as I don’t have to wear heels or hose, the banes of my youth. Or polyester slips. Awk!! 🙂


      2. I hate hose! I’d have to get those old woolen socks that come above the knee and no polyester allowed! A pair of cool lace up boots would work for me.


      3. Brenda says:

        I have a pair of comfy ugg boots that I can wear barefoot, so comfy!


      4. If your skirt is long enough you can go in UGGs or barefoot any time. 🙂


      5. Brenda says:

        Just what I do. 🙂 Comfy is the catchword. And warm this time of year.


  2. Brilliant post. I’m curious who ran the (uh?) magazines. I took a wild guess, in my post, that men had little to do with the body image mess that (uh?) have now. It doesn’t surprise me that militant feminists did such damage to those of their own gender.


    1. I think men and women both play their parts in this fallen world, but the first really popular women’s magazine had Sarah Hale as its editor for many, many years and initially she wrote most of the content. On the positive side she hired many women writers and encouraged them to use their real names in the bylines. There was a certain level of condescension in her writing but she believed women should embrace their femininity and use it to “improve” the world. Later editors, for instance Edward Bok who took over at Ladies’ Home Journal sought to instill in women a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality though he would have thought it more like self improvement for the masses through women. He had a strong grandmother and mother and his feminism leaned more towards what we consider modern feminism. he aimed to improve American taste (to fit his own).

      Yesterday I saw that Anna Wintour at Vogue embraced Lena Dunham by putting her on the cover. Vogue has enormous power in girl world. Heroin chic, Twiggy, sex slave images are all very cool in the fashion world at the moment (where else could a sicko like Terry Richardson get a job?) and women keep buying. (Though I realize Ladies’ Home Journal isn’t Vogue–it’s more a cult of mommies).


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