Roaring…Flapping…Smoking

Today, when you see a women smoking, what comes to mind? 

In the 1920’s a woman with a cigarette was a woman with appeal.

Louise Benner “Cigarettes were advertised to women as a sign of modern sophistication, and the 1920s “flapper” is usually pictured with a cigarette in her hand. “

Power, Glamour, Cigarettes

After WWI, America went through a time period of great economic growth and inadvertently rapid consumerism.  Modern technology, including the automobile, moving pictures, and radio, impacted the American culture.  Women gained the right to vote, and the liberated woman shined through.  Jazz and dancing, especially the Charleston, rose in great popularity; women’s clothing changed to shorter and sexier.  SEX became the key word—women publicly flirted with men.  This was a great time period for the arts, dance and music which impacted popular culture and enriched the consumer society.

How did the cigarette exemplify this time period of the new woman?

The symbol of the modern woman became the cigarette. A woman’s cigarette was elongated and sexy.

Sexy Cigarettes

Before the 20th century, smoking was considered a dirty habit, and women smokers were frowned upon by society.  Through the women’s suffrage movement, women’s desire for equality and freedom increased and the tobacco industry took advantage.  As one of the greatest marketing tools, tobacco companies appealed to the vanity of women by promising weight loss.  Advertisements conveyed a carefree and confident woman as they sought to speak to a woman’s sense of empowerment through the cigarette.   The most successful tobacco company, Lucky Strikes, coined the following phrase in their ads:

“Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet”

Other tobacco companies piggybacked on Lucky Strikes women cigarette ads by linking cigarettes to equality, autonomy, glamour and beauty. Do cigarettes possess the same symbol for women as in the 1920’s, or have the motives for smoking changed?

“You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”, – Virginia Slims

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4 comments

  1. Ziad Geisa

    Great job Farida. I really like it!!

  2. jhwinter27

    I find that paraphernalia or more simply put items in our everyday existence reveal a lot the lives we lead, the culture we inhabit and the values inherent. That’s why I find the relationship between cigarettes and women in the 1920’s interesting. As was demonstrated in your blog, cigarettes and the activity of smoking was marketed to women as empowering, glamorous and just plain fun. This seemed to elevate their status somewhat as more liberated and socially active participants in a 1920’s world filled with excess and partying. The image of a women with a cigarette in her mouth just waiting for it to be lit by her male counter-part is something I always associate with the flappers. Critically, I think it should be acknowledged that this lifestyle, the flapper culture, is a testament to how marketing, specifically the marketing of cigarettes, completely altered the social scene. An investigation into the campaign of Virginia Slims not only shows the early success of mass marketing and the sale of a life style, but also grants us access to a culture short lived in history.

  3. It is very fascinating to examine the social connotations behind cigarettes and how they have changed over the years. This blog post exemplifies the sex appeal and freedom that cigarettes brought to their smokers. These female smokers used their cigarettes as a symbol of strength and confidence. They showed that they could be like one of the guys, voting in the same elections and smoking the same tobacco, and yet they could also retain their feminine charm. Yet, although this intermingled image of freedom, sex appeal, and cigarettes seemed to be everywhere in the early to mid 20th century, this image was no longer in existence as I came to age in the 21st century. My early memories of adults talking about cigarettes were in D.A.R.E. programs. I was told how tobacco caused lung cancer, throat cancer, bad skin, yellow teeth, etc. I was instantly put off my even the sight of a stranger smoking a cigarette on the street from a very young age. Therefore, I feel that the image of smoking has changed greatly within the past 80-100 years. Many of my peers, especially female peers, do not smoke cigarettes because they see no advantages behind smoking them. Smoking ads are basically nonexistent on the television and in magazines (due to laws that have been passed in my lifetime) and therefore the sex appeal that smoking creates in its advertisements is no longer available. There is no seduction and therefore fewer of my peers smoke.

  4. efhodg

    It is interesting how the perception of female smokers has changed. In the 1920’s, smoking was seen as a way for women to express their independence and freedom. Today, however, society looks at smokers with disgust. I can remember when restaurants used to have a smoking section and how upset my mother (a smoker) was when she found out that there would no longer be smoking sections. Instead of glamorizing smokers, society has shunned them and forces them to remove themselves from activities when they want to smoke. When I was growing up, my mother always told me that if I picked up a cigarette, I would “die” because it was “poison.” I whole heartedly believed her. It is now seen as harmful to children to expose them from cigarettes and cigarette advertisements. Instead of being a way to express one’s independence, smoking is seen as a moral failing. Women who smoke around their children are seen as bad mothers, not independent women. Now that society is more aware of the health risks that smoking poses, it is much less tolerant of female smokers.

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