The image of the modern woman underwent its first dramatic shift in the decade after World War I, when women in many countries got the vote and were assigned new aspirational images in the mass media. In the 1920s, the boyish fashion look known as La Garçonne (the tomboy) and the more feminine flapper codified women’s search for independence and release from the decorum imposed on previous generations. Smaller cameras, faster film speeds, and automatic exposures introduced in this era allowed for increasingly spontaneous and informal snapshots, and women began to appear noticeably more playful and assertive in front of the camera. In the years during and following World War II, the film, advertising, and emerging television markets bombarded audiences with idealized representations of women, whether demure or sensual, submissive or confident. The enactment of mass-media stereotypes can be seen in the poses and attitudes of the women in many of the snapshots dating from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Artist unknown. Untitled, c. 1920/29. Gift of Peter J. Cohen.

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