Me and the Ivory Girl

Fuck and all the other swear words were prohibited in the Tucker household. There were, of course, certain exceptions. My father’s mostly under his breath muttering didn’t count when he was fixing stubborn things or trying to find what he needed under piles of hockey equipment in the furnace room. For me and my three younger brothers, profanity was strictly off limits.

I developed a penchant for swearing in my teens. It was an easy way to signal my otherwise quiet rebellion. Like smoking and drinking, using profanity was a way to push against boundaries – outside of the home, of course.

The first time I learned the true power of dropping a solid f-bomb was in my teens. Still too young to get into the bars, my friends and I were hanging out in a school yard on a Friday night. I was excited about something and peppered my sentences with expletives.

“Tucker, stop! Please!” My head snapped around until I found the source of unexpected admonishment. It was one of the boys. He looked as surprised as I was by his outburst. Eyebrows raised, I shot him an inquiring look and waited for him to continue.

“You shouldn’t say fuck,” he responded. “You look like the Ivory Girl.”

The Ivory Girl was a ubiquitous television ad campaign for Ivory Soap in the 1960s and 1970s. The TV commercials seemed innocuous on the surface. But for some reason they creeped me out.

The ads promoted Ivory, a simple bar of soap, as a face wash. The young women in the starring role are always white and typically blonde.

In commercial after commercial, the featured Ivory Girl shares her secret to healthy looking skin. She speaks of getting back to basics like exercise and healthy eating, and liberal use of Ivory, “the natural soap for healthy looking skin.” When men are featured, they tell Ivory Girl she is wholesome and pure, and thus more beautiful than other more “glamorous” women.

The message is clear – a wholesome looking woman is a good woman; a glamorous one is not.

In Ivory Girl Soap TV Commercial No. 6 from 1970, a woman gazes at herself in the mirror. She is dressed in a high collared white lace top. Her long blonde ringlets are tied with a bow.

Lathering her face, she sings,“Big girls get that little girl look with Ivory!” over and over again, while her reflection in the mirror changes to the face of a little girl. The message is clear: the Ivory Girl is never a woman. She’s always a girl.

And we all know good girls don’t swear.

Looking back, it’s easy to understand my instinctive discomfort with the Ivory Girl – and to have empathy for the f-bombs emanating from the furnace room. But as a teenager, it was confusing.

I’d love to tell you with certainty I told the boy he couldn’t tell me what I could say or do. I probably didn’t. My uncharacteristic discomfort earned me the nickname Ivory Girl that night. The tone was always one of endearment, but I looked forward to the day the nick name wore off.

Eventually I grew weary of being called Ivory Girl. I started to respond the only way I knew to make them stop.

I broke my bond with wholesome by telling them to fuck off.