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?