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Grace Carlson

Why Millions of Women Workers
Don’t Have ‘That American Look’

(9 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 23, 9 June 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What Is the American Look? In a recent issue of Life magazine, this question appears as the title of an article in which Dorothy Shaver, first vice-president of the exclusive New York department store, Lord & Taylor, tries to analyze the basic characteristics of American women. Illustrations of well-groomed, expensively-dressed girls are spread lavishly through the pages of the article.

The whole thing was very irritating to a New York reader of The Militant who sent the clipping to me last week. Here is the letter which accompanied it:

Made Her Boil

“I read The Militant every week ... Since I am a woman, your articles about housewives, etc. especially appeal to me. How right you are! I came across the picture magazine Life this week and want to send you a piece out of it – something that makes one boil up in reading it.

“I don’t have to say much about it. You just look at it and you will see why a hard-working housewife and mother (that’s what I am now; I used to be a waitress) gets mad at reading a thing like that. I don’t look like those girls and the waitresses I worked with didn’t either. Do you? Or the girls you see in the subways before or after working hours?”

By an interesting coincidence, another letter that also came in last week had some good answers to this woman reader’s angry questions. This letter was from Doctor Antoinette Konikow, whose intimate knowledge of women’s health problems and her equally extensive information about the heavy burdens of women factory workers give her a double right to speak on this subject. Here is Comrade Konikow’s letter:

Beauty and Cosmetics

“Your article on The Right to Be Beautiful, in which you discuss the use of cosmetics and beauty aids, awoke a few thoughts that I should like to share with your readers. I have lived for almost three-quarters of a century and in my youth we never used cosmetics. In fact, the use of them was considered indecent. And still we had beauty and romance. How do you explain the present situation? It seems to me that women’s entry into industry has a great deal to do with it.

“While rich ladies use cosmetics to cover up their pale faces acquired during Society’s winter whirl of endless nights of drinking and dancing, women who work in factories and shops have pale and tired faces because of physical exhaustion due to overwork, bad air, hurried lunches and their whole life of rush and worry.

“The working woman uses cosmetics, not only for her own satisfaction – to have a nice appearance or to attract possible romance – but she has to look well and attractive to keep her job. I think that if women would lead a healthy and normal life, their faces would look different. They would acquire the rosy cheeks that we had in our youth and the bright eyes and the red lips.

“To me cosmetics are an expression of our unhealthy life under capitalism. It is not an important issue but it is just as well to understand that changes in women’s work affect even the most minute forms of their life. This doesn’t mean that I condemn cosmetics. I think that we shall have to use them for quite a while yet!”

Unhealthy Life

Of course, Comrade Konikow is completely right in saying that good health is the basis for good looks. The Life magazine writer says this, too, and argues that all American girls have a chance to grow up strong and healthy. “The glow of health” she points out, is the most distinctive feature of the “American Look.” Besides this basic factor, she feels that another important element of the American Look is “an unaffected elegance in make-up and dress.” And all of this is supposedly the heritage of every American woman!

Leaving aside the fact that even fairly well-paid women workers cannot hope to achieve “an unaffected elegance in makeup and dress,” the main reason why millions of American working women and working-class housewives do not have this so-called typical American Look is that they cannot afford good health.

Health Essentials

Good health means a well-balanced diet – plenty of milk, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables. Good health means enough rest and sleep and this is impossible for women who carry the double burden, of industrial work and housework. Good health means proper medical care, besides, especially before and after childbirth.

I’d like to meet the woman reader who sent me the article from Life magazine. I can tell from her letter that she’s a fighter. I’m sure that she would have a look of determination on her face – determination to do something about the injustices of this system. Some day that’s going to become a very widespread American Look!

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