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“The sexiness of innocence”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 20, 2010

The Web Urbanist has recently posted on Old School Vintage Ads We’re Glad Are Gone” (HT: BCC and a number of FB contacts) — sort of like the series of Keepa posts about old-time advertising, but creepy: There’s Santa Claus smoking a cigarette, a cartoon pig cutting slices out of his middle to fill your breakfast plate, and men treating women as if they were disobedient carthorses.

One especially creepy ad shows a little girl with pouty lips dolled up like an adult woman, with the tagline “Because innocence is sexier than you think.” Web Urbanist’s commentary notes that today “child protection groups would get chills if they saw ad images that glorified the ‘sexiness’ of innocence.”

That all rang a bell with me because months ago I ran across a 1954-55 advertising campaign for Chiffon toilet tissue in the Improvement Era that made my skin crawl. These ads ran about every other issue, on the inside back cover, and must have cost the advertiser a bundle because the covers, inside and out, were the only places in the magazine that accommodated color. I didn’t know what use in the world I could possibly have for these ads, but I scanned them anyway because they disturbed me that much.

Note that these ads have no Mormon content, were not (so far as I can know) produced by Mormons or targeted especially toward Mormons. They did run in a Mormon magazine, though, over and over and over. We’re not immune to the social forces around us. Not in 1954-55. Not now.

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(I know this is not Keepa’s usual fare, and I also acknowledge that I’ve barely been phoning it in to Keepa for the past several weeks. One of these days Real Soon Now, though, I’m going to not be sick anymore and will be able to think well enough to get back to writing the kinds of posts you expect here. Thanks for sticking with me in the meantime.)



17 Comments

  1. I can only imagine the Correlation dept. reviewing these.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 20, 2010 @ 11:57 am

  2. Hi Ardis,

    I have 5 kids and naked kids and kids in diapers do not really faze me much. My 18 month old runs around in a diaper all the time after bath and before bed.

    Would these ads run today? No. But that is partly as a result of a highly sexualized culture that is much different from this time period.

    Comment by bbell — May 20, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

  3. bbell, you can honestly look at that first image, the one where the little girl is throwing her coy “come hither” glance, and not recognize sexxualization?? You don’t see any difference between an 18-year-old in a diaper, and a little girl (cartoon images or not) clad in panties, with her hair combed just so, wearing adult makeup, and a ribbon choker?? shadowed in many cases by the image of an infantalized adult woman?

    I think I would prefer you not respond, because anything you could say would only make you look bad. Please don’t, because I’ll let stand anything you do say, forever and ever.

    These are not pictures of babies running around in a family setting that are being misunderstood because 2010 is so perverted. These are deliberately sexualized images. They’re too consistent to be anything but deliberate.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  4. These are frightening.

    Given that they actually did run I am left wondering what made these seem okay to people at the time they ran. What was the social force at play here?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 20, 2010 @ 3:30 pm

  5. Yeah, it isn’t the unclothed toddler that is disturbing. It is the lipstick, hair-styling, makeup, and come hither glances that set of the perv-o-meter.

    The third picture down, with the man’s cane, top hat and gloves, gives me the willies.

    Thank you for this glimpse into our recent past, Ardis. I never could have imagined this.

    Comment by Mark Brown — May 20, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

  6. Timing bad for me on this one. Just sat through a trial (was bailiff) the last 8 days involving the creation of child porn through a peephole (verdict yesterday = guilty). Amazingly, the pictures came up for me at work, and I had to instantly shut ‘em back down… too much like what had been published to the jury.

    Comment by Coffinberry — May 20, 2010 @ 7:02 pm

  7. They are creepy. But I can also understand bbell’s initial reaction because it was the same one I had. After a lifetime of managing kids’ bodily needs, their nudity doesn’t register very high. Being prompted to examine the illustrations for undue sexualization opened my eyes to what I otherwise wouldn’t notice. And you’re right–big ick.
    When I reflect back on what women’s fashion dictated in this era, I believe adult women were sexualized in an unnatural way. It’s the era that gave us Barbie. And there’s a big difference between what was fashionable and what real women of the period actually looked like, if my family snapshots are any indication.
    Hope you feel better soon.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — May 20, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

  8. I think we have this tendency to view history in terms that things are getting progressively worse as time goes by. We view things from the past as being inherently innocent–e.g. these pictures. We think that it is only our perverted, creepy 2010 point of view that sees the sexualization of these pictures. The fact is, the past is not always innocent. There were creepy people back in the 1950s, too. With all the sexual abuse cases popping up in the Catholic Church it seems to verify that there was a lot that went on that people didn’t know about or looked the other way.

    Comment by Steve C. — May 20, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

  9. The ads at Web Urbanist are indeed pretty bad, but the ads I wish most had never seen the light of day appeared in Mormon magazines. You know the ones I’m talking about.

    Comment by reed russell — May 20, 2010 @ 10:56 pm

  10. Some of them aren’t too bad…as one who also has little girls, they seemed innocent enough. Especially the one of her painting her toenails (I think its kinda cute!). But the one with the mans gloves, cane, etc is creepy.

    Comment by Olive — May 21, 2010 @ 1:25 am

  11. Pedophilia has always been around to one extent or another. The who made these adds are sick. I think that most decent people at the time these adds came out were too naive to understand the implications of these pictures.

    Comment by rk — May 21, 2010 @ 6:38 am

  12. Just plain creepy. Someone probably was thinking that “Mormons have big families, they will think these pictures are cute”, but whoever created these probably had issues. Can’t believe that someone in the editorial staff didn’t start to catch the bad vibes after looking at a couple of these.

    Comment by kevinf — May 21, 2010 @ 10:15 am

  13. Some of them don’t seem too egregious––children imitating adults can be cute (e.g.: a little boy “shaving,” etc.)––but several knock the creep-o-meter off the charts. I really, really want to believe that the effect is unintentional, but I doubt it.

    To be fair though, Ardis, I am just as disturbed by your line in #3 about “an 18-year-old in a diaper.” Gah!
    ;-)

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — May 21, 2010 @ 3:44 pm

  14. Latter-day Guy,
    I think Ardis meant to say “an 18-month-old in a diaper” responding to bbell in #1, “My 18 month old runs around in a diaper all the time after bath and before bed.”

    Comment by Maurine — May 22, 2010 @ 12:08 am

  15. Yeah, I know. I was being facetious.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — May 22, 2010 @ 1:28 am

  16. I think the Coppertone girl ads came out at about the same time, the one with the dog pulling down the girl’s swim-suit to show the tan-line.

    rk in #11 comment seems right: “… that most decent people at the time these ads came out were too naive to understand the implications of these pictures.” Child exploitation was just not in the public consciousness, much less in LDS circles. It was virtually unheard of, unthinkable.

    Since child exploitation was so little spoken of, and children were seen as non-sexual creatures in polite society, if someone had raised an alarm and claimed that the ads were too sexualized, that person would have been accused of being the perv.

    Comment by Bookslinger — May 22, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  17. Wow.

    Ardis, I hope you are OK, and that you will get well soon. I had a particularly nasty spring cold in March, it lasted forever, and it was no fun. Feel better.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — May 22, 2010 @ 6:13 pm