Consuming Beauty: Mass-Market Magazines and Make-up in the 1920s
University of Strathclyde
Now, it would be an overstatement to insist that the art of living is exclusively under the control of women, yet it is approximately true that the social arts—conversation, cookery, dress, manners, the more gracious forms of personal intercourse—owe their beginnings and continued cultivation to the care of women. (Bishop, 47)
In his article “The Art of Living as a Feminine Institution,” published in the November 1920 issue of Vanity Fair, American poet John Peale Bishop comments on what he describes as “phases of civilization” (47). Included alongside “man’s conquest over nature” and “man’s conquest over himself” (47) is the art of living, seen to be contained within daily routine and domestic social encounters. Bishop defines this art of living as being primarily feminine, and his concise list of what he considers “the social arts” could almost serve as a draft contents page for the women’s magazines of the period. Mass-market magazines of the 1920s encouraged their readers to place improvement of the domestic environment and projection of a successful image of the self as wife, hostess, and fashionable woman high on their list of priorities. Magazines positioned themselves as sources of advice, and at times trusted friends, to aid their readers in self-improvement in the direction of the ideals they depicted. In Bishop’s list of the social arts, however, one prominent feature associated with the feminine “art of living” and with mass-market magazines is notably absent: beauty. The depiction of idealised versions of feminine beauty is now synonymous with women’s magazines. The presentation and promotion of specific forms of beauty is also evident in mass-market periodicals of the 1920s, such as the American Ladies’ Home Journal and the Canadian Home Journal.
In the modern scene of the 1920s, vision was “privileged above other senses” (Conor, 19), a shift encouraged largely by technological developments in photography and film. In the context of this emerging visual culture, appearance – particularly feminine appearance – became more important than ever. This rapidly changing, image-based culture saw a renegotiation of the relationship between appearance and identity. The increase of middle-class wealth and leisure allowed for the intended readership of the Ladies’ Home Journal and Canadian Home Journal to share more fully in a preoccupation which had traditionally belonged – at least in its more elaborate manifestations – to the upper class. From commercial content, including adverts and advertorials, to editorial content, such as instructional guides and advice, appearance and beauty remain evident throughout. Yet make-up is largely absent, and only begins to be noticeable in issues from the late twenties. Through consideration of adverts and advice columns then, this essay will seek to examine the representation of beauty, and the products and methods situated as facilitators of it. In this manner this essay will bring together literary perspectives with aspects of consumer culture theory and, in doing so, examine the prevailing attitudes towards make-up and vanity, the ways in which beauty was positioned as achievable through consumption, and the extent to which visual ideals and their attainment are nationally specific.
Much critical discussion of women’s magazines centres on the perceived fostering of insecurities amongst readers. There exists, as Valerie Korinek points out, “an analytical continuum from Betty Friedan to Naomi Wolf which contends that women’s magazines are ‘bad’” (9). These magazines are seen by many critics as one of the tools by which a patriarchal system has been maintained, encouraging millions of women to occupy a primarily domestic, traditional role, focusing their effort on attracting and retaining a husband and on the cultivation of the appearance rather than intellect. Feminist critics analyse the ways magazines aim to convince women that they are inherently lacking something, a lack which, the articles and adverts imply, can be resolved through engagement with the modes of consumption encouraged in the magazine itself. These ideas are the basis of Friedan’s critique of the “feminine mystique”, and more recent analyses of women’s magazines, such as Jennifer Scanlon’s, further investigate the “inarticulate longings” (Scanlon, 10), which women’s magazines both feed and condemn. Recently, though, criticism has emerged which builds on, whilst also revising, this seemingly universal academic view of the women’s magazine as a sinister and manipulative commercial and cultural object (see Beetham, 1996; Aronson, 2002; Korinek, 2006). The reading of magazine material focused on self-improvement as entirely pernicious is an oversimplification. Although it could be argued that this material was liable to encourage and exploit the anxieties of the reader, it is equally arguable that the same material brought demonstrable benefits to readers and their families. The advisory or instructional content in such material may well have made their lives easier in some ways, while simultaneously reinforcing higher expectations and increasing difficulty in others. The magazines in themselves also provided entertainment and relief from the burdens of domesticity, along with a sense of community amongst readers. It is therefore evident that these magazines, and the material contained therein, should not be read as entirely benevolent, nor as entirely toxic. While this high-profile debate continues within academic scholarship on magazines, I argue that it should not obscure the inherent interest of mass-market magazines as collaborative texts and cultural artefacts. Nor should it simplify their engagement with discourses of self-improvement.
An approach informed by consumer culture theory allows for consideration of magazines, frequently dismissed as merely commercial products, in a manner which does not require the designation of beneficial or threatening. In their 2005 article, the aim of which is to define consumer culture theory as a “viable disciplinary brand” providing a “heuristic framework,” Arnould and Thompson state,
Consumer culture denotes a social arrangement in which the relations between lived culture and social resources, and between meaningful ways of life and the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, are mediated through markets. (869)
Consumer culture theory, therefore, addresses “the sociocultural, experiential, symbolic, and ideological aspects of consumption” (868). Magazines in the early twentieth century were becoming increasingly reliant on income from advertisers for their continued operation and, as Beetham states, “The move from reading to shopping became increasingly central to the genre. The magazines positioned women both as purchasers and readers of texts” (8). Thus, even in the 1920s, consumption was evidently inextricably intertwined with the medium of the mass-market magazine. More useful than a questioning of whether this material was helpful or harmful, is an investigation into how it worked and why it was so popular. The concept of self-improvement, it could be argued, permeates all aspects of the women’s magazine. In an article on periodicals Szeman comments: “Form and content overlap in the audience’s cultural aspirations, which are addressed by advertising as much as by the articles in the magazine” (Szeman, 222). Although Szeman’s article deals predominantly with contemporary periodicals, this assertion holds true also for early examples of mass-market magazines. On every page, from commercial to editorial content, advertisements for underwear to recipes for cakes, from decorating guides to beauty tips, the reader is presented with a myriad of opportunities for improvement of the self and the home environment
Beauty was a significant focus in both the Ladies’ Home Journal and Canadian Home Journal yet this focus manifested differently in each publication, offering an interesting comparison. Adverts for beauty products appeared in both, but there are notable discrepancies in the manner in which each title approached the notion of beauty. For both, however, conceptions of beauty were still informed by nineteenth-century ideology and the term ‘beauty products”, in the era of the 1920s, did not initially encompass make-up. In her 1996 study of changing conceptions and consumption of make-up in America, Kathy Peiss comments, “In Western culture, the face, of all parts of the human body, has been marked as particularly meaningful, a unique site of expression, beauty, and character” (Peiss, 313). This view of the face reflecting character, she argues, presented a moral dilemma when considering make-up. Given that facial beauty was associated so closely with spiritual beauty or a goodness of character, to alter the face in order to improve its appearance was seen as deception. This view of make-up, in the context of nineteenth-century middle-class culture, went beyond mistrust to deep-seated fear. In Confidence Men and Painted Women (1982) Karen Halttunen argues that hypocrisy, perceived to be a major social threat in antebellum America, manifested in two vilified archetypal characters. Advice books, magazines and etiquette guides claimed the “confidence man” and the “painted woman” manipulated appearance and manner, “poisoned polite society with deception and betrayal”, diminished social confidence between men and woman and threatened “to reduce the American republic to social chaos” (Halttunen, xv). These texts instead championed the concept of “moral cosmetics” (88). Moral cosmetics made explicit the link between spiritual and aesthetic beauty, advising a program of exercise and temperance in food and drink. Beyond this, they were encouraged to improve their souls and minds “so their beautiful thoughts and sentiments might shine forth through their skin” (88), confirming a beautiful appearance as representative of a goodness of character.
The equation of make-up with masks, disguises and a lack of morality retained its hold on Western middle-class consciousness into the twentieth century. Edward Bok, editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1890 to 1919, reported in 1912 that rouge remained a mark of sin (Peiss, 56). While this view did not go completely unchallenged, it remained dominant, leading to tensions on the pages of the magazines. The increasing focus on appearance and beauty in the magazines appeared to be at odds with the distinctively middle-class values – including morality, frugality, propriety, and restraint – promoted elsewhere in their pages. In order to negotiate these tensions the Ladies’ Home Journal and Canadian Home Journal set beauty as the aspirational standard, yet constrained desires for it within domestic limitations, presented through the image of the beautiful wife, homemaker, and mother. Arguably, these domestic models were conceived slightly differently in the two national contexts. These magazines, and others, took part in an “idealization of the ‘natural face’” (43), offered products and advice positioned as aids in attaining this ideal, and invoked the image of “natural beauty” frequently. Commercial materials present in these two magazine titles are many and varied, with advertising occupying around half of the total page space. In the November 1928 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal, advertisements account for 56% of the publication (with 240 pages, around 135 of them dedicated to advertisements). In the Canadian Home Journal, for the same issue, the figure is 50% (120 pages, 60 of advertisements). Advertisements featuring “natural” beauty appear often in the Ladies’ Home Journal, promoting products which fall into the category of beauty products but which are presented as aids in bringing out natural beauty, rather than ways of altering the appearance, thus avoiding the dilemma of deception.
In the burgeoning consumer culture of the 1920s, consumption was beginning to be positioned as an alternative to spirituality in terms of improvement of the self and creation of identity. Russell Belk and Richard Pollay refer to this shift in values in the twentieth century through consideration of two lexicographic meanings of “the good life”; the first being “a life lived according to the moral and religious laws of one’s culture”, the second, “a life abounding in material comforts and luxuries” (Belk and Pollay, 887). Advertising, they argue, more than any other institution, can be seen as the root cause of this shift. The tensions seen in the pages of these titles directly correlate to this developing shift from the moral to the material. In Living Up to the Ads, Simone Weil Davis comments, “The consumer then and still conceived primarily as female, is supposed to manifest her ‘rainbow moods’ most entirely via the selection and purchase of commodities, the expressive lexicon from which she is to assemble and display her identity” (Davis, 4). The adverts presented in these publications are intended not only to promote a product, but to imply that the reader can bring out her individual character through purchase. The concept of individual character is closely linked to appearance, with natural beauty reflecting a desirable character. From soap to face cream to toothpaste, the concept of natural beauty is invoked frequently and the opportunity for self-improvement offered to the reader through purchase and subsequent use of a range of products. Examples include this double page advert for Ivory Soap (Proctor & Gamble, November 1928, 62-63) from the Ladies’ Home Journal.
The illustrations echo those typical of the fashion editorials, with emphasis on fashionable clothes, slim figure and youth. The main illustration on the right-hand page depicts what appears to be a restaurant scene. The implication here is of a lifestyle in which there is time and money available for entertainment: a lifestyle that is, if not lavish, then at least comfortable. While many middle-class readers of the Ladies’ Home Journal would not have been able to afford to dine in restaurants with any sort of frequency, it would almost certainly have been something many of them aspired to. Thus, the association of the product with a depiction of a beautiful woman in an aspirational environment defines the product as an enabler of self-improvement in this direction. The text that runs alongside this image states, “Cosmetics and soft lights are a great help when you wish to be pretty. But a slanting ray of light will betray a surface that is not naturally fine and smooth” (LHJ, November 1928, 63). The mention of cosmetics here is sufficiently vague so as not to invoke any alarm, nor cast any overt judgement. However, cosmetics are positioned as subordinate to the advertised product in their role at assisting in beauty. This concept is expanded in the main body of text:
Under the shaded lamps of evening, almost any complexion can bloom into beauty. It needs only a becoming powder and a spot of color… But daylight is so frank! A nice cheerful ray of sunshine will reveal any flaw – in spite of make-up. (62)
Appropriate make-up, as it is made clear in this excerpt, is nothing more than a face powder and blush – euphemistically referred to as “a spot of color” – conforming to the concept of beauty products as enhancers of natural beauty. That said, the implication is that these make-up products provide only a thin veneer of beauty, one that fails when tested by natural sunlight. The message is repeated and reinforced; the product is more important than the cosmetics mentioned. The “nice cheerful ray of sunshine” becomes a menace, threatening to undermine the reader’s efforts in her quest for beauty. The product, then, is positioned as an aid in avoidance of failure in this quest, an impression continued throughout the remainder of the text.
The visual emphasis of the advert is on leisure, far removed from the daily domestic routine. Yet the text of the advert does cite a housewife as the main example. In warning about “imperfect cleansing” – which can be taken to mean cleansing that doesn’t involve the use of the advertised soap – the fictional character of Joan Marshall is mentioned.
What happens when pretty Joan Marshall, after a busy day with her children and shopping, carefully massages her face with cold cream, wipes it off and goes to bed feeling that she has done her whole duty to her skin? (63)
The mention of motherhood, when combined with the images of leisure time and entertainment, implies an ideal of prosperous domestic life. This is linked to the sustained youthful appearance, which can be facilitated through use of the product. Simultaneously though, the text alludes to the undesirable effects which will allegedly occur in the absence of the product. The advertising copy identifies Joan’s beauty regime as “imperfect cleansing,” directly asking the reader, “Is it any wonder that blackheads come from this practise?” (63). Detailed instruction of an alternative “simple beauty-treatment,” proposing the use of cold cream before washing with the advertised product follows. This regime, the advert claims, keeps skin “smooth, fine, youthfully radiant” (63). Through adherence to the instruction provided, fictional Joan can improve her skin, thereby improving her appearance and happiness, thus implying that the reader can too. The soap is positioned as a product that, rather than masking and providing a false beauty like the powder and blush mentioned, truly enhances natural beauty. In this manner the textual and visual elements of the advertisement collaboratively construct the product as both desirable and beneficial. This is achieved through the promise of benefits and threat of failure, and the presentation of familiar domestic experience with aspirational and luxurious environments.
This approach is fairly common throughout Ladies’ Home Journal. Advertisements from other issues, such as those for Palmolive soap and Pompeian Beauty Powder, also associate the use of products with sophistication, luxury, and socially elevated environments. Yet, they still retain an emphasis on traditional feminine roles: the courtship of a future husband in the Pompeian advert (Pompeian, Aug. 1922, 55) and dining out with a husband in the Palmolive (Palmolive, Sept. 1924, 50).
Unfortunately, copyright permission to reproduce the latter image was denied by the Colgate-Palmolive Company. The two adverts are remarkably similar in their visual layout, presenting three images, including one of a glamorous couple and one of the product as it is sold. 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. This scene is clarified by the tagline, “Don’t Envy Beauty – Use Pompeian,” and furthered by the following text:
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. And why shouldn’t she? She knows and uses the complete “Pompeian Beauty Toilette.” (LHJ, August 1922, 55)
This text situates the woman as the object of desire for her partner and envy for others. Her beauty, according to the text, does not purely derive from the advertised products; rather, it is her “vivid smile, her flashing eyes”, which are enhanced by her beautiful complexion, enabled by the products. 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. Again, the image is defined by the tagline “Still the thrill of courtship,” and the text which follows,
Is your skin fresh, lovely, attractive? Or have you allowed it to become sallow, oily? Women who do not protect their complexions age unnecessarily. Here’s the simple secret all may know. (50)
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. “Fresh, lovely, attractive” skin is achievable, and the threat of unnecessary aging and “sallow, oily” skin can be neutralised with the “simple secret” that constitutes the product. 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.
Notably, the Canadian Home Journal features significantly fewer adverts for beauty products than the Ladies’ Home Journal. Those few that are featured are almost exclusively for American products, including brands such as Pompeian (Aug. 1927, 19), Elizabeth Arden (Jan. 1929, 37), and Palmolive (Aug. 1923, inside cover) pictured below.
The Elizabeth Arden advertisement is distinctively different, in that it is far more simplistic and implies a direct connection with the reader with the tagline, “Elizabeth Arden is personally in touch with you.” This approach was characteristic of the advertising employed by the company, which was established and run by Arden herself. Although she was in fact Canadian, born in Toronto as Florence Nightingale Graham, Elizabeth Arden never referred to herself as such (Woodhead, 55). 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. In another article on American cosmetics, Peiss comments on the fact that in the early twentieth century, America’s domestic beauty industry exported “the emergent American look – visible in the Gibson Girls and the New Woman [which] conveyed an image that was natural, youthful, healthy and wholesome” (102). This image made use of both make-up and “natural artifice,” was further legitimised by the emergence of Hollywood, and made its way into the Canadian mainstream mainly through print advertising. Many of the American advertisements present in the Canadian Home Journal also appeared in the Ladies’ Home Journal. 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.
In her article on the challenges faced by Canadian magazines in the 1920s, Vipond comments, “American publications outsold both British and Canadian in Canada by a wide margin” (Vipond, 44). The margin is significant to say the least. Circulation of the Ladies’ Home Journal in Canada, as of 30 June 1926, was 128,574 (43), whereas circulation of the Canadian Home Journal, as of 31 December 1925, was 68,054 (44). This is not, though, necessarily indicative solely of a preference for American periodicals, and the values, ideals and tastes they promoted. The Ladies’ Home Journal was far more established, having been published every month since February 1883. By the time the Canadian Home Journal was first published in 1905, it was already two years since the Ladies’ Home Journal had become the first magazine to reach one million paid subscribers (Sumner, 25). Therefore, the Ladies’ Home Journal not only had a budget that far outstripped that of the Canadian Home Journal, but also greater time to amass loyalty to its brand. 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. – close analysis reveals divergences in the content itself. The Canadian Home Journal featured a regular beauty advice column, a feature absent from the Ladies’ Home Journal. Indeed, in spite of the extensive commercial presence of beauty within the Ladies’ Home Journal, “the magazine devoted less than one percent of each issue to beauty in the 1920s” (Peiss, 123). The Canadian Home Journal, meanwhile, featured a specific beauty column every month for the majority of the decade. This was also true of other Canadian mainstream magazines, including Mayfair, Chatelaine, and La Revue Moderne (Hammill and Smith, 80-90).
The Canadian Home Journal’s beauty column was titled “Through the Looking Glass” in the early 1920s, attributed to the author “Vain Jane.” By 1923, the title had been changed to “The Vanity Box,” written by “Prim Rose,” and appeared as such until April 1928. After this time, beauty features by “Prim Rose” appeared under more specific titles – such as “Good Looks for Summer” in June 1928, and “That Flock of Freckles From Sun and Wave” in August 1928 – but they were no longer a constant in every issue. The column, despite the change in name, remained much the same, based on general, but seasonally-specific, beauty advice and instruction for home remedies, followed by responses to readers’ beauty-related questions. For example, the column in the November 1926 issue begins:
In the language of the old poem – “the melancholy days have come – the saddest of the year.” November however, is a rather maligned month. Sometimes it turns over a new leaf presents us with a fortnight of perfectly good days, sunny and almost spring-like. Enough of October’s glory remains in the woodland to make the beginning bright. 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. (CHJ, November 1926, 22)
These comments on the season, and the implication of shared experience, calls on the reader to view the author as similar to herself. This suggestion of similarity is furthered by the use of first-person plural pronouns, with the result that the reader is predisposed to accept the author’s advice as truthful and genuine. The text does not contribute any information about “beauty”; rather, it serves the purpose of establishing bonds among an imagined community on the basis of the shared domestic ritual of Christmas and associated shared structures of feeling. The construction of an imagined community of readers in this way is reminiscent of nineteenth-century Canadian conduct guides, such as Catherine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide (1854). The Female Emigrant’s Guide proposes ideals of feminine conduct for women living in an isolated bush settlement, citing familiar experiences for women in similar conditions and circumstances to the author. 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. (CHJ, November 1926, 22)
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. The inclusion of this second-hand information from “a woman who does a great deal of house work,” serves something of a dual purpose. 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. 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 1923 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 1923, 22)
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. As Mussell argues, “The value of all types of ephemera lies in the properties that once made it valueless. The connection to the prosaic, transitory and mundane is both the reason that it should not have survived and the reason it is so valuable for us today” (Mussell, 91). 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. 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. Femininity was reconstituted as consisting of the virtues which were instrumental to class mobility: primarily, a woman’s ability to create domestic comfort and well-being wholly by her own labour and without expending any of the family income. (Dean, 12)
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. Therefore, the combining of practicality and thrift with aspirations for greater “natural beauty” would have provided a method of self-improvement that did not contradict intended readers’ traditional values. This offers a significant contrast to the forms of aesthetic self-improvement offered to the readers of the Ladies’ Home Journal, seen only in adverts from the burgeoning beauty industry.
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. As Nancy Walker comments, “at no time in their histories have women’s magazines delivered perfectly consistent, monolithic messages to their readers” (Walker, vii). 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. Both titles feature aspirational examples of idealised beauty but in the main, although not exclusively, through different forms of content: the Ladies’ Home Journal through commercial content, and the Canadian Home Journal through editorial. Although American beauty advertisements did appear in the Canadian Home Journal, their presence indicates the beginnings of the global reach of the American beauty industry, rather than the publication’s promotion of a specifically Americanized feminine ideal. The regularity and consistency of the “Through the Looking Glass”/”The Vanity Box” columns support this claim, and suggests the encouragement of a quintessentially Canadian feminine ideal, as opposed to the largely commercially-informed American ideal.
Both cater to their imagined readership, with the Ladies’ Home Journal appealing to a more suburban audience and the Canadian Home Journal a more rural one. The traditional values of pioneer femininity, then, continued to inform cultural products in Canada the 1920s, 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. This can be seen in the adverts examined, but while readers of the Canadian Home Journal were restrained in their quest for beauty by the values of pioneer femininity, so too were readers of the Ladies’ Home Journal constrained by domesticity. 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. Yet from these examples it is clear that readers of both the Canadian Home Journal and Ladies’ Home Journal aspired to, and were encouraged to emulate, Canadian visual ideals of femininity and American visual ideals of femininity respectively. 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.
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