Originally uploaded by mo pie
I saw this vintage ad here and was quite struck by it. The ad is from the 1970s, and the headline reads:
Tracy Harper may not care if fashionable chubby-sizes are hard to find, but her Mother does. And so does Sears.
This headline was the thing that really struck me about the ad initially. Why would a young girl not want cute clothes? I don’t even understand that from an advertising perspective. I guess the ad is targeted at mothers who want their children to look “fashionable,” regardless of how the kids feel about it. It just struck me as weird.
Moving on, here’s (most of) the body copy, which I have squinted at on your behalf:
Sears cares enough to make hard-to-fit young sizes easy to find. Flattering new looks designed for half-size figures. This perky party dress has a finely tucked bodice, low swinging pleats and a [something] of lace on its [something] collar and cuffs. Pink or blue in sizes 8 1/2 – 16 1/2.
The website that first posted the image is a sociology website, and some of the comments I also found interesting. One woman talks about her own experience with the history of the “chubby” sizes from Sears, and what they were called (when they existed, that is):
As children, my sister and I both wore those “chubby” sizes from Sears, which was the only retailer that had plus sizes for children in those days (early 1970s), as I recall. Their plus sizes for girls were called “chubby” and plus sizes for boys were called “husky”. When my sister’s step-daughters from her first marriage need plus-size clothes in the late 1980s, Sears children’s line for girls was called “Pretty Plus”. I don’t know what the boys line was called. By the mid- and late 1990s, when she had a daughter in her second marriage who needed plus size clothes, she had a hard time finding them. She just bought larger sizes and hemmed a lot.
The issue of the girl’s race is also brought up in that thread, and I thought these two comments were worth a read:
Note also that although the girl in the picture is black, her hair has been straightened (and cut in a style I at least associate with little white girls of the period, having been one and worn a similar hairstyle) and she’s wearing white leotards, and has been photographed against a light-coloured background, and in light-coloured clothing. Besides categorising her all those other ways, they’ve also done a really good job of “whitening” her as much as possible.
I would also point out that the name “Tracy Harper” strikes me as kind of a “white” name [or perhaps I should say a neutral name]. But I could be totally full of shit, and seventy-two Tracy Harpers of all sorts of ethnicities are about to post in the comments. Somebody call an ethnographer! (I have no idea if “ethnographer” is the right word, either.) Harper seems to be an Anglo-Saxon name, though, for what it’s worth. Anyway, more on race:
I’m curious about the publication, as advertisers rarely use a black person as the main character in ads meant to appeal to a white audience (unless it’s for one of the reasons explored in previous SI postings). Is this an ad from Ebony or the like? If it is indeed an ad from a ‘white-targeted’ publication, then there is an interesting argument to be made that the choice of a black child for a socially stigmatized product (clothes for fat kids) is intentional in other ways (perhaps to generate the recognition of the product’s availablity at Sears for potential white buyers while simultaneously not prompting an uncomfortable mental identification between the parents’ own kids and ‘fatties’ in need of ’special’ clothes). However, it’s also true that during this period, the crazy anti-fat hysteria of the present day was not as evident, and so the stigma was certainly not as acute.
And to wrap it up, one person’s childhood experience with plus-size clothing and her emotional response to the ad:
This post brought up a lot of upsetting memories. I wore “Pretty Plus” as a kid in the 70s and 80s, and shopping for them was always a horror show. The clothes weren’t as cute as for the smaller girls, and my mother was just mortified to have to be in that section.
Odd thing is – looking back on pictures of myself, I wasn’t fat! I was taller than pretty much all the kids, and just a bit bigger all around, but I was basically concave. So looking at this pic of a girl who really does not look the least bit chubby makes me feel angry on her behalf…and on my own behalf, as a kid who had the temerity to be bigger than the others.
I wish that clothes could just be made in a wide range of sizes naturally, and not be stigmatized into the “pretty plus” or “women’s” or “chubby” or “husky” categories. Especially not for kids, who can’t get the same clothes as their thinner friends, and who are most likely to take these labels to heart. What do you think?
Posted by mo pie