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 – outside of the home, of course. Swearing was an easy way to signal my otherwise quiet rebellion. Like smoking and drinking, it was a way to push against boundaries without hurting anyone but myself.
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, I was hanging out with a bunch of friends in a school yard on a Friday night. I was excited about something and my sentences were peppered with expletives.
“Tucker, stop! Please!” My head snapped around until I found the source of unexpected admonishment. It was one of the boys. Eyebrows raised, I shot him an inquiring look.
“You shouldn’t say fuck,” he responded. “You look like the Ivory Girl. I can’t take it!”
The Ivory Girl was a ubiquitous television ad campaign by Proctor and Gamble in the 1960s and 1970s. A quick search online returns ads showing what it was like to grow up in her long shadow.
The young women in the starring role are obviously white and typically blonde.
In commercial after commercial, Ivory Girls share their secret to a healthy looking complexion: getting back to basics like exercise and nutrition, and of course the 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 sings to herself in the mirror.
“Big girls get that little girl look with Ivory!” over and over again, while her face in the mirror changes to one of a little girl. The Ivory Girl is never a woman. She’s always a girl. And we all know good girls don’t swear.
I’d love to tell you with certainty I told the boy he couldn’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t say or do. I probably didn’t. I do remember bristling at the comparison to the projection from TV. Sensing my discomfort, they nick-named me The Ivory Girl that night. The tone was always one of endearment, but after a while I got tired of it and began to respond the only way I knew to make them stop.
I broke my bond with wholesome by telling them to fuck off.
Looking back, it’s easy to understand my instinctive discomfort with the Ivory Girl, and have full empathy for the f-bombs emanating from the furnace room. You should hear me when I can’t find something. My father would be mortified, and to this day my mother exclaims “Laura!!!” although she learned to laugh at me as time went by.
It’s no wonder I still relish the release of an occasional f-bomb. Fuck still has the power to shock and make people laugh. After months of deliberation, I’m granting myself permission to use it.
The f*ck – and with it, my voice – has been unleashed.