The Rise of Mass Media
Mixed Messages in Mass Media
Mass circulation magazines and movies offered images of women's freedom in the 1920s. But they also encouraged women to internalize new anxieties about their bodies. Along with freer clothing that displayed more of the female body came new expectations for presenting the body in public – having youthful skin, fresh breath, shapely legs, and the right kind of make-up. Rejecting the corset, this generation embraced these expectations, along with dieting and counting calories.
Advertisements often offered to solve these new anxieties through consumer beauty and health products. Only with the use of such products could women be successful in the marriage "market" that still determined their futures.
Contests like the Miss America pageant thrived in the 1920s and emphasized the competitive display of female beauty. The pageant started in 1921 as part of an effort by Atlantic City businessmen to extend the summer season by inviting newspapers from different cities to nominate a young woman to represent them in the Inter-City Beauty Contest. To build more hype, the contestants were put in the running for the title of "Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America," later shortened to "Miss America." The bathing suits that contestants wore were modest by modern standards, but they represented a stark change from the "bathing dresses" of earlier generations.
In 2018, the Miss America organization announced it would no longer include a swimsuit competition as part of the event. Board chair Gretchen Carlson said, "We will no longer judge our candidates on their outward physical appearance."
Illustrator John Held's exaggerated drawings of flappers adorned the covers of mass-circulation magazines like these, and came to symbolize the Jazz Age.
Held had a beach cottage in Westport, just down the road from the Fitzgeralds, and was also famous for his lavish parties. "His angular and scantily clad flapper was accepted by scandalized elders as the prototype of modern youth, the symbol of our moral revolution." (Corey Ford, The Most of John Held, Jr.)