Forget the Nostalgia: 30 Weird Things That Were Okay in the 80s But Not Today

The 80s nostalgia grows stronger by the day, and it is not difficult to see why. The 80s and the 90s were exciting times, with people feeling much safer and less alone. But on the flip side, many things that were common in the 80s would not be acceptable today. 

Smoking on planes

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No one thought about second-hand smoke in the 80s. There were tiny ashtrays next to your plane seat, and even pilots smoked because no one wanted them to experience nicotine withdrawal mid-flight. But more on smoking later.

Spanking kids

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Not only that physical punishment was the norm at home, but even some schools allowed it. Today, spanking is a form of abuse, but in the 80s, it was a necessary disciplinary measure.

Not many cared for people with allergies

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Today, airplanes no longer offer peanuts, and taking a peanut butter and jam sandwich to school is not allowed. In the 80s, kids and adults with allergies were viewed as the problem, and they just had to do their best to survive each day. Epipens only became a thing in 1987.

Chickenpox parties

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In the 70s and 80s, parents wanted to expose children to the virus at a young age. Parents organized chickenpox parties or simply playdates where healthy children spent time with a child with chickenpox to infect them deliberately.

PG 13 ratings did not exist until the mid-80s

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Kids were exposed to more adult humor, extreme violence, and inappropriate scenes. PG 13 rating started in 1984, though parents did not see what the fuss was all about until years later.

Creepy romance movies

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The Blue Lagoon from 1980 was an extremely popular and controversial film. It featured Brooke Shields, who was 14 at the time of the filming and later expressed that such a movie would not be allowed today. Her costar Christopher Atkins was 18, and the two played cousins who fell in love on an island. The film had explicit scenes.

Even creepier shows for the whole family

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Not only were the movies fetishizing children, but family-friendly TV shows were extremely creepy. The Box of Delights had howling wolves, a spooky train ride, and puppets, while The Adventures of Mark Twain featured a Satan. Alf, for once, ate cats.

Children went to the cockpits

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Asking an air hostess to take your child to see the pilot was common. Not all pilots enjoyed being interrupted, but dropping off your kid at the cockpit was not illegal.

Homophobia was at an all-time high

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The 80s were particularly hard on people who were not heterosexuals. With AIDS, dubbed the gay plague, homophobia and homohysteria rose, and with that, slurs and jokes on national TV and in teen movies.

The drinking age was 18

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As in many European countries today, kids would start drinking and smoking legally after they turn 18. In the mid-80s, people noticed how permitting children at 18 led to numerous fatal accidents, and National Minimum Drinking Age Act raised the age minimum to 21.

Male coworkers had more “freedom”

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Objectification of women was more visible in the 80s. Grouping was not uncommon, and complaining about your coworker’s Playboy obsession meant that a woman was jealous or worse.

Safety standards in cars

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Instead of laws, the 80s safety standards in vehicles were more like suggestions. Seatbelts were optional, and kids would sit in the front, playing with the radio.

Kids rode bikes without helmets

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No one wore a bike helmet despite everyone having a bike. In fact, even if someone wanted one, not many knew where to go and buy a helmet.

Egocentricity and materialism were on the rise 

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The new breed of young business professionals, the yuppies, revealed the unapologetic need for materialism. In the beginning, they were fascinating. Yuppies were all about making money, working insane hours, and only believing in the dollar. Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Republic wrote, “Yuppies have better taste than yesterday’s well-off young adult Americans, are less ostentatious in their display of wealth, . . . set a far better example of healthful living, and are more tolerant.”

Children played without adult supervision

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During winter and summer breaks, children would go outside in the morning to play, only to come home once the night fell. Even in public pools, in malls, or in theatres, children did not need adult supervision, regardless of their ages.


Hitchhiking was a way of transportation

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We see hitchhiking in horror movies, but not many would dare to ask a complete stranger for a ride in real life. Though it showed a decline in the 80s compared to the 60 and 70s, it was not uncommon to hitchhike during the 80s. It is not like people could go on YouTube and see all the true crime stories…

Circuses held actual animals

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Social media raised awareness of how animals who live in circuses really live. This led to many circuses abandoning live animal acts, something that was seen as exciting, especially if you were a child in the 80s. Though laws vary from state to state and from one country to another, when you know that the animals were abused with whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, etc., it is no wonder people have no desire to watch them.

Kids buying cigarettes

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Going to the store also meant picking up a pack of cigarettes for your parents. There were no id requirements, so no one cared if you were 5 of 15. Some stores required a note from an adult that said that the child was buying cigarettes for them.

Smoking was everywhere, and everyone did it

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It was possible to smoke while watching a movie in a theater or working in the office. Cigarette machines allowed anyone to get a pack, regardless of how young they were. No smoking sections were rare and usually empty.

Spousal abuse was not recognized

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A New York judge declared that “a married woman has the same right to control her own body as does an unmarried woman” in 1984, but other states waited until 1993. 

Animal testing was legit

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While today, animal testing of makeup products may only destroy your profits, in the 80s, people did not really think about it. It is not that animal testing is banned worldwide, but people are getting an awareness that the suffering of animals for someone’s vanity is simply not worth it.

Tanning beds were “in”

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In the 1980s, tanning beds became mainstream, and skin cancer rates increased. But people also enjoyed sunbathing and using SPF was less widespread than today. They would use reflective foils and tanning oil to get as dark as possible.

Eco-friendly was not a word

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Air pollution in the 80s was moderate, but the effects of dated technologies will be felt for decades to come. In the 80s, environmentalists highlighted issues such as acid rain, toxic substances, pesticides, hazardous wastes, and energy development.

The stigma surrounding mental health

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We are still far from fully understanding mental health and mental hygiene. The 80s showed some progress, but regular folks still struggled to grasp if they faced anxiety or depression. Partly, it was how disorders were portrayed in the movies, from Ferris Bueller to Fatal Attraction.

Marijuana was illegal 

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In 1981, the newly elected president, Ronald Reagan, said marijuana was “probably the most dangerous drug in the country.” In 1984, his wife, Nancy Reagan, launched the “Just Say No” campaign, which was intended to highlight the dangers of drug use. The war on drugs was in full swing, though it is hard to say if it paid off.

Buying a gun was even easier than today

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Brady Act was passed in 1993. It was even easier to get a gun in the 80s than today since there were no background checks. With the Brady Act, the FBI created the National Instant Criminal Background Check, a database that shows the history of violence and mental health.

Airport security was a joke

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Airport security was like any other security. The 90s brought the first terrorist threats, but in the 80s, all you had to do was empty your pockets and put your stuff on the TSA screeners. Taking your shoes off was not an option. Things changed dramatically after 9/11. 

The dress code was crucial 

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Today, most workers wear pretty much whatever they want. But in the 80s, there were specific rules, and people paid way more attention to the dress code. Everything was big, from hair to shoulder pads. Work clothes for women were mostly power suits, while youngsters took inspiration from Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

Awkward family photos

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Nothing screams the 80s like awkward family photos. From wearing matching suits to mullets for all family members and themed photo shoots, the 80s family knew how to humiliate themselves but make others cry with laughter.

Moms went against heavy metal

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The Parents Music Resource Center was an American committee formed in 1983. It aimed to increase parental control over children’s access to music considered to have violent or similar topics by labeling albums with Parental Advisory stickers. The committee was led by four women known as the “Washington Wives.” In 1985 they went to the Senate to fight mainly rock and metal artists. To this day, this hearing remains one of the strangest in history. 

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