One of the real icons of the 1970s which hasn't yet been re-appraised,
re-packaged and given ironic 'cool' status, is the Cadbury's Flake Woman.
(Or women. Like Lassie, there were several of them).
This is understandable. The ads are rubbish and embarrassing. But it's
also a shame. For Flake Woman represents far more than just an adolescent
If you ferret around in cultural history, it can be clearly demonstrated
that Flake Woman reclaims some of the power that aquatic women once held
in mainstream culture.
Some of the earliest history we have is documented in films like Jason
and the Argonauts and in derivative works by Homer and Plato. Women were
only so-so in the power stakes in Greek society (as in, 'I would rather
ream my young houseboy than see your face, heifer - I'm off down the Acropolis'),
but in the seas, women were 'Sirens,' enchanting strapping young sailors
with their beautiful singing, causing victims to forget everything and
starve to death.
Then there were mermaids. An unlucky philanderer today gets a rash, but
mess with a mermaid, and there was unspeakable trouble. And like sirens,
the sight of a mermaid caused the beholder to be instantly smitten and
robbed of all free will.
Aquatic women were all-powerful. The only challenge came from Poseidon,
who was a God, but he never had curly haired Greek sailors frantically
filling each other's ears with wax.
There was no doubt - women ruled the waves, even when they weren't causing
havoc. In Arthurian legend, the baby Lancelot was kidnapped, dragged into
a lake by a woman and only released, presumably years later, when he was
fit to be a knight.
But then history got more sensible. More modern. Elizabeth the First was
remembered for bathing every month but by doing so, hardly advanced the
'women and water' legend. Soon after, women actually began to lose their
In Victorian Pre-Raphaelite art, the artists' models were prone to leaping,
fully clothed, into slow moving rivers with loads of lilies, waiting to
be painted. Hardly proactive, sassy behaviour, and not a patch on the
Things got even worse in the twentieth century, starting with Marthe and
Pierre Bonnard. Marthe was water-obsessed and always in the bath. As a
sympathetic kind who liked to tackle obsessions head on, Pierre painted
her naked in and around the bath. These are the two constants in Pierre's
paintings. Marthe and the bath. The pictures are never 'flattering'. The
world was given a sad, weak image of watery women.
Things, then, were at a bad pinch by the time the next /woman in water'
came along. Subsequently it plummeted further still with horsey bints
in pools, practising synchronised swimming, surely the most debased 'sport'
the world has ever seen. Things hit a low.
Until Flake Woman and her nob-shaped chocolate. For the first time in
aeons, a bathing woman was given power. Okay, so it was base seductive
power. No prizes for originality. No prizes for advancing any cause. But
at least Flake woman gave something a bit gutsy to the image of women
and water, which from once being omnipotent, had started to look a bit
damp and soggy.