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)