Taking Liberties: Early American Womens Magazines and Their Readers

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These visual cues are endowed with specific meaning by the accompanying text, in much the same manner as the Ivory Soap advertisement. The restaurant scene in the Pompeian advertisement consists of an attractive couple, ostensibly in a morally appropriate relationship of either courtship or marriage. In the background of this main image three other women are pictured, looking at the woman at the table. The shaded lights cannot conceal her wondrous beauty. Her vivid smile, her flashing eyes, are accentuated by the soft, beautiful coloring of her cheek.

She wins the admiration of all who see her. This text situates the woman as the object of desire for her partner and envy for others. In this manner, the Pompeian range is positioned as an aid to natural beauty. Similarly, the Palmolive advertisement depicts a stylish couple, in a comparable restaurant environment.

Taking Liberties: Early American Women's Magazines and Their Readers - Semantic Scholar

Is your skin fresh, lovely, attractive? Or have you allowed it to become sallow, oily? Women who do not protect their complexions age unnecessarily.


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This is subtler than the Pompeian advertisement—in that it relies on the reader to make connections between the textual and the visual. Again, the product is placed as an aid to natural beauty; however, this advertisement not only suggests benefits with use of the product, but implies perceived failure in its absence.

Taking Liberties: Early American Women's Magazines and Their Readers

Despite the different textual approaches, these advertisements operate in a similar manner overall. Through visual associations with glamour and leisure time, and textual associations with accepted gender roles and domesticity, these advertisements present an idealised, specifically domestic, version of femininity, one positioned as achievable through consumption. Those few that are featured are almost exclusively for American products, including brands such as Pompeian Aug.

Her company was specifically American, as were its advertisements. The presence of advertisements such as these, in a Canadian publication, can be seen as evidence of the commercial privileging of specifically American ideals of beauty. Broadly speaking, advertisements such as these ran in American, then Canadian magazines unchanged, implying that beauty products were promoted to the disparate American and Canadian target markets in the same way.

Taking this into consideration, it could be argued the Canadian Home Journal was providing its readers with, and in turn encouraging them to aspire to, a thoroughly Americanized version of idealised beauty. The margin is significant to say the least. This is not, though, necessarily indicative solely of a preference for American periodicals, and the values, ideals and tastes they promoted.

One of the reasons why scholars have been reluctant to undertake comparative studies of American and Canadian periodicals is the perceived notion of Canadian periodicals as derivative of their American counterparts. With this in mind, it could be argued that the presence of American advertisements in the Canadian Home Journal is evidence that Canadian periodicals simply emulated the content and the models evident in the more commercially successful American magazines.

I would argue, however, that this is not the case. While the content within these magazines appears to be presented through the same overall model — a combination of articles, fiction, advice columns, etc. The Canadian Home Journal , meanwhile, featured a specific beauty column every month for the majority of the decade. For example, the column in the November issue begins:.

Sometimes it turns over a new leaf presents us with a fortnight of perfectly good days, sunny and almost spring-like. Then we have the prospect of the Christmas month, and console ourselves, when a North wind blows, with thoughts of the tree decked with candles which will bloom on the twenty-fifth of December.


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  8. CHJ, November , These comments on the season, and the implication of shared experience, calls on the reader to view the author as similar to herself. This notion of a collective of women, of which both the reader and author are a part, is furthered in the practical advice given by Prim Rose. In these days, you very seldom see a woman with ill-kept hands; and it is well to discover some simple expedient for keeping them sightly.

    A woman who does a great deal of house work told me that she always has a cut lemon and a bottle of vinegar near the sink; and so is able to apply either the juice or the vinegar to the hands after the ordeal of dish-washing. This advice comes not as instruction from a privileged place, but as friendly guidance from peer to peer, as hints and tips shared amongst friends.

    Firstly, it implies that Prim Rose herself does not need to do housework, perhaps because she has a servant. In this manner, she is in fact putting herself in a somewhat privileged position, situating herself as both a source of friendly and practical advice but also as occupying an aspirational social and economic position.

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    Secondly, this confirms the intended readership as consisting primarily of housewives, who would most likely not have servants. However, as this excerpt makes clear, this should not mean their standards of beauty slip. This example is typical of the column. In the August column there is also specific attention dedicated to the presentation of advice from an aspirational, but unthreatening, position and the outlining of shared experience. Again, this shared experience focuses largely on the seasons, the weather and natural imagery, with Prim Rose stating,.

    What should we call you, August, but month of gold? The summer light is a little on the wane and there is a little haze in the late afternoon […] The sky is glorious in its azure depths above the dark waters of the Muskoka. The woods hide in their green recesses all the beauty which Pan loved of old. CHJ, August , In this manner, Prim Rose focuses on recognisable collective experience. The recurring seasonal imagery also gives connotations of ephemerality and regular change; characteristics of both the fashions presented elsewhere in the magazine and indeed periodical time itself. Being a monthly publication, the magazine is a text that purports only to be true at the time of publication.

    Much like the seasons, magazines are transient and changing. In addition, the introductory text associates the advice that follows within a natural and specifically Canadian context.


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    4. The mention of the Muskoka — a river in the region of the same name in central Ontario — positions the column, and in turn the readership, as Canadian. The detailed picturesque descriptions of natural beauty situate the advice as natural, an implication strengthened by the suggestions of natural, home-made beauty remedies rather than ready-made beauty products. Thus, the opportunity for aesthetic self-improvement is naturalised and offered without any engagement with make-up and its problematic associations. This would have likely been thought to appeal to Canadian readers, who were perceived as more conservative than their American counterparts.

      The nineteenth-century pioneer woman was the enduring feminine ideal in Canada, and remained so into the twentieth century. As Misao Dean comments,. The supposed passivity and physical limitations of the nineteenth-century woman were contradicted by the necessity for active and physical labour on the Canadian bush farm. Dean, Given that the pioneer era was more recent in Canada than in America, and urbanisation was moving at a much slower pace, Canadian magazines addressed more rural readers perceived to identify with this nationally specific conception of femininity, while the American titles by this point addressed a more suburban audience.

      From these examples it would seem that the Canadian Home Journal was addressing a readership that did not place beauty as their highest priority. This is not to say, however, that cultivation of the appearance was not presented as significant or as achievable through consumption; merely that it manifests itself in a manner concordant with the perceived traditional values of the readers.

      After all, the home-made remedies would have required other products the readers would most likely have had to purchase, such as the lemons suggested by Prim Rose. Yet the distinctive difference between the editorial and commercial content highlights the ideological tensions consistently being negotiated and renegotiated within the pages of each issue. The traditional values of pioneer femininity, then, continued to inform cultural products in Canada the s, placing importance primarily on nature and the natural, practicality and thrift. Meanwhile, increasingly, urban American audiences were believed to be more receptive to modes of self-improvement that promised increased glamour, luxury, and leisure time or, indeed, threatened failure in their absence.

      Beauty is positioned as achievable, but only insofar as it does not exceed the acceptable bounds of wife, homemaker, and mother. Conspicuous make-up, with its pejorative connotations, was not yet within the realm of propriety for either readership. Middle-class perceptions of vanity and alteration of the appearance remained influenced by nineteenth-century concerns over deception and a lack of morality.

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      The paradigmatic examples found in the commercial and editorial content of these titles provide a blueprint for aesthetic self-improvement, increasingly based on consumption and emphatically stressed as a worthwhile, and at times essential, feminine interest. Yet they also display a national specificity, which can be read as a direct result of the national context in which they were produced, and in turn contributing to nationally specific patterns of consumption. Arnould, Eric J. Aronson, Mary Beth. Westport: Praeger, Beetham, Margaret.

      Taking Liberties Early American Womens Magazines and Their Readers by Aronson & Amy

      London: Routledge, Belk, Russell W. Bishop, John Peale. Conor, Liz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, Dean, Misao.

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      Toronto: University of Toronto Press, Halttunen, Karen. New Haven:Yale University Press, Hammill, Faye and Michelle Smith. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, Moodie, Susanna. Roughing It in the Bush.