Thursday, July 31, 2008

Elizabeth Taylor: Too Bloody Much

"She was unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much."
--Richard Burton, Meeting Mrs. Jenkins (1966)

I found this awesome little book a few months ago at Housing Works. Originally published as an article in Vogue, the book is only twenty-four pages long, and reads like a literary short story. Burton, who was born Jenkins, published one other book, the well-reviewed, A Christmas Story.

The story is comprised of three spare incidents. First Burton meets Liz at a pool party in Bel Air and is stunned by her "apocalyptic breasts." Five years later he runs into her and new husband, Mike Todd,and remarks to himself with sour grapes that she seemed merely, "bovine content." Burton artfully skips over how he and Elizabeth actually become a couple; next we see them it is "seven or eight" years later and they are in Paris together, walking in the rain and bantering ruthlessly, Nick-and-Nora style. The book ends with Burton punching a paparazzo and Liz making him apologize. I like the way he writes, but I love his ga-ga descriptions of Liz on their first meeting:

"... so extraordinarily beautiful that I nearly laughed out loud."
"... the most astonishingly self-contained, pulchritudinous, remote, removed, inaccessible woman I had ever seen."

"... her body was a true miracle of construction and the work of an engineer of genius. It needed nothing, except itself. It was true art, I thought, executed in terms of itself. It was smitten by its own passion. I used to think things like that."

Mike Todd died in a plane crash, and before Elizabeth married Richard Burton for the first time, she married Eddie Fischer, the former husband of her former best friend Debbie Reynolds. Being known as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World would be enough to make some ladies lose their sense of humor about themselves, but not Liz. In her 1987 weight-loss book, Elizabeth Takes Off, she writes:

"Certainly without a sense of humor I would never have used one of my most effective diet tricks. Someone told me that Debbie Reynolds kept a photograph of me taken during my fattest period on her refrigerator door. She said it reminded her of what could happen if she charged into the icebox. During the initial stage of my diet I thought, well, if it works for Debbie, maybe it will work for me. I stuck a picture of myself at my worst on the refrigerator, and every time I went into the kitchen, there was my corpulent self reminding me of what would happen if I broke my diet. That sight was an excellent deterrent to bingeing. If you think a picture of me as Miss Lard will inspire you, go ahead and put it on your refrigerator, I have no objection. Certainly there are enough photos for you to choose from. I didn't exactly skulk about in those days, and even if I had tried to avoid the press, they would have found me."

I've been planning to write about Elizabeth here and show off that sweet little book. Today I read today that she is on life support. Hope that's just a false rumor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Don't Kid Yourself Diet: or the beautiful time before passive aggression

"If you have been ten pounds overweight for the last ten years, you are officially obese. How do you like the word obese? Doesn't that rock you?"
--Dorothy Seiffert, Beauty for the Mature Woman (1977)

The current explosion of beauty and style media may inspire self-loathing, but it does so in such a passive-aggressive way. How do the stars stay slim? Oh, genetics and "chasing after" their kids. Many diets offer more food than I eat in an average non-dieting day. Eating 5-6 times a day-- seriously? My muse Edna advised eating no more per day than one lamb chop and a slice of pineapple when one needed to slim down. I call these Don't Kid Yourself Diets. They weren't about magical food combinations or moderation, they were about the swift achievement of a goal. Now it's all oh never, ever skip a meal, it could be dangerous. Diets literally advise never letting oneself feel hunger. In my old books, women proudly told of the high they got from going hungry. And recommended it.

I just find it refreshing. Like a slap in the face is refreshing. Rather than read an article about how the superhigh cut jeans of the season can work on "all body types," printed next to an ad featuring a skeletal quirk of nature, I'd rather take it straight up:

"THE OVERWEIGHT WOMAN SHOULD NEVER WEAR SLACKS. The unfortunate part of wearing slacks is that we ourselves are never aware of just what we look like in them. Somehow the mirror does not show us the back view in its real appearance and perspective... never for a moment should she imagine that she looks cute in them or that they are acceptable apparel, because they are not. From the standpoint of glamour, they are poison."
--Margary Wilson, You're As Young As You Act (1951)

And it wasn't just about diet. Beauty experts of yore were not afraid to tell you the truth: you were probably not that attractive, but you could be if you were willing to get to work, and never let up.

"Once a week-- Sunday in my case-- I believe in resting the skin. No foundation cream, no powder, but always eyeliner and mascara. Unless you don't mind looking like a boiled egg."
--Jean Rook Dressing for Success (1968)

There was little of the everyone-is-naturally-lovely-in-their-own-special-way crap, either. My authors weren't afraid to use words like ugly.

"Don't let your hair lie on your neck, it's ugly. Cut it short or put it up."
-- Stella Reichman, Great Big Beautiful Doll (1976)

This was all meant as encouragement. Just a more strict and opinionated kind than the coddling and lies to which we've now become accustomed. My authors were trying to make their readers see that beauty could be theirs. One simply had to make the choice to do the work, and no excuses. You had better take yourself in hand, by God:

"One has to make her own body as nearly as possible like the classic models, by exercise, by diet, by every healthful process, or, as a last resort, to stimulate corresponding proportions by every harmless device of art in clothing."
--Francis Mary Steele and Elizabeth Livingston Steele Adams, Beauty of Form and Grace of Vesture (1892)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

5 Tips for Better Posture

Opinions on what exactly defines good posture have changed through the years. But everyone agrees that it is important; tantamount to beauty and grace. Click to enlarge this helpful chart from 1965, which will help you to set your own posture goals, and then sway like a willow, swagger like a drunk, and for God's sake, stand up straight!

5 Tips for Better Posture (through the ages):

1. The woman of larger proportions may safely affect the majestic gait and air; but how absurd it would be for a tall and slender figure to stiffen her joints, throw back her head, and march off with a military air? The character of these light forms corresponds with their resemblances in the vegetable world. The poplar, the willow, and the graceful lily, bend their gentle heads at each passing breeze, and their flexible and tender arms toss in the wind with motions of grace and beauty. Such is the woman of delicate proportions.
--Madame Lola Montez, The Arts and Secrets of Beauty (1853)

2. Nothing is more unfeminine than the straight line of the shoulder. Some mothers make their young folks walk the floor with a pail of water in each hand, to give their shoulders a graceful droop. A substitute may be worn in one's room while at work, in the shape of an outside brace of triple gray linen, having two extra straps buckling around the tip of each shoulder, one long end reaching the belt, with a wedge-shaped lead or iron weight hooked on it. This is a heroic practice but effectual; and its pains are amply compensated by lines of figure which are the surest exponents of high breeding.
--Mrs. Susan C.D. Powers, The Ugly-Girl Papers (1874)

3. Exercise #9 (for posture)
Stand with feet well apart, whole body relaxed, arms hanging loosely. Now shake the body, only gently, using the least possible muscular exertion, until conscious of a feeling of general muscular relaxation and restfulness. This exercise may be varied by walking about, allowing the whole body to sway and sag, as if deeply intoxicated.
--Sarah C. Turner, The Attainment of Womanly Beauty (1900)

4. No garment has done more to destroy the American woman's figure than the combination corset and brassiere one. No one wearing such a garment can attain the correct standing position because of the downward pull of the suspended garters; nor will the wearer ever attain correct posture. The wearer has no shape, no waistline, flabby, protruding hips, forward shoulders, and will find after wearing the garment for a while that abdominal muscles have sagged thus resulting into constipation and other disorders. Throw this garment away immediately and purchase a step-in girdle.
--Lilyan Malmstead, What Everyone Wants to Know (1928)

5. Get all cleaned up. Get healthy. Get your spine straight. Then sit down and write your own book.
--Elizabeth Hawes, Good Grooming (1942)

Bad Posture and Spa Food

It's posture day on Peculiar Beauty.  I've been writing more than usual lately, and I'm only sitting properly at a desk about a third of the time.  Usually I am crouched, gargoyle-like, over the laptop.  My neck and shoulders are killing me.  I went for a massage at a spa in a nearby Brooklyn neighborhood. 

I asked the massage therapist to please, "grab my head and literally pull it out of my torso."  She laughed and agreed that yes, my neck had disappeared.  After being aromatherapized, dipping myself into various pools and drying out in the Turkish sauna, I went into the cafe for a light spa dinner.  On the menu?  Fried mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, burgers, chicken wings and fries.  I found this peculiar. 

Posture has always been a problem for me.  I remember my mother begging me to stand up straight since the beginning of time.  Years ago, a ex-boyfriend showed up to try to win me back.

"I just miss you being around," he said.  Go on, I thought.  "I miss looking over and seeing you reading, all slumped over on the couch."

This flattery got him nowhere, but I remember thinking, he really had been paying attention.  Stay tuned today for vintage tips on improving posture.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Piece of Work: Helen Gurley Brown

Reader QuiteLight recently mentioned her collection of Helen Gurley Brown books. You know HGB-- she edited Cosmopolitan magazine for thousands of years after rising to fame with the classic Sex and the Single Girl in 1963. Helen has always encouraged women to practice sexual liberation and to subsist on little more than diet Jello and grapes.
She has written a bunch of other books, mainly general guides to life for women, but to me they are auto-beauty-ographies, revealing the very private beauty habits of the author.
Helen was editor-in-chief of a major women's magazine. Do you have any idea how much beauty schwag comes with that title? But Helen didn't seem interested in the very latest products, or in being pampered (for free) at the highest end spas and salons. No, she preferred to stay home and devote herself to deeply nutty, self-administered routines:

"Wear bikini pants or nothing and slather Andrea Extra Strength Creme Bleach-- a nice thick paste-- over thighs, calves, arms, your whole body if you like. Leave on ten minutes and don't mess with it. Now start rubbing with your hands... stroke stroke stroke. Dead skin will come off with the bleach--a most gratifying experience."

For the face, she only needed a few simple items you probably already have around the house:

"Put on a shower cap; grease your face with Vaseline, cold cream, or something goopy. Fill the bathroom basin with cold water. Dump in two trays of ice cubes. Using a snorkel (a little rubber tube, one end of which you clamp between your teeth; the other end-- open-- sticks up put of the water so you can breathe. Any sporting-goods store has these), stick your face down just below the water surface and stay as long as you can. Twenty minutes is ideal. You never saw such skin... poreless, glowing."

A few years ago, I went on the Brini Maxwell show to promote my book. Brini is a sort of 60s-esque Martha Stewart so I figured I'd blather on about some tips from that general era. A couple hours before taping, the producer called me to check in.

"So you know the episode you're scheduled to be on is the Hawaiian Luau, right?"

Actually, this was the first I'd heard. The producer was "sure" that I knew some funny beauty tips that would fit right in with the island theme. Luckily I remembered HGB and her snorkel (ocean--island--Hawaii?). I clipped a big pink flower in my hair and think I also threw in something about coconut oil.

Pomp and Circumstance

I'm a bit fixated on the wacky pompadour/ french braids of the FLDS sect.  The photo at left is from a slideshow from yesterday's Times Sunday Magazine.  A century ago, and again in the 1980s, hair was teased and fixed that high to attract attention, but these women seem to have decided that it is the most modest of all ways to wear hair.

I imagine that in a community of polygamy and marrying super young, relationships between the "sister wives" are more intense than the male-female bonds.  And when a great deal of personal choice is taken out of what to wear and how to look, competition and fashion begins to hinge on the tiniest detail.  (Put girls in little Catholic school skirts and the Queen Bee rolls her skirt up as high as she can possibly get away with, but half an inch longer than the class tramp.)  So I imagine a ton of attention is payed to whose braids are straightest, and whose hair is highes.  One article described their style as flamboyant modesty.  Still, I was surprised that they used hairspray.  They seem so not-of-this-world.

Dear Peculiar B: Painted Ladies

Dear Peculiar B,

Who were the first women to get tattoos and for what reason?  And when did tattoos (on women in particular) become acceptable in North America/Western Europe?


Dear Curious,

Ladies have been getting painted for thousands of years.  Egyptian priestess Amunet lived 2160-1994 BC, and her well-preserved mummy was found with a tattooed belly and limbs.  In the 1950s, a 2500 year-old female corpse was found, preserved in ice, in Northern Russia.  Her arms and shoulders were "decorated with artful tattoos of birds, deer and other mythical creatures."
I've read about some cultures in Egypt, India, Japan in which all women were tattooed to ensure fertility and safe childbirth.  Temporary henna tattoos (mehndi) are still believed to heal liver and skin diseases and headaches.  I wonder if there is some truth to this.  Acupuncture cured me of some vague and possibly imaginary problems, so couldn't the pressure of the tattoo needles and even the lingering presence of ink affect a body in some way?

Anyway, Nora Hildebrandt was the first tattooed woman to be publicly exhibited in this country, in 1882 at Brunell's museum in New York City.  She had 365 tattoos-- one for every day of the year, done by her father.  She kicked off the trend of "painted ladies," on display at carnivals and fairs.  Many other tattoo artists began to show off their best work on the skin of their wives and daughters.  Here are some good photos of those girls.  The girl in the photo above is named Lena.  The picture was taken in 1912, and I admire her starry headpiece.

Tattoos only became acceptable in the mainstream very recently.  Hippies and biker chicks got tattooed in the 60s and 70s.  America led this trend with most of Europe a few years behind.  In the past two decades the popularity of tattoos gained momentum, which brings us to now.  With so much ink flowing, there are bound to be errors.  I'm sure you've heard about the highly sophisticated methods now available to erase the past.

I do not have any tattoos, but if I ever get one, it will be white.

I love to answer your questions.  Write to me or leave a comment if you have a beauty concern, or you're just curious.

Friday, July 25, 2008

10 Beauty Tips From 100 Years Ago

Oh I love lists, and this week a few good ones went around. The Beauty Brains did the 10 Strangest Ingredients Used in Cosmetics. Gretchen Rubin shared 19 Tips on Cheering Yourself Up-- From 200 Years Ago, and someone wrote their take on the 10 Strangest Beauty Tips of All Time, citing a tip from my book. It says a lot about the way I spend my time that I found the other items on that last list pretty tame. I collect old beauty books, so I pulled a few from my shelf that were published in 1908.

10 Beauty Tips From 100 Years Ago

1. Bear Oil Hair Tonic
" One of the finest hair tonics, if not the best known, is this: I pint High Wine, 1 pint Water, 1 pint Bear's Oil. By applying it to the scalp, it not only stops the hair falling out, almost at first application, but it will restore gray hair to natural color, and cause the hair to thicken."

2. Corset Budgeting
"A French woman wears a fifty dollar dress and a fifteen dollar corset, An American woman wears a two hundred dollar dress and a two dollar and a-half corset."

3. Meat Facials
"Many Parisian ladies, in the secrecy of their own chambers, on retiring at night, or some part of the day, bind their faces with thin slices of raw beef or veal. For several years a popular lady has used this remedy to feed the tissues of the face, with remarkable results. At thirty-eight she has the complexion and skin of a girl of eighteen."

4. Lard Primer
"A good base for makeup is rendered lard, made by pouring boiling water on lard in a basin... It is usually scented with oil verbena, though attar of roses is pleasanter, but more expensive."

5. Pucker Your Lips
"The first thing to consider is the lips. From very ancient times lemon has been the favorite means of promoting their redness; a slice of lemon or lime daily rubbed on the lips just to cause tingling leaves them pleasantly red, provided they are not cracked."

6. Poison for Bright Eyes
"The prescription of this ancient beautifier is 1-100 of a grain of arsenic and two grains of black pepper. One of these pills should be taken after dinner. It clears the complexion and brings a ruddy glow to the lips and cheeks, but should only be taken when the tongue is uncoated by fur in the morning, and never if there is any tendency to redness or roughness of the skin, or by those who suffer from flatulence."

7. Poor Bunnies
"There lie many great veins, all conducting upward toward the heart. If a tame rabbit is taken and held in the upright position for half an hour, it becomes unconscious. More interesting however is a second experiment, in which the animal's abdomen was tightly bandaged, It was then found that standing upright had not the slightest effect upon it. The conclusion that must inevitably be forced upon us all is that binding the waist has a definite effect on the circulation of the blood."

8. Sandpaper Palms
"The best way to polish or to complete the polishing of the nails it to bend the fingers on to the palm of the hand by bending the knuckles and first joint while keeping the last joint straight, and to rub briskly the nails on the palm of your other hand."

9. Take Your Temperature
"Complexion Improvers: Most of the preparations sold under this or similar names contain corrosive sublimate, perchloride of mercury. This powerful drug must be used with caution, as it produces marked alteration in, and hardening of, the skin... We can, fortunately, minimize or entirely remove the undesirable action of this drug by adding a little yolk of egg to the lotion."

10. Nice Girls Are Bustiest
"Every well sexed woman desires a beautiful, well-rounded bust, and I am sure you are not an exception. As the emotions affect to a very great extent the female organs, and as these in turn affect the bust, it is essential, as you doubtless already understand, to refrain from indulgence in anger, grief, worry, jealousy, etc."

(1-3 from Amy Ayer's, Facts for Ladies; 4,-9 from Cora Brown Potter's The Secrets of Beauty and Mysteries of Health; 10 from My Lady Beautiful, Or, The Perfection of Womanhood by Alice M. Long. Photo is the actress Sarah Bernhardt, demonstrating an exercise for posture in Ms. Long's book)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Auto-beauty-ography: The Strange Case of Edith Carter

I discovered Edith Carter a few years ago while doing research for my book at one of my favorite places, the big and gorgeous main branch of the New York Public Library.

In 1948, Edith self-published a nineteen-page pamphlet titled From Duckling to Swan. I have never been able to find another copy of this brilliant auto-beauty-ography. The work chronicles Edith's use of prayer and self-hypnosis to surpass her sister Mary's, beauty. But I'll let Edith tell you all about it:

"You can feel and look prettier, and years younger, by using these suggestions I have mentioned and the things I am going to tell you about.
Now, for the details of my change: Sister Mary was left a widow. As she had never had to support herself, I took her into business with me. It was the same old story. Compliments came to Mary all the time. People just couldn't realize we were sisters.
I could stand no more. I hastened to the restroom. Something seemed to go through me like electricity, so great was my wound and my determination. With all the force, vehemence and earnestness I seemed to possess, I put my foot down and declared, 'I WILL BE PRETTY, PRETTIER THAN MY SISTER.'
I didn't know just how I was going to do it. I only knew I was determined to do it. And the bible said, 'Thou shall decree a thing and it shall be so unto thee.' And remember, I was a matured woman."

Edith wasn't kidding; when she made her plan she was in her mid-forties. With Mary working beside her in the general store she owned, and certain God was on her side, Edith began:

"Every time I was complimented, I said, 'Thank you, Lord,' and affirmed, 'IT IS TRUE I AM THAT.'"

Not sure here whether Edith was being complimented directly by the lord, or just thanking him from compliments she received from human beings. I have to wonder if Mary noticed anything was afoot.

"When you meet a pretty person with a strong personality, don't feel like a worm in the dust of his or her presence. Throw your head back, straighten your shoulders, visualize yourself as you wish to be, and say silently, and feel, 'I am just as beautiful and impressive as she. The same God that lives in her lives in me, and is no respecter of persons.' That will pull you out and give you poise. We can't have low, evil thoughts on the inside and reflect virtue and beauty outside. The Bible says our thoughts and conversations are heard aloud in heaven. They are also heard and seen on our countenance. 'As man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' Remember, thoughts are like mosquitos. Watch your screens.
'Put away from thee a wayward mouth and perverse lips. Weigh carefully the path of thy feet and let all they way be ordered aright'. Prov. 20-27
Sincere desire i sprayer. But God will not hear a wicked prayer, or one that will harm anyone else. Praying for beauty in order to lord it over someone else, or to make someone else envious is a wicked prayer. But praying to be more pleasing to people's eyes and to make one more useful is God's will. God loves beauty. Look at the beauty of nature God has made."

Of course I had to tell my own sister, Laura (the pretty one!) all about this brilliant little book. It turned into a running joke. If we spoke on the phone about what to wear before going somewhere together, one of us would break into a seething whisper and hiss at the other, I will be pretty, prettier than my sisssster!

Thoughts are like mosquitos. Watch your screens. Is that from The Secret?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

But Maybe It Was Beauty School

"Today if you are not beautiful, you are truly dumb."
--Grace Margaret Mason, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance (1943)

A San Diego teen is suing her teacher for calling her ugly. Okay, the teen is probably suing more for being kicked, but I liked the headline.

Overnight, or: My First Bra Was a C Cup

My friend Stephanie Green wrote a fantastically unsentimental post today about how she chose to deal with a breast cancer diagnosis, and about looking forward to getting new breasts. We used to work together as editors and often discussed our shared preference for Wacoal bras. Seems we also both wished we were more the braless type.

This photo is from Marilyn Monroe's infamous last photo shoot. Hair and makeup by George Masters. She'd have no one else after he helped her find signature shade of platinum blond, which she named "pillowcase white." But I'm not writing about blondness today, I'm writing about breasts. Marilyn, despite showing off tons of cleavage when dressed, was not actually so busty.

Earlier this year, Lindsay Lohan posed with Bert Stern to recreate the iconic pictures for New York Magazine. Occasionally I waste sympathy on starlets. Getting famous young seems like a nightmare and I related to Lindsay a few years ago when she suddenly developed giant breasts. Tabloids accused her of getting implants because they came on so quick. Mine came on overnight. I was the flattest-chested of all my friends until I was seventeen, and quite happy to stay that way, but I needed only to have glanced at any female relative to have seen my future. The first bra I ever bought was a C cup.

This was in the late eighties so I hid my chest under voluminous, epically unflattering tops most of the time. I guess my disguise was pretty successful. Years later, I moved back to New York, and in with a roommate from high school. One night I went to see an old friend's band and saw some other people from my hometown, and very soon after, my roommate ran into the same crowd. She told one of the guys that she was living with me.

"Bonnie... the girl with the fake breasts, right?" He said.

"No," my roommate replied, "I can tell you, she's all real."

He looked at her disparagingly and sighed. "Ev-er-y-one knows she has implants."

My body was just as it had been back in high school. The difference was in how I dressed; I'd long since left behind the big sweaters in favor of form-fitting tops. At some point, I'd learned about proportion, plus I was no longer a self-conscious teenager. I guess my "new" breasts made their debut when I went to see that band.

Not sure where you rank on the breast-size continuum? Consult the helpful chart on the left from Stan Place's Guide to Makeup (1981). And know that the urge to change what you've been dealt is nothing new:

"By strengthening the supporting muscles, exercise can cause the breasts to be held more erectly and carried more proudly, thus greatly enhancing the entire personality."

--Ern and Bud Westmore, Beauty, Glamour and Personality (1947)

"Now for a surprise! You can reduce your breasts. I have an absolute, sure way. But wait until warm weather. You'll feel much better if you do it then. You must rely entirely on a special diet.... For three days in succession do this. When you get up in the morning drink a glass of hot or cold water. Two hours after your water, drink six ounces of buttermilk. Two hours later, drink another six ounces. Do this every two hours until bed-time. Remember this must be done three days in succession... This buttermilk diet never fails."
--Sylvia of Hollywood, No more Alibis (1934)

Don't Drink the Water, Nor Dip Your Toes In

Yesterday I told you about George Masters' fish, water, and Scotch diet.  After clicking these links, perhaps you'll stick to just the Scotch.

Not Buying It: Cosmetic Toe Amputation

In an Idependent article on superhigh heels for fall, the writer casually refers to cosmetic toe amputation surgery.  This was the first I'd heard.  But upon investigation it seems to be somewhat of an urban myth.  There is a surgery (I'll spare you the details) that reduces the size of the second-to-last toe (the ring toe?) but I can't find anyone who as actually had a toe removed for the sake of shoes.

I enjoy heels.  Living in the city, I walk a lot so I am usually in a reasonable heel.  Years ago, I wore whatever shoe I wanted and carried extra flats everywhere, but that got tedious.  Now my default for the everyday is about two inches.  Boots in the fall and winter, and often a wedge for summer days.  I especially like a wedge in tan or beige and think most girls should own one; they make your legs go on forever.   Of course I go higher and fancier at night.  My favorites this year were a pair of four and a half inch, brown suede strappy stilettos by Tara Subkoff.  Surprisingly comfortable for what they are.  But I can walk all day in a two-inch heel.  I ride my bicycle in two-inch heels.

A few months ago, I suddenly took up running.  I was instantly addicted and went out everyday to Prospect Park near my apartment, where there is a three mile loop.  I loved being out in the trees everyday and just alternated walking/jogging/running, running further each day.  For about two weeks.  One day my knee felt just slightly off.  No big deal, I thought.  In fact it was surprising that I hadn't had any aches or pain until that day considering my former tree-sloth status.  I just ran slow the rest of the way, and then woke up the next morning barely able to walk.  I iced and Motrined for almost a week before seeking actual medical guidance.  It was called a tracking injury.  Have I mentioned that I live in a fourth floor walkup?

I tried my usual wedges after just a few days, certain that if I just stopped coddling my knee it would be fine.  It wasn't.  As hailed a cab home, I looked down at my leg and it suddenly seemed like a brittle little branch about to snap.  So then I wore the gold ballet flats I had around for a month.  I'm all for ballet flats as a wardrobe staple, and I think they are very cute, but as I winced my way through the West Village in them one afternoon, I knew what I had to do.  I went into some stylish-yet-ergonomic shoe store and bought Birkenstocks.  I used to wear them as a crunchy teenager and remembered them as feeling like clay molded to my foot.  The other options were all those brands that angle your foot so that you're always walking slightly uphill, but I didn't think aggravating a new set of tendons was the answer.  The ones I chose were the fanciest ones.  In fact when I just went to their site to show you this image, they were described as "a formal look in silver."  That is really pushing it, but I was cured in days.

They took some getting used to visually.  Everytime I looked down I was surprised at how wide my feet looked.  I shrugged.  My summer look had become Space-Age Cavegirl.  

The shoes in the top photo are Armani and they wish they belonged to me.

[Independent via Jezebel]  

The Master Forbids Plastic

Updates on George Masters, who you read about yesterday:

I forgot to tell you that he did Dustin Hoffmans's makeup in the film, Tootsie. I am also sad to report that he died in 1998, at the age of 62, some time after being "hobbled by a fall."

His obituary in the Times notes:

"He refused to greet new clients until they were stripped and smocked. Seeing them in their regular clothes, he said, could influence his assessment of their possibilities for improvement. Besides, one look at the shoes, he said, told him all he needed to know about a woman. If shoes or handbags were plastic, Mr. Masters would simply shudder and walk away."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

No One Gets Fat in Prison Camp

There's an article in the Post today about how to tell a friend she's getting fat. Of course she knows, but maybe she's in denial about just how far gone she is. Or maybe she isn't taking responsibility and insisting it's her thyroid. In this case you can help her see the truth, ever so gently:

"A great number of overweight women and men have really sold themselves the idea that they are persecuted by Nature in that everything they eat turns to fat. Their friends have given them sympathy over this sad plight.
But the fact in case is that such fat people during the war in countries where food was not available to satisfy their appetites, rapidly lost weight. Unless there is a definite glandular disturbance, which happens only in one out of a hundred thousand cases of overweight, the fat in the body is in ratio to the food intake and there is no other way around it.

Margery Wilson, You're As Young As You Act (1951)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Piece of Work: George Masters

"I have never thought of myself as being glamorous, but when George Masters does my hair and makeup I feel glamorous."

George Masters was a real-life version of the womanizing hair stylist Warren Beatty played in best-movie-ever, Shampoo. Even that frump Ann-Margret could pass for pretty if she bent to his will.
Click to enlarge the photo and meet George's gaze. He knows what is best. You will submit. He's a pretty boy with a scarred cheek that hints of danger, and a sharp weapon in his hand. The model is clearly and justifiably terrified. And she looks fantastic.
George Masters was a stylist to the stars who is credited with creating Marilyn Monroe's signature look. Like the George played by Warren Beatty, the real George got very involved with his clients. Much of the book describes their private lives. He whispers that Doris Day kept a flask of vodka in her purse, and that Jennifer Jones slipped away from her own parties to have full bath, hair and makeup redone, then changed into a duplicate of her party outfit. She sometimes repeated this ritual several times per evening. And why not? This way she got to spend all her time in the bathroom; hers had "wall-to-wall carpeting, crystal chandeliers, a wood-burning fireplace and three Renoirs over the tub."

Beyond all the gossip, George wants you to know that the illusion of great beauty is a learned skill that can be yours:

"There is only one difference between your face and the three movie stars you are always asking me about. It's a three letter word spelled E-G-O. And I'm all for it as long as you don't carry it to extremes."

Truth be told, George does suspect you may need a little help beyond extreme confidence:

"I believe one of the most important beauty habits that should be started early is a face-fix fund-- for your nose bob, eye job or anything else that needs fixing. Mothers should start this for their offspring in a child's piggy bank... Older children should be encouraged to save a certain amount of money regularly in their face-fix fund, just as they save each year in a Christmas Club fund."

Of course George also offers practical, every day advice, such as a tip he picked up from Mae West: the self-administered daily enema. If you need to lose a few pounds, George recommends his sensible Sex-Cal, Whip-Off Diet, which consists of a bit of fish, and a few tall Scotch-and-waters.

But the Masters piece de resistance is more state of mind than mere beauty tip:

"Crucial to your total look of beauty is body control. If you don't have it, start working on it instantly. You can begin this very second and here's how" Pretend you're naked with forty cameras shooting you from all angles...
Anyone can do it. You start by pretending that you're naked with forty imaginary cameras shooting you from every possible angle-- up, down, front, back, sideways-- on your cheekbones, chinbone, nose, neckline, shoulderline, hipline, bosoms, stomach, thighs, arms, and legs, all over, anywhere and everywhere...
It's a trick you can practice anywhere, even out in public. Maybe you have a secret yen to be a streaker. Here's your chance. Pretend you're nude with a cameraman chasing you. (Be sure you're pretending or it could be the cops.)"

And lest you ever relax while alone at home, George offers his own twist on affirmations:

"You might need to pin notes in a few strategic spots in your house to jog your memory: I'm naked with forty cameras shooting."

Madame Moustache

"It sometimes happens that feminine beauty is a little marred by an unfeminine growth of hair on the upper lip, or on the neck and arms, and sometimes the shin. I have known several unfortunate ladies to produce ulcers and dangerous sores by compounds which they used for the purpose of removing these blemishes.
Caustic preparations of lime, arsenic, and potash have been used for this purpose with the above results."
--Madame Lola Montez, The Arts and Secrets of Beauty (1853)

This year, two women I know separately confessed to me that they shave their faces daily to get rid of unwanted hair. I was shocked. My first thought was, there must be a better way!

Then I did a little research and found out that face-shaving has been picking up speed the past few years as a method of exfoliation. So maybe it makes sense to kill two birds with one stone. I don't have this particular beauty concern (I get my eyebrows waxed but that is mainly recreational), but I would go with permanent laser removal. Friends who have had it done for other areas are ecstatic. Lasers for home use recently became available, but I recommend a professional:

"More and more women realize that many of the things they formerly had done at beauty shops can be done at home. This is true. There are many things you can do at home, as well as some things you should try not to do."
-- Hazel Theresa Gifford, Fundamentals of Beauty (1944)

Does getting lasered sound too sci-fi for you? It's utterly benign compared to all this:

"I have recently seen many women who had undergone X-ray treatment to have the hair removed from their upper lips. The hair was gone, to be sure, but the center of the lip had a curious dead look...
The other method for removing superfluous hair is still something of a curiosity. It is a punching procedure, by means of a hollow cylinder, which resembles an old-fashioned watch-key with a sharpened end. These cylinders are attached to rotating tubes, something like a dentist's apparatus. When such a machine is put into motion, by electricity, the cylinder rotates around its axis with great velocity. One grasps the handle of the tube, places it on the hair which is to be removed, and presses it vigorously into the skin. The hair together with its root, is separated from the surrounding tissue and can now be pulled out. This method, which can be learned easily, is almost painless (the skin may be anesthetized with ethyl chloride) and from 250 to 300 hairs can be removed at one sitting. But it has the disadvantage, to put it mildly, that large parts of the tissue is removed too."
--Helena Rubinstein, The Art of Feminine Beauty (1930)

(The title of this post comes from this sad tale of a hirsute goldrush card dealer. The photo is a 1965 cover featuring Italian actress Verna Lisi. It was recently recreated, somewhat less strikingly, by Jessica Simpson.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

For Everyone I Rode the Subway With Today

It is really hot here. And crowded. Now you know why I was "putting on that act":

"It just might remain a mystery to you why you get left out of everything nice. If your best friend wouldn't tell you, I would. And supposing we worked or studied together, I'd start by asking you to tell me if I ever smelt even slightly stale or unpleasant, because I know that it's possible to get a little careless, or perhaps to use an anti-perspirant-deodorant that isn't effective for some reason (maybe it's time to change to a new one). I would talk in exaggerated terms about my absolute horror at the mere thought that I might smell of perspiration. And I would be putting on this act for your sake hoping that you would get the message."

--Mary Young, The Best of Yourself (1970)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oh God Yes: Beauty Tips for Ministers

"When I'm applying my creams and oil I say two Our Fathers and two Hail Marys. I tell God, 'you've just got to help me take care of my face and neck!' I say it imploringly, not demandingly. My faith, I've been told, is childlike. This was not, I believe, intended as a compliment."

--Hildegarde, Over 50-- So What! (1963)

When I was a child, an aunt of mine found Jesus. It was rather sudden as I recall. She explained to me that she had formed a close and personal relationship with him that extended even to the dressing table. Every morning, she said, she prayed to the savior for guidance in choosing the eye shadow that would best coordinate with her outfit. He seemed partial to blue.

I get very curious about anything that combines God and religion with beauty and grooming. Perhaps you realize that by now. And I just came across the most delightful thing:

Beauty Tips for Ministers, a blog by an actual minister. It features dos (pretty braids), don'ts (visible lacy underwear), and friendly advice to fellow clergy members. The writer emphasizes the importance of self-care to her peers, who often overlook the need to appear polished and professional, in a field that focuses on the spiritual and on helping others. Often I read about religious women whose views on beauty are very old-fashioned, but this blog is run by a sassy, modern career gal. After a bad haircut, she muses:

"What to do, what to do? No bright lipstick to draw the eye even more irresistably to the jawline. How about a smoky eye to distract attention upwards. But it’s Sunday morning, not an appropriate time for a smoky eye."

She offers practical advice for keeping cool under all those robes, guidelines for plus-size ladies of the cloth, and comfort for a reader who feels "sinful" after compulsively overeating and gaining weight. Once in a while, she is forced to invoke the Lord's name:

"For the Love of God, please let us not let our sisters wear SCRUNCHIES in the hair."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Closer to God: How To Get Big Hair

My hair had a psychotic break when I hit puberty and went from waves to kinky ringlets. This was in the eighties, so while my friends were getting spiral perms, I spent high school desperately trying to subdue my new natural texture. I had no idea how properly use a blow dryer, and eventually I just let it curl. My senior yearbook photo seems to show a girl who had mastered the look of the era, but my hair dried in that shape right out of the shower: big, with a pouf of alarmed bangs.

In my early twenties, I went for a cut with my roommate. Her old friend was a stylist and she felt he'd know what to do about The Chunk, a wad of grown-out layers that mocked me from side of my own head every day. I spoke of little else that year.

"Some people have such great natural curl," the stylist mused to my roommate as he began to play with my hair. I smiled at him in the mirror, but then he continued, "and some people are just completely f*cked."

That actually made me like him. I felt understood.

Since then I've vacillated on whim between wearing my hair curly, getting it chemically straightened, and straightening it myself (more on that soon). Now I can go either way; my curls have loosened a bit, plus I am so skilled at blow-drying that it barely takes me any longer than normal people.

My relationship with Big Hair is complicated. And Big Hair is coming back. A couple friends have been talking about getting perms (I sigh and shake my head). Linda Wells got a bit nostalgic for the moussed-up look of the eighties in this month's Allure. And my ladyfriends the Beauty Brains are looking for reactions to (or perhaps an explanation of?) the hair hats you might have seen recently.

So how high will we go this round? The 1980s were hardly the apex of hair. In Marie Antoinette's late 1700s, updos were built on wire armatures, padded with cloth and horsehair, spackled with flour paste and mutton pomade. Entire scenes were sculpted, making human heads a platform for dioramas of warships surrounded by cotton wisps of smoke. I've read about live caged birds, vegetable gardens, and even a mini-cemetery scene in memoriam of a lost husband.

I think I'll save my neck the strain and go natural:

"If you happen to be blessed with heavy, dry, and curly hair (think Gilda Radner), you can wear one of those gloriously frizzy hairstyles that seem to go on forever. Cute."
--Gloria Richards, A Whole New You (1980)

Yeah, cute.

How to Get Glowing Skin

This week is the annual Boryeong, South Korea mud festival. Two million visitors a year come to enjoy the, "calming, smoothing and water balancing" powers of the superspecial mud. The festival features mud facial treatments, mud wrestling, a mud obstacle course, mud prison, and fireworks.

But it doesn't have everything...

"Mud or clay masks suit the greasy skin. In this country the best and most popular type of mud is fuller's earth, which comes from Reigate. Radioactive packs are made from mud taken from the river St. Gellert."
--Sonya Joslen, The Way to Beauty (1937)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Prosecuting Beauty: can't a girl be curious?

Twelve-year old Hannah Gilbert was detained by the police for testing some Revlon nail polish on one fingernail. Sheesh.

Hannah can look forward to the evolution of the species; soon nail polish will be obselete, and she will no longer be tempted to commit such heinous crimes:

"My friend's theory is that in evolution, what the body no longer has use for, it discards. When we were all living in the treetops, swinging from branch to branch, and digging in the earth for food, nails were a useful implement necessary to survival. Today, we buy our potatoes washed, in polyurethene bags.
Nails, according to his theory, are on their way out... in the next few hundred years, nails will be non-existent. I'm glad I shall not be around."
--Graeme Hall, Beauty for Girls Who Are Getting On (1970)

(via Jezebel)

Dear Peculiar B: vintage beauty advice

Dear Peculiar B,
I do love a crisp men's dress shirt, but I absolutely cannot keep them clean.  The underarms yellow immediately, despite scrupulous hygiene & washing, and that's just unacceptable.  Any ideas?


Dear QuiteLight,
An ingenious solution to your dilemma exists but has simply fallen out of vogue:  the dress shield.  Used to be, a gal sewed her own small fabric wedges which she then stitched or pinned into the underarms of her clothing.  That way the shield could be removed and washed separately, and the fabric of the garment lasted longer.  Later came pre-made shields for purchase, and finally disposable shields.  Look: they're still around!

Lest you think I'm just being cute and vintage-y, Cheryl Mendelson, who does not kid around about laundry, still recommends shields for white clothing, especially silk.  I've also heard that a plain bar of Ivory soap works wonders when rubbed directly into the stain.


Do you have a beauty or style dilemma?  Write to me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

She Haunts Me

The most beautiful suicide (please don't click if you don't want to see a dead girl)

On Being Your Own Grandchild, or Ednaism 101

I wrote yesterday about a type of person I like to call Your Own Grandchild:

"These are the people who constantly ask, "Don't I look so cute in this?" They are the ones who send holiday cards featuring themselves posing alone in antlers, or Santa hats."

The term came about over a decade ago when a friend gleefully showed me the Christmas cards she planned to send.

"What are you, your own grandchild?" I teased her. She appreciated my wit about as much as I appreciated her photos.

Many of the wacky characters who write the books I adore, auto-beauty-ographies, are Their Own Grandchildren: exhibitionists, attention-whores. Perhaps draining in person, but delightful in print. Or on screen; books exploiting intimate beauty secrets could be considered one prototype of reality television. (Think Denise Richards getting spray-tanned at home with only the barest minimum blurred.) Which brings us to Edna Wallace Hopper, my muse. I like to say she was the world's first reality star because she had her face lift filmed and shown to an audience.

Edna embodies the type I'm talking about. The photo above, in which she poses in ruffles, with kittens, and adorned with giant bows, was taken when Edna was about thirty-five years old. But this, written when Edna was in her mid-fifties, takes the cake:

" would you like to be taken for your own granddaughter or grandson? Wouldn't that be thrilling? It would, and is. I know, because I have been taken for my granddaughter. Not once, but many times. And I have had to carefully explain that the so-called granddaughter and her pseudo grandmother are one and the same person.
... Not long ago a woman called at the box office of a theater where I was playing and said I was a fake because the real Edna Wallace Hopper had died and been buried and she herself had attended the funeral. The manager of the theater was much annoyed and had me go before a notary and swear that I am Edna Wallace Hopper, not her granddaughter, or anyone impersonating her."
I tease, but Edna was not quite as full of it as she may sound. She was indeed world-renowned for her time-defying looks (see face lift, above). A 1953 New York Times theater review notes:

"Edna Wallace Hopper, whose age is a classified matter but who is known to have past her eighty-fifth birthday... appeared in a scene from the same play in which she acted at the Empire more than sixty years ago."

By my best calculation, Edna was actually only seventy-nine at that time. She was a wily one; she shaved years off her age for most of her life, but then deftly went the other way and began to say she was older than she was later on, so as to appear younger for her age.

"She won a tremendous ovation from the audience after her portrayal, during which she skipped across the stage with the agility of a schoolgirl and coyly impersonated a sun-bonneted coquette."

Shaker Beauty Part Three: Beauty in Simplicity

If you should have a lovely garden, you should live a lovely life
--Shaker saying

I've been feeling a bit conflicted about this series on Shaker Beauty, because as you may know, the Shakers stood firmly against adornment of any kind.  They believed that any interest in personal adornment could only distract from spiritual communion.  God knows I love personal adornment and its history, and the Shakers just did everything in such a lovely manner that I can't help but gush over it.

Here is a bottle of rose water prepared in the last inhabited Shaker community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.  The village I spent time in had stunning gardens.  The herbs were all labeled with their medicinal uses.  Several kinds of roses were grown for their gentle tonic qualities (Shakers id not tend to adorn tables with flowers), but red roses, or Apothecary Roses, were reserved for the preparation of rose water.  I adore the labeling on this small glass bottle.  I use rose water every day but usually buy mine at the health food store.  It says something about enhancing my aura comes in a pink plastic spray bottle.  Sure it's cute, but the Shaker bottle is a lot cuter.  I use a mineral-makeup face powder and I like to spray on rose water to set it.  I also use the spray to re-wet sections of my hair for lowing out straight, or to revive the curls.  Often I just spray myself (or others) in the face because it feels and smells so good.  The kind I usually use smells light and fruity-flowery.  The Shaker water has a deeper and spicier rose scent.

The Shakers used rose water for bathing.  Roses are known for mildly astringent properties and rose water is one of the most common ingredients for face creams, toners, and cleansers in my antique beauty books.  After the flowers were gathered from the garden, the essence was distilled and the water prepared in the Well-Being room, still full of the loveliest glass bottles.  

People from the outside world came to the villages to buy everything from the famed Shaker chairs to rose and mint water, cooking herbs, and cheese.  Hancock, the village I visited has preserved a Victorian-style house at the edge of the property that the Shakers used as a store and to meet with outsiders.  They decorated and outfitted this building to make visitors feel welcome.  This wallpaper was added sometime in the sixties and I think its fantastic. It almost looks like Florence Broadhurst to me. The background may have been red when it was first hung but it's now faded to a gorgeous pink and I love the way it looks with the Shaker bench.

Shaker Beauty Part One:  Hands to Work
Shaker Beauty Part Two:  Sisters Bathing at Pleasure

How to Get All the Attention

"You must learn to make up your eyes with shadow and painted-on liner, and to wear false eyelashes as inevitably as other girls wear panties"
--Jean Rook, Dressing for Success (1968)

Harness Your Power
False eyelashes are a powerful thing. I love them for parties. Once I had pink-feather lashes to match a flamingo costume for Halloween. There turned out to be another girl there dressed as the same bird, but did she have the pink, floofy lashes? No she did not. Last Christmas, a generous friend treated me to lash extensions that lasted for a couple months. I requested that the technician make them "extra glamorous," and she complied. I felt like a cartoon bunny and enjoyed the slow thud of my own blinking. I began to tell anyone who would listen that I could Never Be Without lash extensions again. Perhaps one day I'll be able to afford to maintain those...

Say No to Drugs?
The Beauty Brains just wrote about a drug company that announced plans to launch a lash-growth stimulating product. They discovered growth as a side effect from a pre-existing drug. I believe it's the same prescription my mother was taking last year. She was driving when I looked over, saw her lashes hitting the lenses of her glasses and began to exclaim over why I hadn't inherited this luck. She later showed me that the drug had also darkened her eye color.

Drag queens have always known that nothing intensifies femininity like long eyelashes. Lucille Ball was also well aware. A biography claims that she once yanked the false lashes right off of Vivian Vance's face. I'm leafing through Vivian's bio now, The Other Side of Ethel. Hal King, makeup artist on the show, was quoted fighting for Vivian's right to wear the lashes on screen.

Don't Listen to Your Mother
Before she met up with undermining pal Lucy, Vivian was a hot number. She was handpicked by producer Florenz Ziegfeld for his chorus line. Ziegfeld girls were known for their beauty and lovely figures. The teen-aged Vivian would probably have been happy to join up, but the plan encountered resistance in the form of her mother:

"Mama raised the roof so high you'd think a tornado had struck. She couldn't have been more disturbed if I'd been invited to Buenos Aires as a recruit for white slavery."