Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Change is in the Wind for the American Woman

When we think about the sex symbols of the 1920’s, images of long legged flappers with short bobbed hair doing the charleston and foxtrot to the latest jazz bands in shapeless shift dresses and plenty of publicly applied makeup come to mind. A fashionista of sorts who epitomized the spirit of a reckless rebel with a boyish physique and a girlish charm dancing the night away in smoky jazz houses around New York consume the memoirs of the era simply known as the “Roaring 20’s”.
The look and the mood certainly redefined modern womanhood and broke the traditions of earlier years. No longer were rounded figures and older faces, the passé. Instead, grown women who loved to party all night long in youthful glory and tomboyish fashion were all the rage. One didn’t have to look far to see the effects of this contagious fever, on stage and screen. Enter Betty Boop!
Betty Boop is known as the first and one of the most famous sex symbols on the animated screens of the 20’s and 30’s. She was a symbol of the depression era and a reminder of the more carefree days of the Jazz Age flapper. In the world of animation, this fem fetal would go down in history as the first cartoon character to fully represent a sexual woman. But she didn’t start out that way. In the early stages of her career, this lovely lady was designed as a human-like dog. That’s right. For those of you who remember her premiere in the 1930 film “Dizzy Dishes”, she was the yet un-named anthropomorphic character with obvious feminine qualities and charm enveloped in a poodle like body. By the time she starred in the 1932 film“ Any Rags”, her floppy dog ears gave way to hoop earrings, her ambiguous form molded into a petite hourglass figure, and her pudgy black nose became the cute buttoned one that accompanied her high baby voice and black finger waved crop that would later become synonymous with the world famous “ Boop-oop-a-doop” girl.
Betty’s flapper style and innocent sexuality led to what some have called the “Boop-O-Mania “craze over the years. Fans from far and wide fell in love with her combination of schoolgirl flirtatiousness and womanly maturity. Her short dresses, high heels, contoured bodice and signature garter belt didn’t leave much to the imagination and certainly caught the attention of male viewers who were used to the straight bodied, boyish female fashion of the19 20’s they had grown accustomed to. But while some adored, some also condemned as well. As moralists and public broadcasting systems concerned with sexual content and indecent exposure issues found support from the public, the somewhat risqué Betty Boop began showing far less leg and her décolletage was often hidden by prim buttons. Her lecherous suitors started disappearing from her grasp and soon her limelight was dimmed out by her cute little trouble making dog “Pudgy” and the lovable “Grampy” who helped Betty solve problems with his wacky inventions. As the country saw the rise of yet another world war (WWII), the market for the once popular and in-demand flapper started to fade. Betty Boop’s final film series aired 9 years later with the release of “Yip ,Yip ,Yippy!”
"Though Betty bowed out as a headliner in 1939, her popularity remains as intact as her boop-oop-a-doop. Maybe it lies in her sassy independence or the fact that she is the only female cartoon who’s not a foil for a male. Maybe she just came at the right time, when the feminist movement of her era needed her the most…for the cycles of life will surely repeat again. Whatever the reason, Betty Boop still haunts the dreams and inspires the imagination of artists, craftsmen and designers still today. With no limit to the creative well of our minds, everything from Betty Boop bedding and quilts to character clothing and accessories can be found and created. With so much history wrapped around her little spit-curled hair, Betty Boop has left her mark on world, her “ Boop-oop-a-doop “ on our tongues, and a space in our hearts.
This artical was taken for the Monthly news letter from J O Fabrics.