For someone like me who struggled with an eating disorder as a teen, I am grateful I grew up in the age of Kodak Instamatic and not Facebook Instagram.
Unless I had a Polaroid, snapshot selfies took at least a week to view, after dropping off the camera’s canary yellow canister of film at the local drug store to develop.
Once the Kodacolor pictures came back, I would rip open the envelope anxiously scrutinizing each image with the precision of a forensic scientist looking for any and all inconsistencies and flaws. Mercifully, the photos were limited to a mere 12 to 24 shots in each roll for me to agonize over how I looked. And unlike today, the barrage of comparison and perfection to others was not every 5 seconds.
Because that triumvirate for teen girls, Glamour, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen in whom we devotedly put our fashion faith were all monthly magazines, I had 30 days to analyze the same impossibly thin, campus-bound cuties who set the trends, were in the now, in the know, on the go, stepping out in leggy little vinyl skirts and low rising hipster pants in go-go checks.
Could I possibly turn on my pretty power and turn off the fat, learn how to make the scene, and tame my curves because, girls, wiggles are out. It was what was happening baby if you wanted to be in.
Today, the immediacy and pressure from the bombardment of images of ultra-thin women on social media seem intolerable especially to teen girls. The pressure to share only the best moments and imperative to look perfect combined with an addictive ingredient like Instagram is the perfect recipe to send teens spiraling towards eating disorders, depression, and an unhealthy sense of their bodies.
My generation, however, had our own time-tested recipes for body-related -insecurities. And they started early.
Never a skinny Minnie as a child, I always felt I was a mere Mallomar away from being considered chubby. I may never have aspired to have Barbie’s body, but I certainly didn’t want Little Lotta’s body either. By the grace of God, I was saved from the sheer embarrassment of having to ever wear any clothes with the horrifying brand name Chubbettes, – a midcentury fashion line designed to make girls 6-16 look slimmer.
If a summer at a weight loss camp didn’t do the trick for your overweight daughter, coming to a chunky childs rescue was a line of dresses with the less than woke name of Chubbette Fashions. “Is she on the plump side? Send her back to school in the slenderizing magic of Chubbettes wardrobe,” their ad copy read.
What girl wouldn’t be proud to sport a dress with that label on it?
Whereas boys like my significantly overweight older brother would shop for clothes in the Husky boy’s department at our local A&S, there was no shame attached to the name. Husky connotes strength and muscularity. There was nothing body positive for a girl about sporting a dress fashioned by Chubbettes.
How Happy Can A Chubby Girl Be?
Naturally, no mid-century mother who was herself was part of the Metrical for Lunch Bunch wanted a plump daughter.
“Your Chubby Lass Can Be Belle of Her Class, ” promised one ad from 1956. Forget studying arithmetic or boning up on social studies. “If your favorite little girl is on the plump side, dress her in Chubbettes and see her blossom into a lovely lass- as happy and self-assured as her slimmer schoolmates. Chubbettes are created for the chubby size young figure- a perfect combination of fit, comfort, and slenderizing design.”
Body Shaming- No Laughing Matter
Little Lotta might be fun for laughs in the comic books but life was difficult for a chubby child. So along with the stylish fashion Chubbettes also provided concerned parents with expert advice from a reputable doctor about how to deal with the ridicule that fat girls received.
There were no experts saying how unhealthy it was for young girls and women to be exposed to images of impossibly thin girls and women that would reinforce body-related insecurities. No worries about developing an eating disorder, because there wasn’t even a name for those yet.
Concerned parents could send away for Pounds and Personality a booklet offered by Chubbettes, full of advice for parents of a chubby girl ( ‘For parents who wants to assure the happiness of their overweight girls…what to do about her nickname, what to do about tactless remarks….her place in the home, active play, diet, appearances etc.”)
Apparently, there was no shame in body shaming.
Because fitting in was so important to a girl, Chubbettes helped give the right impression and promised with their fashion magic your little plump dumpling could be the belle of her class.
Take the case of Connie Chubbette:
Because this may be the year Connie forms lasting friendships the impression she gives is all important. This makes Chubbettes fashions important too because they’re designed specifically to slim and trim plump figures and let Connie ( and other chubby girls like Connie) look and feel their very best at school and play. Just a few of the Chubbette styles are shown in this catalog.
“She Can Have a Tummy …and Still Look Yummy”
It wouldn’t be long before a girl would outgrow her pretty Chubbette party dress. Girdles for the developing pre-teen were just waiting in the wings.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2021. 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.