The World of a Young Girl
“Your life’s goal is to learn to be a happy woman. That is why it is so important that you know your body and understand your emotional life right now when you are young.”
This is how the booklet A Young Girl’s World (Nuoren tytön maailma), published by G. A. Serlachius Oy in 1965, begins. The 25-page guide was produced in cooperation with medical and educational authorities and was recommended by the Finnish Centre for Health Education, which had been founded a few years earlier.The booklet’s target audience was 10–13-year-old girls who were in the process of moving from childhood to adolescence and adulthood through the onset of menstruation.
Around 260,000 copies of A Young Girl’s World were printed in early 1965 for distribution to elementary schools and grammar schools. Officially, the National Board of Education was responsible for distributing the booklet, but in practice this was done by the Serlachius company’s sales promotion department. It was accompanied by A Teacher’s Guide to A Young Girl’s World, also published by Serlachius. Two additional printings of the book were immediately ordered, and a Swedish version Till en ung flicka was published in 1966. Serlachius’ motive for publishing the booklet was sales promotion. The company had started manufacturing Sellox sanitary towels in 1962, and cooperation with the education authorities provided direct contact with a whole age group of new menstrual pad consumers.
The text of A Young Girl’s World, the author of which is unknown, is encouraging, in places poetic, and it seeks to describe and understand the feelings experienced by a young girl. It emphasises the naturalness and importance of knowledge in dispelling menstrual shame and false beliefs. The booklet covers a woman’s anatomy and bodily functions during menstruation. It provides practical advice for good mental and physical health in a new situation. Exercise is considered very important, but “It is best to avoid activities in which you will perspire or catch cold”. The reader is also advised to take care not to catch cold after bathing. Based on the advice, interpretations can be made about perceptions held at the time with regard to washing: “It is completely harmless to take a bath or shower during your period.” Or hair care notions: “… a perm will hold [during menstruation] just as well as at other times.” The most surprising message in the booklet concerns family relationships: “You are the factor that can unite a home that is falling apart, because with your help it will be easier for quarrelsome parents to relate to each other.”– What a responsibility for a young girl!
Presentations of the modern sanitary towel emphasise the hygiene, absorbency, comfort and discreetness required by the fashion of trousers and narrow skirts. The structure and materials of the pad are presented in detail with drawings. The Serlachius product is not mentioned in the text by name, but Sellox is advertised on the back cover of the booklet.
The guide for the teacher expands on the booklet’s objectives more directly and less poetically. It also emphasises a positive and holistic perspective on supporting and nurturing a young girl, but provides surprising details such as a warning about a perming hair at home, the potential harm of constipation, or how to freshen up a girl’s room by painting. Neither booklet actually talks about sexuality. The teacher’s guide briefly mentions dating and the detrimental effect of “problem boys” on a girl’s reputation.A Young Girl’s World tells of the norms that prevailed in the 1960s: a woman had to be compassionate and smartly dressed. She married and became a mother. She had to be happy, so that others would also be happy.This message is supported by colourful illustrations depicting happy and beautiful, active girls. While this construct of femininity seems rather narrow from today’s perspective, the booklet is quite encouraging in its way and urges the readers to be proud of their femininity. It lacks any discussion of period pain, the pursuit of an unattainable ideal appearance, and lifelong self-improvement. “Being a happy woman is like dancing. As if in a dream, you lightly follow your partner, who is life itself.”
Sources and more information:
Product-specific marketing planning and research, G. A. Serlachius Oy Archives, Serlachius Museums, Mänttä.
Paper Mill Annual Reports, G. A. Serlachius Oy Archives, Central Archives for Finnish Business Records, Mikkeli
Männistö, Tiina, Haluathan tulla todelliseksi naiseksi? Naisruumiin tuottaminen Suomessa ilmestyneissä nuoren naisen oppaissa 1890–1972. University of Turku, Department of History. Turku 2003.