“My woman is openly herself.” Constructed naturalness, bodily consumer products and the change in gender norms among young people 1961–1973

Matleena Frisk


This study investigates the way in which the genders changed during the 1960s and 1970s, from the perspective of consumer products and ideals concerning the body. The context of the study is the major increase in consumption and change in views related to sexuality that took place during the period. The study represents economic and social history research. It focuses on the gender perspective in the history of everyday life structured by consumption: it deals with the relationship of consumer products with the changing norms of young femaleness and maleness. The study analyses these contexts in advertising.

The research subject is delineated using a concept, intimate bodily consumer products, which refers to hygiene products, menstrual products, underwear and contraception, and other products that are used to process the body in an intimate way. Reasons for using these products, such as conceptions related to personal hygiene, are connected with gender norms concerning the body. In this way, norms and the growth in the consumption of these products are linked. The study asks what connections there are between the use of intimate bodily consumer products and the norms of bodily young femaleness and maleness in the commercial popular culture directed at young people in Finland in the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s. The key source in the study is the widely read youth music magazine Suosikki. The analysis has been contextualized by utilizing household surveys and oral history material to create a general picture of the environment in which these products were used.

The study is qualitative. Because normative sexuality and gender are connected, the change in norms of heterosexuality are also analysed in the research material. The source material selected for the study consists of the advertisements in Suosikki for intimate bodily consumer products from the period studied and advertisements using the themes of intimate relationships and sexuality. This research design thus contains three types of advertisements: advertisements where sexuality and dating were related to an intimate bodily product, advertisements where intimate bodily products were advertised using other methods and advertisements where other products were advertised in corresponding ways related to sexuality and dating.

In the first part, the study analysed the norms that could be found in the Suosikki magazine regarding the young people’s dating and sexuality, the nature of girls and boys, and their appearance and behaviour. An ideal relationship emphasised being alike or belonging together, which was often connected with the couple’s way of referring to themselves as ‘we’. In the research, this was characterised with the concept of we-ness. Though the magazine had portrayed itself ever since the end of the 1960s as having a modern, non-moralising attitude to sexuality, the issue of a girl’s sexual reputation continued to be evident in the articles of Suosikki. However, the girl’s sexual agency was only given space within the ideal relationship characterised by we-ness instead.

The latter part of the study takes a closer look at the relationship between products and the previously analysed gender norms through two cases: young men adopting the use of deodorant and the change in the type of menstrual products used by young women. The cases present two different approaches to the way in which the products and their use were woven into the understanding of gender. Deodorant was considered to be a feminine fragrance and first started to be used on a wider scale when both the understanding of young maleness and the meaning of deodorant as a product changed. The study of disposable menstrual products, on the other hand, focuses attention on the availability of products and rising living standards. However, the change in gender norms played a key role – as it did in men’s use of deodorant – regarding the increase in the use of tampons.

The changed attitudes to pre-marital sex were reflected in advertising in such a way that adverts for products related to especially a girl’s body often referred to dating and sexual relationships. The advertisements’ way of connecting the products to a more open sexuality produced an ideal of a body that could be revealed. This ideal body was constructed with the advertised products, but was understood to be natural.