It’s so much fun to look back through time at all the ignorant humans who used to populate planet Earth, while also pretending that in 50 years, people will not also be stifling a sympathetic chuckle as they look back through time at our ignorant selves. That is, if they still feel like chuckling through the gas masks they have to wear every day because we wrecked the planet.
Anyway. It is true that the 1960s were full of crazy ideas and ignorant (or maybe just innocent) people who actually believed those crazy ideas. And although it’s perfectly appropriate for us to be laughing at our uninformed ancestors as we revisit the past, we should also remember to be grateful that we’ve moved beyond a world where science hardly knew anything, misogyny reigned supreme, drunk driving was totally cool, and people ate Jell-O with vegetables in it. It was a dark, dark time 50 years ago.
Just shake the fat off
It’s been a lot of years since we all believed that the ideal female body was voluptuous and, you know, well-fed. Somewhere along the line we developed a new ideal — women should be thin and bonus points if you can see a couple ribs or a backbone. Since that day, we’ve been trying to find the most effective way to drop those extra pounds, preferably with as little effort as possible. In other words, we want to have our slim bodies and eat our cake, too.
History is full of crazy weight loss devices and pills that promise to "melt the fat away while you sleep." But one of the craziest devices ever invented was the vibrating belt workout machine, which was supposed to jiggle the fat off you while you just stood there.
According to the Orange County Register, the vibrating belt machine was a must-have device in fitness centers for decades, even though health experts actually knew pretty early on that they were essentially useless. Still, people found them appealing because they thought they had that magic something that delivered weight loss without diet and exercise. Today we know better, so instead of using the vibrating belt machines we just drink apple cider vinegar and order expensive bottles of garcinia cambogia because there just has to be some way to lose weight without all that stupid diet and exercise stuff.
Talk pretty, girls
Yes, in the 1960s women finally decided they’d had enough of the whole stupid "stay in the home and make your husband happy" mandate that had pretty much dominated Western society since the beginning of time. But that didn’t magically make all the misogyny go away or anything. No, the 1960s were full of sage advice from grandmothers and magazine editors about the very best way to woo your man and keep him happy after he hath been wooed.
According to Into the Gloss, Seventeen magazine was one of the worst offenders. In 1967, they published a whole book of advice entitled The Seventeen Book of Fashion and Beauty, which among other things advised young women to develop eating disorders and avoid wearing glasses because looking pretty is way more important than actually being able to see things. But the most bizarre advice of all had to do with a girl’s voice. Evidently, it’s not enough to be blind and thin, one must also sound pretty. And remember, girls, no one cares what you have to say, only how you say it. "Good speech is more important than the actual words you say … The sound. The smile. The gentleness, warmth, and vitality. The voice that says, ‘I like people. I like you.’" My goodness, Seventeen, but you can just go take your kind advice and stick it in a very warm and dark place. How’s that for gentleness and vitality.
Drunk driving was thought of as a rite of passage
Generally speaking, most human beings no longer think that public drunkenness is manly or humorous and most also don’t think that driving drunk is just something people do. But it hasn’t always been that way.
According to Russman Law, in the 1960s most people thought that drunk driving was a "folk crime." In fact it was kind of thought of as a rite of passage, so when parents found out their boy was caught drinking and driving, it was more like a "boys will be boys" thing than an "Oh my god, give me the keys, you’re never leaving your room again" thing.
And juries felt the same way, too. In those days, if you were arrested for driving under the influence, you didn’t admit guilt — you asked for a jury trial. That’s because in most states there was no strict limit on blood alcohol levels, so convicting you wasn’t just a matter of giving you a breathalyzer test. The state had to prove that you were not only drinking, but that the alcohol had impaired your ability to safely operate your vehicle. And if you got a sympathetic jury (which most nice young men from "good families" managed to), then you could pretty easily get an acquittal and just go on with your entitled existence as if nothing had ever happened.
You could just bring your gun to school 50 years ago
In the ’60s, young men and their guns went together like young girls and their eating disorders. According to the New York Post, public high schools often had shooting clubs and sometimes even gun ranges on campus, and since practices were held after class kids could pretty much just take their guns to school with them so they could go straight to the shooting range after school let out. Though granted, they’d have to turn the weapons over to their homeroom teachers when they got to school so they wouldn’t actually be packing heat during a lecture on political science or anything. Safety first.
In New York City, kids would even ride the subway with their rifles. Imagine if this were the norm today — kids showing up to class with rifles slung over their backs and armed teens on public transportation. Let’s face it, teenagers aren’t exactly known for keeping a level head in a crisis or in a conversation about whether Suzie is using an appropriately gentle, warm, and vital voice, so it kind of seems like the whole crazy standard was a mass shooting waiting to happen.
So when did school gun clubs finally start to die out? Well, they kind of didn’t. Some schools still have after-school gun clubs, it’s just that most modern school administrators recognize the sheer stupidity of allowing armed teens on campus.
Airline stewardesses had to be hot because being hot was literally in the job description
If we told you that in the 1960s some male executives hired secretaries based on their looks rather than their qualifications, you would probably not be especially stunned. But there was one type of employer in particular who really took the whole "hot employee" thing to extreme levels, and that was the airlines.
Most modern flight attendants can’t stand being called stewardesses, and for good reason. According to Vanity Fair, the word "stewardess" harkens back to a time where being capable of attending people on long flights mostly just meant looking awesome in a mini skirt. In those days, you could get a job as a stewardess if you were at least 20 years old but no older than 27, if you were thin and "well-proportioned" and weighed no more than 140 pounds, if you were at least 5-foot-2 but no taller than 5-foot-9, and if you were unmarried and childless. So basically, that meant that the two primary qualifications for serving bags of peanuts and ginger ale were that you had to be hot and available.
Job training included lessons on how to walk sexy, how to stand sexy, how to put on makeup, and how to style your hair, and if you got freckled or tanned or god forbid you got a bruise on your supposed-to-be-unblemished sexy legs, you could be suspended. And you had to retire at 32, because obviously.
Sugar was harmless
Once humans figured out how to refine sugar, there was pretty much no stopping us. Mildly sweetened with honey was no longer enough. No, dessert now had to be so sweet it burned your throat and stayed with you forever in the form of belly fat. And we were okay with all of that because let’s face it, sugar is delicious. And things that are delicious deserve to be more delicious, and in order to make them more delicious you just have to add more sugar.
According to the Guardian, heart disease was rare in middle-aged people up until the 1950s or so, when they suddenly started dropping like flies, you know, if you were shooting flies with a gummy bear cannon. But at the time, everyone blamed saturated fat for the epidemic. Then in 1972 John Yudkin published the definitive book on the evils of sugar (Pure, White, and Deadly), and the food industry went, "Holy hell, we have to shut this guy up," and went ahead and destroyed his reputation. So people went on believing that sugar was totally cool and meanwhile they villainized eggs and other sources of saturated fat, even though countries like France and West Germany had low rates of heart disease despite eating tons of fatty foods all the time. Fortunately for the sugar industry, that was all the time they needed for us all to become irreversibly addicted to sugar, so we’d continue to eat it even despite knowing how terrible it is.
One day, we will all live a life of leisure
The 1960s were such an innocent time. Kids bringing guns to school, airline stewardesses getting fired for weight gain, girls walking into things because they’re too pretty for corrective lenses, yes, if only we could return to those days of sweetness and virtue. Or fast-forward to the days of sloth that the people of that innocent era predicted for us.
According to Gizmodo, the people of the ’60s understandably believed that as technology made our lives simpler, we would have more and more free time until things like 30-hour work weeks and one-month vacations would become the norm. We’ll pause while you wipe away your tears of hysterical laughter.
Clearly, those soothsayers of the 1960s did not predict the smartphone, which is the modern era’s definitive productivity-sucking device, but they also failed to truly understand the sinister thinking of the world’s industries. Employers certainly don’t want us to idealize a 30-hour work week, so they helped propagate the idea that the citizens of countries where such things are normal are lazy and inferior to us hard-working Americans. Today, banking weeks of unused PTO and never seeing your children is a badge of honor. If only the ’60s knew how wrong they got it, they probably wouldn’t have ever gone near the ’70s.
Unmarried women aren’t responsible enough to have credit cards
If you were lucky enough to grow up during a time when being unmarried at 25 did not automatically make you a social pariah, you probably thought it couldn’t get much worse than a career where your primary purpose is to make yourself romantically available to airline passengers. But the misogyny of the ’60s actually went much, much deeper than that.
According to Smithsonian, it was once perfectly acceptable for banks to ask credit card applicants questions like "are you married" or "do you plan to have kids," but only if the applicants were female. And if you weren’t married, the bank expected you to bring a man with you to cosign because everyone knows that girls can’t do math and must have big, strong men around so they will always have someone to remind them how to use a decimal point.
Banks could also give women reduced credit limits compared to men who earned similar salaries because everyone knows that girls simply can’t resist maxing out their credit card on a single pair of high heels, so it’s therefore the bank’s responsibility to rein them in. It’s not their fault, though, it’s that pesky X chromosome.
That ended with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. Except it didn’t really end, because even as recently as 2012, researchers have found that women still pay more for credit cards than their male counterparts.
Seatbelts were totally unnecessary
Fifty years ago people thought seatbelts were annoying and oppressive, and for the most part they did not even want those things in their cars. In fact according to Second Chance Garage, by 1949 customers were so fed up with those tyrannical seatbelts that many would actually cut them out of their cars with razor blades.
By the early 1960s, seatbelts were optional equipment on most American cars, but that didn’t really change anything. Most people didn’t want them, and even those who had them mostly didn’t use them. By 1966 only 30% of cars on the road in America had seatbelts (PDF) and only 44% of the people who drove those cars used them full-time. In 1968, the powers that be finally passed a law requiring seatbelts as standard equipment in all cars, but that still didn’t change anything. And it wasn’t just because people didn’t like the idea of a seatbelt, it was also because auto manufacturers deliberately designed the belts to be uncomfortable as sort of a nose-thumb to government regulations. That persistent hostility was largely the reason it took so long for anyone to actually pass real laws — the first mandatory seatbelt law didn’t reach the books until the mid-1980s.
Asbestos was a great building material
Asbestos has a long, dark history of use as a building material, and an equally long and dark history of people pretending like it doesn’t cause illness. According to Mesothelioma Help, it was Pliny the Younger, who lived between the years 61 and 112 A.D., who first noticed that slaves who mined asbestos and used it in their work often became ill. But they were slaves, so no one really cared all that much.
It wasn’t until many, many centuries later that anyone else officially noted that asbestos might cause illness — in 1918, the U.S. government also realized that asbestos workers were dying young. Study after study followed that initial report, but by the 1960s the asbestos industry was still promoting their product as an awesome building material and they were still neglecting to provide their workers with safety equipment or even tell them, "Hey, this stuff might kill you" because they wouldn’t want anyone to worry about their wonder product. And so it continued to be standard practice to use asbestos building materials in homes all the way through the 1960s and in some cases even longer than that.
It wasn’t weird to put vegetables and tuna fish in Jell-O
Perhaps strangest of all was the obsession people in the 1960s had with Jell-O. First, a word about Jell-O: It’s disgusting. Just take a step back for a moment and think about what Jell-O actually is — it’s the processed, pulverized body parts of pork, cattle, and sometimes even Mr. Ed. To make Jell-O and other products containing gelatin, the hides and bones of animals are rendered in a factory until they produce a wiggly goo that for some reason people want to eat. And really, people, even if you don’t know anything about Jell-O’s origins, nothing that texture should be edible.
Still, the obsession with Jell-O lingers and you are probably still faced with the horrible choice of eating Grandma’s Jell-O salad on holidays or else hurting Grandma’s feelings. But it could be worse. It could be vegetables and tuna fish in Jell-O. (The real Jell-O ad above is captioned, no lie, "Ring-Around-the-Tuna — garnished with curly endive and radish roses.")
Yes, according to Serious Eats, 1960s housewives put just about everything in Jell-O, mostly because they were torn between convenience and the horrible possibility that someone might call them lazy because they served convenience food. Shaped Jell-O molds solved this problem because just about any food could become an elegant presentation, including things like savory salads with shrimp or mayo "frosting." One popular cookbook from the early ’60s had recipes for "Molded Avocado and Tuna" and "Jellied Veal Loaf." It’s okay if you need to barf.
A woman’s most important job was to make her husband happy
So you couldn’t be trusted with a credit card and you had to talk pretty and walk into furniture and you could be fired for being freckled and you could really impress your dinner guests with jellied tuna in a fish-shaped mold. How could things possibly get any worse?
Well they could, and they did, because women in the 1960s were basically subservient to their husbands, and that’s the way everyone thought it should be. And think deeply about what that really said about husband and wife relationships in the 1960s — it meant that with few exceptions, men didn’t truly respect the women they were married to, which kind of cheapens the whole "love" part of the arrangement.
According to Little Things, there were plenty of manuals for womanly behavior that a wife could refer to if she wanted to make sure her husband knew exactly whose needs came first. (His, obviously.) Housekeeping Monthly’s article "The Good Wife’s Guide" instructed women to "have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return." Also, you should "touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair, and be fresh-looking." And don’t forget, "catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction." And for god’s sake, don’t assume he gives a crap about anything you have to say, because "his topics of conversation are more important than yours." The ’60s were a golden age, truly.