Snarking the 70s, New Era version

Courtesy of a comment on an FMH thread, I read an article from the October 1972 issue of the New Era that must be shared. It’s awesome. It is entitled, “A Letter to Girls about Lady Missionaries”, by Lana Mangelson, a returned lady missionary.

First, I’m so glad I live now and not then. I mean, technically I was a few months old when this came out, but I don’t remember it.

Second, let us analyze how much has changed in the ensuing 37 years. And be grateful.

But before that, an admission: this isn’t entirely fair. It was a different time and I’m going after this article with the fallacy of presentism. But I can’t seem to stop myself! It’s fun!


She talks about covenants and sacrifices. It starts out fine. But then it quickly diverges to, “One of the most apparent sacrifices that a sister must make grows out of the fact that in many ways proper physical appearance is more difficult for her to maintain than it is for an elder.” And then she stays on appearance for the rest of the article.

Really? This is the most important piece of information that should be passed on to prospective missionaries? REALLY?

Oh yes, I’m glad I didn’t live (or, rather, remember) then.

Now, I agree that appearance is important. Appearance is an immediate social indicator, for better or worse. I completely and totally agree that missionaries (both elders and sisters) should look nice. And, frankly, both get “look nice” lectures and direction in the MTC and at zone conferences (at least we did in my mission). And frankly it didn’t bother me because it wasn’t the main focus of the zone conferences; it was a few minutes out of several hours of spiritual feasting. Hey, I’m a pragmatist; I can handle a few minutes of “look nice”.

But this article…. I didn’t realize my mission was not as successful as it could have been because I didn’t obsess over my appearance and weight. My bad.

Appearance is one area where a sister must sacrifice the tendency to rationalize by claiming she has neither the time nor the opportunity to keep herself neat and clean. It takes ingenuity and planning, but it can be done if she sees its importance.

I don’t actually know what mission rules and schedules were like in the early 70s (though apparently they could ride motor bikes; after spending hours on your hair and makeup, wouldn’t that be kind of… annoying?). In the mid-90s, when I served my mission, we got up at 6:30 and were out of the apartment at 9:30. That provided us with 3 hours to get ready and study (I served an English-speaking mission, so no language studies were necessary; that, to be fair, freed up some time). I don’t ever remember feeling like that was an excessive amount of time, nor do I remember thinking it was too little. It seemed fine for what we needed to do. Frankly, I can handle showering and getting dressed and doing my hair and praying and reading scriptures and doing companion study and eating breakfast in 3 hours. What sort of grooming requirements would take so much longer? Admittedly, I wore makeup only occasionally, but my makeup wearing companions seemed to have no problems.

The Holy Ghost works only in a certain type of vessel. The Spirit may work through an individual who is pure in heart, but it works at its greatest strength through a person who is in all things pure and clean.

A sister missionary may be a wonderful person inside, but she must try to keep her physical appearance just as radiant; otherwise, the Holy Ghost cannot influence her in the fullest sense, and she will miss out on needed guidance and comfort.

Yes, the Holy Ghost only helps the pretty people. Okay, as someone who, while not (always) a slob, puts forth little effort in looking fabulous (I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of woman, and I almost never wear makeup), I don’t get this at all. Obviously I wasn’t a jeans and t-shirt woman on my mission (well, I was, but it was suppressed), but still, my minimalist essence was there. And frankly I felt the Spirit working in my life then as I have since. So, let’s just accept that this is simply… wrong. Equating obsessing about physical appearance with being “a pure and holy vessel” is just wrong.

Let’s look at the “Suggestions to Sister Missionaries” one by one. It’s fun!

Exercise for a few minutes every morning; then eat a good breakfast and do not piece before lunch unless you want to put on weight.

The suggestion to exercise is a winner! Yay for good advice! Exercise is our friend. Of course, if you’re in a walking or biking area, you’re probably already getting plenty of exercise, but if you’re in a car (or motor bike) area, exercise will do your body good. Also, I have no objections to eating a good breakfast. You need energy to help you face the rejection that will be coming your way once you walk out that door. I’m guessing “do not piece before lunch” means do not snack before lunch (is this a British English phrase? It’s a totally new phrase for me), and while I actually would argue that if you get hungry mid-morning, a healthy snack is actually fine, this is a minor quibble. The “unless you want to put on weight” part makes me cringe. Really, was it necessary to add that?

In some places you can save a lot of time by eating your hot meal in an inexpensive restaurant or boarding house.

Do boarding houses still exist? I actually would not have even guessed they still existed in the early 70s. Also, with the weight obsession, I’d think that eating at an inexpensive restaurant would be absolutely forbidden, what with all the fat and calories.

Make weekly menus and shop for as long a period as possible. This saves time and money and you will not buy as many high-calorie treats.

No arguments. Though I’d just say “unhealthy treats” since something with low calories isn’t necessarily good for you. But I certainly agree that planning ahead when shopping saves time and money and minimizes junk food.

When cooking, make enough at one time for at least two meals.

No arguments.

Do not have a food fad where you eat the same things every day.

No arguments.

Eat at least one hot meal per day.

Random, but sure, whatever.

If you are one pound overweight, it is too much. Take it off!

Cringe. Major cringe. Hello, eating disorder.

Instead of stopping at a bakery for a quick lunch, stop at the store and buy a yogurt, some cottage cheese, or some such prepared, healthy food. Carry an apple or raw vegetable to tide you over until dinner. (We always carried a spoon in our handbags for meals away from the apartment.)

No arguments. Healthy food keeps you going as you run quickly from appointment to appointment. Or as you drearily drag yourself from door to door while tracting. Whatever the case may be. (Oh how I hated tracting. But that’s a different subject.)

When invited to dinner you do not have to say you are on a diet; just take small helpings, no seconds, and cut down the next day. This way you do not offend the host, and you can still accept invitations to dinner.

I’m not sure how practical this is, though it depends on where you serve your mission. And it seems a bit obsessive.

Never, never eat late at night! When you come home late after a discussion and you have not had time for dinner, eat a little salad or fruit and then go straight to bed and think how much skinnier you will be by not eating a large meal until morning.

Do any of you read pro-ana websites? Suggestions like this would fit in really well there. If it weren’t for the “think how much skinnier you will be” part, it’s not horrible advice.

Chew gum only in the privacy of your apartment.

You’d think gum chewing would be encouraged, as it help keeps you away from that evil food that will only make you fat. But, less snarkily, I agree with the suggestion. Gum chewing is annoying.

Elders’ most frequent complaints are about sisters’ hair. Have a neat and easy style—not too short or it will look like the elders’, and long enough so that it can be curled on Sunday and for special occasions.

I’m fairly certain that if an elder ever complained about my hair, I’d slap him. This would violate a suggestion that’s coming up soon, as well as be, you know, assault. It’s generally bad to have criminal charges against you when you’re a missionary. The church frowns on that.

However, I don’t object to the advice to have a neat and easy style, though I may quibble about the specifics.

Sleep on a satin pillowcase; this preserves hair style and also femininity.

This one is just weird. I mean, if you like satin pillowcases, go for it. Personally, I’m a cotton woman.

Do not feel that because you are a missionary you cannot wear makeup. Do wear a minimum, but do not go completely without it.

Another weird one. Was there really an issue back then where missionaries thought makeup was inappropriate? I’m not opposed to makeup at all, it’s just not my thing, so I almost always went completely without it. It’s amazing people I taught actually got baptized anyway, isn’t it? Must have been because of my companions. Of course, not all of them wore makeup either….

Buy clothes that are easy to care for.

No arguments. You need to save time in the mornings for doing your hair and makeup.

Whatever your wardrobe or climate, put on clean underclothes every day (even if it means taking five minutes the night before to rinse them out).

Not only do I have no arguments, the alternative (dirty underclothes) is just plain gross. Yes, missionaries should wear clean underwear. This is a very good suggestion. The fact that this is actually one of the suggestions tells me this may have actually been an issue. Ewww.

Do not carry one of those suitcase handbags that sister missionaries are so notorious for. Carry only the essentials in a medium-sized one, and put pamphlets or books in a separate plastic or leather case. (They will not get dog-eared this way.)

I have to admit, I can’t picture either the good suggestion or the bad suggestion. Too much has changed between then and now. I used a backpack much of my mission. Towards the end of my mission, my mission president wanted us (both elders and sisters) to not use them. He thought it looked too sloppy.

Carry a combination rain-wind bonnet, some tissues, and a couple of disposable, scented towels in your handbag. (The towels are nice for freshening up during a day away from your flat.)

I’m not sure bonnets are in anymore, but I would agree that carrying a few useful things in your handbag (or backpack or messenger bag) is good. Tissues, always useful. Disposable towels, love the things.

Spark up those drab colors with scarves and bows.

Sisters, step away from the bows! Just say no to the bows! But I’m a fan of scarves.

Learn how to make those quick, no-bake chocolate cookies for branch picnics.

Recipe please. But won’t this make me fat?

Do not ever slap or poke an elder.

No problem, as long as he refrains from commenting on my hair. (Though, was this really a problem in the early 70s? Was there an epidemic of elder poking?)

Expect and then allow elders to open doors, help into cars, put on wraps, and start your motor bikes. Do not ignore their efforts, but do not be obnoxious if they should forget sometimes.

We’ll assume this topic has been hashed out elsewhere in the universe. The “start your motor bikes” part is the only part that’s… weird. Maybe it’s because I can’t quite picture missionaries on motor bikes.

Have a BNTE Week (Be Nice to Elders Week) where you either cook something good or do something nice for your district. If you do this, remember that this week especially you must work like a whirlwind so no one can say that you borrowed the Lord’s time. Make it a top week in service and in work also.

No arguments. It’s nice to be nice.

Always participate with the elders on preparation day. If it is something you cannot do, then at least be there to watch or cheer. This does wonders for mutual respect between elders and sisters.

No arguments. I’m not sure if it helps with mutual respect or not, but it’s certainly more fun to participate. On the rare occasions when we had a district or zone activity (my mission president forbade us to leave our areas on p-days except once in a while, which meant such activities were very rare), I was always game to jump in and play.

If you get depressed, set aside a little time that day to do whatever raises your spirits. For example, spend extra time on your hair, take a long shower, schedule a time for meditation, and then pray earnestly for help from the Lord. Lose yourself in the Spirit and work very, very hard.

It actually ends with good advice. Go figure.

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About Tanya Spackman

Tanya was born in Provo, Utah, on a warm July day. After escaping childhood with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises (except for 5 stitches - oh, and that incident with the staple in the thumb), she graduated from BYU with a degree in molecular biology. Before graduation, she served a mission in Chicago. As graduation neared, she decided lab work really wasn't her thing, and she had no interest in research or teaching (but really, molecular biology is interesting), so she decided to attempt the world of technical writing. Thus, she now works as a technical writer/editor for the Navy in Washington, DC. She loves to read and travel.

23 thoughts on “Snarking the 70s, New Era version

  1. I actually have problems with a couple of the suggestions that you didn’t. I don’t like the idea of a “Be Nice to Elders” week unless they are also encouraged to do a “Be Nice to Sisters” week. And I don’t like the part about working like a whirlwind – that seems to reinforce so many stereotypes about “woman’s work” (like all those old suggestions from the 50s to have the house clean and kids in clean clothes and you all dolled up when daddy gets home – never let him see you sweat. Bleh) I have the same complaint about the suggestion after that to participate in what the elders are doing: only if they are also encouraged to participate in what the sisters are doing. It just seems that it is so one-sided that sisters are always being told to “support” the priesthood, but it rarely goes the other way around.

    Anyways, thanks for the analysis. Funny stuff.

  2. I’m glad you got a kick out of that article, I enjoyed your take on it. I’m surprised you didn’t have any snark about the “be nice to elders” week, that’s the one that cracked me up the most. Not only should you bake the elders cookies, but you should do it “like a whirlwind” so the world won’t judge you for making cookies on the Lord’s time. Ha!

  3. I guess I wasn’t bothered by the BNTE week simply because, to be honest, on my mission we were kind of mean to the elders sometimes, and I kind of feel bad about that.

    The “whirlwind” part rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t think of a concrete reason to write down.

  4. Hahahahahahahahahaha!

    I returned from my mission in Feb 1971, and I must say, hardly any of the 1972 article resonated with me. Maybe because I served in Third-World countries and didn’t use a motor bike? We didn’t slap or poke elders, but we did bake Feen-a-mint brownies on one occasion for an elder who had been over-the-top obnoxious to one of us.

    Yogurt didn’t exist in my areas, and we had to trim off the outer skins and wash our veggies thoroughly to avoid nasty intestinal diseases. However, it was regarded as highly insulting not to eat seconds when you were invited to dinner, even if you were positive you were consuming the family’s entire weekly food supply.

    I love your comment about the Holy Ghost only helping pretty people. Thanks for the laugh-o-the-day!

  5. Imagine if left leaning feminist commie socialists DIDN’T force men to be more respectful of women these past 40 years… would this still be the way women would look at themselves within a religious organization? I mean, how are women treated within conservative Protestant religions today?

  6. Stephanie, I guess I read the one about participating with the elders differently. For the occasional activities, we sisters had say as much say in what we did as the elders, so I didn’t read it as “what the elders are doing” as much as, for example, actually participating in the volleyball games rather than sitting on the sidelines.

    Also, when it was our turn to pick the hymns for district meeting, sometimes we sisters would pick “As Sisters In Zion”. The elders always participated in singing :-)

  7. Tanya, I was just leaving when I noticed your post–awesome!!!

    A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of an article from Lady’s Home Journal or some such publication that I showed to my wife–she was not impressed :-). It talked about how the wife should dress up to greet her husband at the door, rub his feet, make sure his dinner was on the table, pour him a hot/cold drink and listen to him gripe about work.

    Wow, we sure have come a long way since the 50s…thank goodness!!

  8. First of all, there are many ridiculous aspects to this article. Definitely a product of its time (actually, a product of Home Ec training from the 1950s and 1960s). In many ways, we have certainly come a long way, baby.

    But have we really? Has anybody watched a major movie or TV show lately? Let’s just use two examples that come to mind: “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother.” Anybody notice that the male characters are allowed to balloon in weight (Marshall in “How I Met Your Mother” and both Joey and Chandler in “Friends”)? While the female characters, all of them, have to look increasingly like skeletons. This message was driven home to me by a couple of recent movies starring Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Connelly. These two actresses are disappearing before our eyes, desperately losing weight to appear more marketable.

    Now, what is happening here is that the collective marketing mind is saying, “women, you have to look like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston or you are ugly.” But no such process is going on with men.

    So, this same process is passed on to our teenager girls, fewer and fewer of whom are super-thin because of our sedentary culture. So, bottom line: more and more young women and girls think they simply don’t measure up, and they never will.

    So, frankly, I’m not at all things have gotten easier for women lately unless they naturally have less than 10 percent body fat.

    Bottom line: the 1950s and 1960s Home Economics culture definitely bred some weird ideas about how women should behave. But our culture is much, much worse in different ways.

  9. And don’t get me started on fashion trends. In most of the Americas, for example, the men are allowed by the culture to dress normally — jeans, khakis, suits, etc. But any woman seen in anything that hides even a tiny bit of skin is a social outcast. Could somebody please tell me how that represents progress for women? It seems to me that our emphasis on weight and on nearly naked women has made a woman’s job, always difficult, much worse. So, why don’t more women openly rebel against this ridiculous double standard? I simply don’t get it.

  10. Maybe things are different in Miami, Geoff, but I don’t see social outcasting here in New York for women that cover their bodies.

  11. Well I’ll say there’s certainly more pleasure in kissing a fat gal than a smoker. Beyond smoking for weight control, another thing that hasn’t changed is obsessing about calories and exercise to maintain weight, a dead end for most people. G-d bless Dr. Atkins for helping so many over these decades.

  12. The Utah LDS culture seems to be 10 to 15 years behind the times. If you look at church-produced non-period-piece movies (ie, ones that are filmed in present tense, not historical), and try to guess when they were made by judging hairstyles and clothing, you’ll be 10 to 15 years off.

    Look at old videos or pics of BYU touring dance groups. Their hairstyles were always at least 12 to 15 years old

  13. “Anybody notice that the male characters are allowed to balloon in weight (Marshall in “How I Met Your Mother” and both Joey and Chandler in “Friends”)? While the female characters, all of them, have to look increasingly like skeletons…”

    That is because fat men aren’t considered ugly and fat women are.

  14. Wango: After I lost 45 pounds, women 15 to 20 years younger than me started to hit on me. A healthy weight makes men look better too. Women can lust in their hearts as much as us men do, probably even more. They’re just better at hiding or controlling it.

    Tanya: the sad fact is that people do judge a book by its cover, and judge a product by its packaging. That’s always been the case. How a person looks and how they carry themselves (bearing) often determines if someone is going to take them seriously and listen to what they say. That’s why it’s so important for missionaries to look clean-cut and give a good visual impression according to the culture and times in which they serve.

    Making rules for the appearance and grooming of young men is much easier and simpler than for women. Lady missionaries have much more options in terms of hairstyles and clothing styles.

    I tend to be very casual, almost slovenly, in my appearance. I only put on white shirt or a tie for church. I usually where khaki pants to church, not fancy slacks. I don’t have any suits (that fit anymore). But in the workplace, or places you want to get noticed and have people take you and your ideas seriously, you have to look like you’re paying attention to your appearance. One doesn’t have to be fancy or glamourous, but appropriate for the venue.

  15. The Utah LDS culture seems to be 10 to 15 years behind the times. If you look at church-produced non-period-piece movies (ie, ones that are filmed in present tense, not historical), and try to guess when they were made by judging hairstyles and clothing, you’ll be 10 to 15 years off.

    This is so far off it is not even funny. Certainly Utah LDS tend to be more modest than average, but the chance that a perceptive observer could mistake any movie with a significant number of young people in it for something ten or fifteen years earlier is nil – with the possible exception of an extremely rural backwater.

    I went to high school in the eighties and I could distinguish any good size group of LDS young people’s hairstyles and clothing then from that of ten years earlier or ten years later in a heart beat.

  16. …and in a manner that demonstrates the commonalities with the contemporaneous culture at large, not the general culture ten or fifteen years prior.

    Seventies: casual, polyester, longer hair all around in men, sideburns, flared jeans, etc.

    Eighties: Big hair, duck tails, sweaters, leg warmers, preppie look, generally more dressing up (like an adult) for school than the decade prior or after, brighter colors, etc.

    Nineties: tighter clothing, much more causal, faded colors for men, low riding jeans, short shirts / blouses (LDS young women wear multiple layers of clothing to avoid exposing their middle section), full dresses disappear among young women in favor of skirts, etc.

  17. Mark D: Maybe I should have restricted my statement to more _church_ approved styles, instead of “Utah LDS”. I did mention church-produced movies, and church- sponsored or BYU sponsored groups representing the church. Look at church-produced movies from the 60′s: the hairstyles and clothing are 50-ish, etc, etc. Even the shorts produced in the 90′s have hairstyles from the 80′s.

    Based on church-produced movies and still-photos of church-produced events, I stand by my observation.

  18. Bookslinger: If you restrict your observation to church produced media and events, then I think you have a point. I don’t think it is easy to confuse the teens depicted in the Strength of Youth pamphlet from the late 90s with teens from ten or fifteen years earlier though.

  19. My favorite part is when she encouraged sisters to sleep on satin pillowcases, to retain their femininity.

    #8 The church published RS booklets said the same thing in that era, except it was worse. It included letting your husband set and relax, give him slippers and the paper because he’s had a long day at the office. Women should put on pearls and make up, and children should play quietly so as not to disrupt their father.

  20. My non-Mormon MIL had a non-Mormon aunt in the 50s or 60s who used to feed her kids at 4:30 and put them to bed at 5:30 so that when their father came home at 6:00 she could have his special dinner ready for him (always something different and fancier than what she made for the children), and he could have a nice relaxing evening without having to deal with the children. Then they weren’t allowed to get up out of bed until long after he’d left for work in the morning. According to my MIL this was all her aunt’s decision, not her uncle’s; it wasn’t that the uncle was saying he didn’t want anything to do with the children, the aunt did it because she thought it was the proper way to do things.

    But, uh, I have to admit that I’m a left leaning feminist commie socialist who has a goal of giving DH a footrub once a week, because it’s nice to do nice things for the people we love.

  21. Tanya, thanks for posting a great read. You’ve come a long way, baby.

    The key point I take issue with is that sisters were supposed to come cheer for the elders at activities they couldn’t participate in directly. I am sure a lot of these activities are now OK for sisters to participate in, or are no longer OK for elders. I don’t know what these might have been and we didn’t have any sisters in my mission. But, if we had, and they weren’t allowed to play half-court basketball, or such, I would fully expect them to do their own thing instead of dutifully cheer us on.

    Mark D, I think what Bookslinger is saying is that if you were to find a 1975 issue of the “New Era,” the styles worn by kids in it would more closely resemble styles worn in a 1965 issue of some other teen magazine. “Seventeen” was around then, but it is a fashion magazine, and is a bit ahead of “current” styles. I agree with Bookslinger. Utah, not only the LDS elements of it, have trailed behind fashions by a large margin. I think though that this has changed in the past decade as more Utahns travel the country, and the world, more and more. Media is also consumed in greater quantities now than ever before and I can’t discount the effect that has.

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