Our eating really got disordered over half a century a go.
In a culture where many still feel unempowered, where rigid beauty standards and body shaming run rampant and women still learn to nurture others while neglecting to nourish themselves, the breeding ground for eating disorders to flourish is fertile.
With a nod towards World Eating Disorders Action Day today, a day to raise awareness of eating disorders, I take a look at the mid-century media world of women’s conflicted relationship to food and appetite.
While the mid-century lady of the house was determined to serve up man pleasing menus wrestling with the age-old problem “How do you handle a hungry man?” it was her own appetite she was wrestling with. Once again America was setting a torrid pace in pioneering a new trend for the housewife.
More or Less
Cheerfully loading up her cupboards with sugar frosted, candy coated, make you-happy-to-eat jolly snacks for her growing children, the modern housewife stocked her avocado green frost-free Stor-Mor– Amanna Food Freezer and her side by side Food-a-rama refrigerator with enough food to satisfy any man-sized appetite.
She however was left to nibble on some celery sticks and Melba toast.
Cold War Cravings
Her cold power freezer could store months of food but the cold facts were in this Atomic age of abundance, in this land of good ‘n plenty-try-it-you’ll-like-it-betcha-can’t-eat-just-one-culture, the one place American abundance was frowned upon was m’ladys waistline.
Hopping on and off her Deteco scale she watched her weight as carefully as her husband watched the fluctuation of the Dow Jones.
Calorie Blast Off
With the dawning of the Space Age women were busy with their own countdown – calorie counting. The long lean lines America was loving, wanting, and buying in their car designs and trim line phones was now the new body ideal.
You owed it to yourself to drink Metrical but only with Slender do you not miss anything… except a lot of calories,
Yes mam’ isn’t it time to do more than wish for the lovely figure you lost? Fun is just waiting everywhere when you’re slender, so drink that one crazy calorie Tab and silently sip Sego …what have you got to lose?
I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing
Women were swallowing it all, whole, undigested. But they weren’t the only ones taking in these messages.
The same sugar and spice and everything nice little girls who learned their ABC’s with Post Sugar Sparkled Alphabets soon began worrying not only if Barbie would still be alluring to Ken after all those dates to the malt shop, but if her own mini skirt was a wee bit tight, would she still be “Bobby’s Girl?”
Even though there was always room for Jell-O, baby boom daughters who watched their mothers opting for D Zerta instead, started slowly absorbing all the negative qualities associated with overweight, ie being fat.
This Is the Age of Automatic Control
Before long girls who not long before would “munch, munch, munch a bunch of Fritos” were joining their mothers in the Metrical for lunch bunch
One Size Fits All
Teenage girls envying Seventeen Magazine models never felt thin enough. No matter how much Tab they drank they still could never get themselves to look like Twiggy, but at least that one crazy calorie helped them from looking like Little Lotta. Or Mama Cass.
Alongside articles asking the reader “Am I Normal” were ads for modeling schools with stick thin girls, posing their own questions :”Why not you? Turn it on and start turning heads!”
Take It Off…Take It All Off
By the liberated 1970s we could let it all hang out, just not our bodies.
As bodies became more liberated, the pressure to keep them thinner grew stricter. There was tighter security than ever before when it came to unsightly bulges. By tossing out their bras and girdles women could no longer count on those miracle magic control panels to mold, hold, and control to give them flattering figure perfection.
If you wanted to be the kind of girl girl watchers watched in your swingin’ low Landlubber hip-huggers, along with Diet Pepsi you had to rely on strenuous exercise as well as dieting.
A Weigh We Go
To cope with constant cravings, nothing helped soothe frazzled nerves like a soothing cigarette. But no fat male cigarettes for this slenderella! Just in time for her new svelte figure appeared Virgina Slims, the new slimmer cigarette tailored for the more feminine hand.
But if you were looking for real body control, then the rise of anorexia and bulimia was right for you.
The news was big because it’s about a wonderfully different way for you to be small. Here was the magic you’ve been wanting, to make you look wonderful, feel wonderful in a swim suit…an exclusive technique for creating lovely curves in all the right places.
Why put up with less modern ways when you can have the easiest most automatic weight loss possible.
All the girls were dying to try it.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.