We’ve been going through my aunt’s apartment (she died on Sunday just before midnight, at 83, after a long bout with cancer) and my son discovered an issue of McCall’s magazine from December 1973. He couldn‘t imagine why Sylvia would have been saving a 37-year-old magazine, but I explained to him that the magazine did a double-page spread on my Grandma Fannie’s (Sylvia’s mother) incredible recipes for a Chanukah feast. My sister worked in the food department of the magazine at the time. After she told everyone about Fannie’s scrumptious dishes, including homemade potato pancakes, hot cabbage soup and stuffed breast of veal, the food editor decided to feature them.
I always love looking through old newspapers and magazines so I couldn’t wait to see this issue again, most notably the ads, which reveal so much about our culture in the seventies. We sure were a strange bunch. McCall Publishing thrived on married women with children who stayed home to cook for their families and provide warm, nurturing environments. When McCall’s editorial wasn’t encouraging women to whip up Chanukah and Christmas feasts, its ads were encouraging them to smoke up a storm. Every other page is a cigarette ad, from brands such as Virginia Slims, Raleigh and Salem. The images of pretty young women smoking in every imaginable situation are horrendous in retrospect.
An ad for Clairol’s Loving Care hair color features a 38-year-old woman who needs to cover her gray and get out of her rut. So she uses Loving Care, goes to work for an interior decorator and has a new lease on life. Imagine! She’s 38, in a rut and old before her time. In the final frame, she says: “Now I’m doing things. I like myself. And who knows what’s ahead! I feel like a person I’ve only just begun, and forty is going to be fabulous!”
The tag line of the ad: “You’re not getting older. You’re getting better!
I’m not a sociologist and I don’t know exactly what precipitated the turning point for women. But I do know that I, along with all the marvelous women of my generation, was a change agent.