Advertising and the Politics of Consumption

By Alex Swann

As a result of the beauty culture in America, women could experiment in self-presentation through the availability of new beauty products, advertising, public appearances, and new aspirations for what was achievable. Gender roles and stereotypes of gender were deeply entrenched and even as female consumption grew, male dominance still often prevailed. The advertising industry often corrupted ideas of natural beauty and misled women into consuming products that weren’t for them. Also, the gender roles of the post war period were characterised by representations of the perfect American family.



“Doctors Prove Palmolive Soap… Using Nothing But Palmolive… Can Bring Lovelier Complexions!”, Palmolive, 1949, Magazine Ad., Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University

My argument is that this advert is contradictory, meant for cleansing but showing a woman plastered in make up. A central theme is ‘loveliness,’ which can’t be only described by physical beauty which is on the advert.


NY Rail

 “Easy does it”, New York Central Railway, National Geographic Ad, 1954, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University

This ad shows a perfect American suburban family, with a male breadwinner and female housekeeper, at a time when females were increasingly becoming more consumers. The advert wants wealthy consumers on their transport, and promises a premium of comfort.



“Tru-Glo Liquid make up”, Westmore Hollywood Cosmetics, Life Magazine, 1952, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University 

Marilyn Monroe, an icon of natural beauty, sells a cheap product and the false belief to women that if they use it they will be like her. This is a corruption of ‘natural’, a coercive way to use a celebrity to bribe people become part of this culture.


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