Fifty years ago, internal publications at companies and corporations proudly displayed pictures of women clad in swimsuits. The editors of these publications even had names for such content—“pretty girl pictures,” or simply, “cheesecake.”
A 1962 article in Reporting
, a newsletter published by the International Council of Industrial Editors (ICIE), a trade association for corporate communicators, explains why and how editors should handle “cheesecake” in their publications.
“If a picture idea comes along that calls for a pretty girl by all means take advantage of it, but don’t push pretty girls into pictures that are obviously exaggerated or ridiculous,” the article’s two authors, both men, wrote.
“Use models with a company tie-in whenever possible,” they continued. “An alert editor should have no trouble in finding plenty of professional model material among employees, and employee’s wives and daughters. … Don’t settle for girls that are not photogenic or who would be out of place in a bathing suit.”
The authors were editors of The Forecaster
, a weekly newsletter for Union Carbide’s Texas City plant. Their article in Reporting
is a sort of how-to for their peers.
Here’s an example they shared from The Forecaster
of an employee’s daughter taking part in the Miss Fishing Rodeo contest:
The story also features a full-page of other examples of “cheesecake”:
The authors point out that DuPont’s “fine inter-and-external magazine is a good example of the effective use of sophisticated cheesecake.”
If the corporate editors reading the article in Reporting
don’t have managers as open-minded as those at Union Carbide or DuPont, the authors offer some advice:
“If you have better than average job security, we suggest you go ahead and publish [a cheesecake photo] without approval and see what happens.”
Ragan Communications, publisher of PR Daily
, has an archive of decades old issues of Reporting
, along with hundreds of other publications, bound in hardcover books at its headquarters in Chicago. The “cheesecake” article was found while leafing through an archive from 1962. The founder of Ragan Communications, Lawrence Ragan, was the editor of ICIE’s Reporting
ICIE merged with the American Association of Industrial Editors to create the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in 1970.
Perhaps more shocking than the very idea of “cheesecake” photos—and the various pictures of scantily clad “pretty ladies” they share—is their argument over whether editors might avoid such content. Objectifying women is not the problem.
“By sticking close to the above guide lines, we have avoided any large scale criticism in the past,” the authors said in the article. “Occasionally we do slip and a few angry phone calls are the result. However, the more complaints come when we photograph girls in plant areas without having them wear the proper safety equipment. But what girl looks good in a hard hat and safety glasses?”
The article acknowledges that newsletters with a predominantly male readership will most appreciate the “cheesecake” photos, but they state that “the appeal is strong even where the readers are predominantly female such as in the banking and insurance industries.”
Apart from the jaw-dropping sexism, part of this argument rings true for today’s editors, whether they work for a corporate newsletter or a consumer magazine or website.
“A veteran newspaper picture editor once told us that he rates photographs of pretty girls, cute children, baby animals and striking scenery as top attention-getters in that order,” they write. “He suggested that for a real stopper you combine all four elements in one picture. We even tried that.”
Pretty girls, cute children, and baby animals? These guys could work at many of today's most popular websites.