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After WWII, Fears of Liberated Teen Girls Led to 'Grooming' Films

September 11, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

Flashback: Extreme Beauty Standards of the 1940s (TV-PG; 2:22)

When it comes to the beauty standards women in the 1940s were held to, there is only response: “Oh, brother.”

This clip from a mental hygiene film—the line of educational videos made in the 20th century to teach America’s youngsters how to act—was created in 1948 and titled “Body Care and Grooming”. In the years after the end of World War II, young people in the U.S. were solidifying into a brand new social group, that of the teenager. With the rise of car culture, greater freedom for teens, and a society that was bending towards the conservative gender structures of the Leave It to Beaver 1950s, parents were clearly becoming worried about making sure their kids behaved in a prim and proper fashion.

So, adults did what was only natural. The Committee on Medical Motion Pictures and the American College of Surgeons were called in to help produce this midcentury gem to teach their sons and daughters all about personal hygiene and cleanliness standards. This, of course, included defining the rules for how women should dress and the beauty standards they should conform to in order to catch the eye—and calm the frazzled school nerves—of the gents. Like we said, “Oh, brother.”

Beware the Bobby-Socks Brigade

By today’s sartorial standards, the transformed star of this video is positively conservative in her dress. She is praised—after she pulls herself together—for her perfectly pressed knee skirt, the tucked-in shirt that shows off her slender waist and her tidy little bobby socks. This last element may have been the proverbial bow on the proper coed’s outfit, but in the early 1940s, it had an entirely different connotation. There was something of a bobby-sock scare afoot.

As WWII dragged on, the U.S. morality watchdogs became concerned about a new problem at home: victory girls. These were young girls, who were often characterized as teenagers but who also included young married women, who used their new-found freedom as their parents went to work and to war to roam the streets and pick-up servicemen. They acted sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of a sense of patriotic duty and sometimes to exercise their new freedom. For this behavior, these young women were labeled “khaki wackies, cuddle bunnies, round-heels, patriotutes, chippies, good-time Janes, [and] Victory girls.”

As if fighting this moral crisis wasn’t …read more


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