Friday, August 29, 2008

Promises, Promises

So, I promised you a glimpse into one of the weirdest books I've come across. But A New You by Gloria Richards, is not that book. The weird book will be up soon and you will not be disappointed. It's just difficult for me to select which images to scan for you, which sections to quote. I think I will get in trouble if I simply scan the entire book for your viewing pleasure.
So today, a gentler pleasure. You know how I love eccentric, or even batshit crazy beauty authors and their oddball suggestions. Well I also love another breed of author and book, one that could actually be described as... rather dull. These are the books that were sold up near the grocery and drug store checkout lines in the 80s of my childhood. Sometimes they weren't full-size books, but pamphlets.
The charm of these books lies in their all-inclusiveness. Almost all beauty books feel the need to have chapters on skin, hair, makeup, nails, exercise, diet, and wild card. That last one is sometimes sex, sometimes astrology, and sometimes Jesus.
You can see where the author's actual interest or knowledge lies because a couple chapters will be full of personal quirk and unexpected tips. Then the other chapters are made up of regurgitated common sense and eerily similar diet plans.
Gloria's book is soothing in its predictability. It's for Every Woman:
To be perfectly clear, my book is not for people who can go to Swiss clinics or spend half of every day in a beauty salon. My life hasn't been that way, and neither are the lives of most women. Most of us don't have an English nanny at home to watch the toddlers while we attend class. My diets are diets that real people can follow-- they don't require you to eat caviar and prime rib three times a day.

I find this refreshing. Many of the beauty books I adore recommend that very diet. Gloria continues this tone with a list of ways to squeeze fitness into your busy day:
Rub away-- after a shower or bath, towel yourself vigorously. That's exercise, too-- stimulating for muscles as well as skin.

Frankly that kind of thing is a lot more appealing than the horrifically detailed chapter on real exercise full of math and numbers and progress charts. But the reason I chose this book to share today is because Gloria touches upon several topics that will be featured in upcoming posts. Call it the Peculiar Beauty Fall Preview. Coming soon:

Style Personas So many beauty books insist that you classify yourself as a type, and the names authors choose for these types, as well as the accompanying illustrations are hilarious. Gloria keeps it pretty simple:
Basically there are two fashion types. If you've never made up your mind which one is you, that could explain the muddle you find when you open your drawers. There's The Classicist, and there's The Modern. The Classicist doesn't follow trends as much as she follows her own sense of what kinds of clothes will last. The Modern knows how to look up-to-the-minute by buying just a few pieces every so often that lend the latest look to her whole collection.

Many more esoteric types, and my own thoughts on this soon.

Contouring Oh god, the dirty, streaky cheekbone hollows of the eighties. A clever trick for the camera. An ill-advised misstep for the Monday morning conference room. But every beauty book of that era featured a how-to. Especially noteworthy is the one supplied by Morgan Fairchild, so look forward to that. Meanwhile, Gloria:
The commonest place for contouring color are just under the cheeks, along the nose, and under the chin. Experiment with brownish contouring color, remembering that the basic principal is: if you want to emphasize a feature, make it lighter. If you want to de-emphasize, make it darker. That means that contouring color would be good for that bump on your nose to minimize it just a bit, and for your double chin.

Would it really?

Passive-Exercise Machines These have been around for at least 150 years, range from vibration, to mild electrical shock, to devices that simply take your strapped-on limbs along for the ride. Seems like it's more entertaining to actually move, rather than just be shoved about. Gloria says:
Q: Isn't there any place I can go to have the bulges just jiggled off by machine?
A: Not the good health clubs. In my clubs there are no machines for "juggling it off." The plain fact is exercise is work. If you don't use muscles, they won't build up, and the fat won't go away. You might find it pleasant to be bounced around in some gimmicky machine, but don't kid yourself that it's helping to reshape your body, anymore than the Ferris wheel does

I was actually on the most expensive and modern of these machines, last year at a spa I reviewed. I'll tell you all about it.
Besides all this, and the super-weird book I keep dangling, we have to discuss wardrobe building, a whole bunch of Peculiar Beauties you haven't yet met and my favorite: the return of boot weather. August is almost over.
For those of you who are spending this holiday weekend on the beach, I have some last words of advice from Gloria:
If you get tired of hearing people call you "poor pale Pam," work out a new makeup routine that adds more color via foundation, cheek color, and contouring. Don't try to bake yourself in the sun all the time to get a "healthy" look, or they'll soon be calling you "poor old Pam."

Oh, Pam.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Being Goth in Florida Must Be Challenging

There's a Goth convention going on in Tampa this week. Humid heat can't be fun in a black corset, tights, lace-up boots, and cloak.
But Florida is probably the best place ever to be Goth. Looking different and getting stared at has always been half the fun, and no where is the contrast more intense. The Goth aesthetic is utterly at odds with the Miami Vice-like color scheme that Florida persists in keeping alive. Even brand new buildings are often painted coral and aqua. Most Floridians probably think those Goths just need a margarita, some Jimmy Buffet, and a little sun. Okay, a lot of sun.
They're just personifying the Sunshine State's very obvious dark side. I like to tell people Florida is like California in the 1970s, but without the cool factor. It's infested with cults, drugs, nudists, swingers, and wacky wind-chime artists. I miss it.
I wonder what my beauty experts of yore would have to say about this?
"Is it in good taste for young girls to wear black? The problem is merely one of whether or not black is becoming. Black is the most unbecoming color in the world, by and large. It takes the life and vitality from the wearer. It's the color of death. It's much easier to wear black when you're young and vital then when you are old and gray. I would say that the only reason for not wearing black is that it sometimes depresses other people. To the extent to which you are concerned with the feelings of others, you might say it was good taste not to go about depressing them."
--Elizabeth Hawes, Good Grooming (1942)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Get Fat for Jesus

Once again, I've been reading about religious standards of modesty in dress and grooming, and I just came across something that fascinates me on Segullah, an online literary magazine for LDS women.  This piece, The Ugly Mantle, begins:

"When first I was called to serve I had but two goals in mind:
1.) Get baptisms.
2.) Don’t gain weight."

When the writer worked as a missionary, a young man she was trying to bring into her faith fell in love with her.  Best I can make out, she chose to gain weight and thus become less attractive to other potential converts.

Other young women chime in with comments.  One writes that her mission slogan was, "Fat For Jesus."  (I've actually come across that slogan before, as an acronym for Faithful, Available, Teachable.)  The range of viewpoints on this issue is so interesting to me.  Some girls report that they gave up the notion of vanity while on mission, and others purposefully downplayed their attractiveness so as not to distract.  It amused me that others simply recalled their missions as times when they rapidly gained or lost weight due respectively to too much fast food on the road, or increased exercise walking door to door.

I went looking for more stories like this, and found a thread on Feminist Mormon Housewives  concerning the controversial issue of attractiveness within the religious community. 
"Why does the church buck it’s “in the world but not of the world” attitude when it comes to women’s body issues?"

As the discussion continues, people tell stories about girls who dressed inappropriately for church and proms and how this was handled.  Some women write about outdated rules for women's dress at their particular churches.  In one church, the wife of the president imposed a rule that all women had to wear pantyhose. I love the last line of this comment, written by a woman who didn't exactly embrace that particular rule:
"The members were quite startled and asked us why on earth we wore it in such heat. In fact, I’ve just recalled running out into a (somewhat secluded) field with my companion and stripping off our hose after church was over. Yet another occasion on which I failed to act with quiet dignity."

From now on, I'll just sum up two out of every three stories I tell with that line.

In other news, I found the most ridiculous, fantastic book yesterday and I am going to share it with you guys later.  The truth is, I am having trouble writing about it while maintaining quiet dignity.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Secrets of Sophia Loren's Beauty

I recently offered a vintage beauty book giveaway to welcome new readers and subscribers. Heather piped up right away, so I sent her prize off to Ontario.
I promised the book was by one of the world's most famous beauties, but wanted it to be a surprise. Now that Heather's received the book, I'll share it with you: Sophia Loren's Women and Beauty(1984).
This is a classic auto-beauty-ography. New around here? I'll explain. My favorite thing about beauty books is how much they reveal about their author's lives and thought processes. They go way beyond how-to and become deeply personal stories.

Like every good auto-beauty-ography, this one begins with Sophia confessing that she was an ugly duckling. Other kids called her a giraffe, and when she began acting:

After every screen test it was always the same story from the technicians: there is no way to make this girl look good-- her nose is too long and her hips too broad. And would I think about trimming of just a bit of my nose?

Sophia counts herself lucky that her vanity saved her from changing her appearance. That and discipline are the keys to beauty, she tells us:

Discipline is the great equalizer. If a young woman is beautiful but has no discipline, she will lose her looks as she grows older. If a plain woman is disciplined she will undoubtedly become more beautiful with time.

But even Sophia had an occasional tendency to let herself go:

Sometimes, with exercise for example, I avoid action until I am almost sick with guilt. Then at the last moment before I sink into despair, I give myself a sort of mental slap and say "OK, girl, you'd better get going right now or all is lost!"

Sophia introduces several sections by declaring her good fortune:
I am lucky with my skin because it is what is termed "normal"; that is, it is neither dry nor oily...
My weight has never been a problem for me. I have gained a few pounds for a time and then lost them again....

But even this renowned beauty covets what other ladies have:

I went to hear Barbara Streisand sing. I think her voice is very lovely, and I am a big fan of hers. After the concert I went backstage to congratulate her. The first thing I noticed is how beautiful her skin is-- absolutely radiant and glowing. I couldn't resist touching it, and when I put my palm to her cheek I found it was as soft as my baby Eduardo's.

Then Sophia moves on to practical advice. Please click to enlarge the awesome photo at left, used to illustrate this tip:
I always prefer a simple hairstyle, no matter how formal the occasion.
Oh you know, formal occasions like sequined visits to glittering caves of wonder. Wouldn't it be nice if next time someone rang your doorbell and you looked out the peephole, that is what you saw? Just a thought.

I think of the charcoal-rimmed, winged cat eye as Sophia's signature look. Seems she most commonly wore that dramatic eye with a nude lip, and I think it looked fantastic. But this book was published in 1984, and tragically, Sophia fell victim to the Complete and Finished Look. I'd say it's hard to make this woman look bad, but please click to enlarge the photo at left to see that it is not impossible.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on clothes which included this charming little story:

In order to have something to wear in those early days in Rome, something that would cost practically nothing and could be worn all day long and into the evening, and on every sort of occasion, I took my clothes, my navy skirt and white blouse, and dyed them black. Even my handkerchief became black. It was the only way I could think of to provide a versatile wardrobe at no cost. An it worked. I could go anywhere in my black clothes, and the simplicity of my appearance was very elegant.

So sweet. Unfortunately, this book encapsulates a rare misstep in fashion sense that rivals the makeup job above. She widely attributes her beauty to eating pasta and the Italian love of life. And yet, in an apparent tribute to the 1984 Los Angeles games, Sophia demonstrates her fitness routines in this outfit. Please click to enlarge.

Maybe you're already missing the Olympics today and you'll go easy on her. She got swept up, I know, but it's somehow disconcerting. The USA logos and headband just seem beneath her dignity.

I'll leave you with Sophia's stance on this fall's trends:
Purple is the only shade I never wear except as an occasional accent. It is too violent a color for me.

Are you a Brunette or a Brownette?

John Updike wrote an article for this week's New Yorker about Max Factor.  I'm looking forward to reading that and this book, mentioned in the article,  that calls Max, "the inventor of modern makeup."

I haven't opened the New Yorker yet this week and was pointed toward the article by Jezebel, which has posted a few adorable vintage ads for Max Factor makeup.  In one, lipstick colors are named for the haircolors they are meant to flatter:  Blonde, Brunette, Brownette, and Redhead.  The Jezebel writer, Dodai, is not familiar with the term, but I am.  In the days of yore, the term Brunette was reserved for ladies with only the very darkest shades of brown or black hair.  Brownette came after because there wasn't really a special term set aside for the medium-hued category.  I hear people referred to as blond(e)s or redheads often, but brunette isn't used as much anymore.  Personally I vacillate between shades of brownette and blonde, and definitely prefer my blonde with the 'e.'

Update:  even as I wrote, The Beauty Brains were throwing the term Brunette around with abandon.  And in a piece on DIY beauty versus mass-produced, no less.

The Miss Sister Pageant: surprisingly not for drag queens

A priest in Rome is organizing a beauty contest for nuns. 
"We are not going to parade nuns in bathing suits." he says.   He points out that physical beauty is a gift from God, and is setting up a blog to accept submissions.  Applicants are asked to include some information about themselves and their devotion.  I am imagining this done Playboy-centerfold style:

Meet our Sister September, Mary Catherine.  She enjoys contemplating the sacrifices made by the son of our Lord while washing her car in cut-offs and a cropped habit.  Sudsy!

I would love for the writer of Beauty Tips for Ministers to weigh in on this one, but she says she's off until September 1st.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Secrets of Dressing for $1 a Day

"...We are far more homogenous in our distinctively-printed designer knockoffs than we would be in simpler basics."

That's from a very nice piece by Sadie Stein on the true cost of the spangled crap we occasionally indulge in at stores like the one a friend of mine, in an attempt to preserve dignity, renamed Forever 35.
Regular readers know that I am working on replacing my habit of impulse buying with building a wardrobe of classics and basics. The current method has worked out better for my friend Molly than it has for me. She's about my size but differently shaped so she gets all my mistakes.
We all want flattering, well-made clothes that pay for themselves in number of wearings and reflect our unique style. How to accomplish this economically and artfully while maintaining a sense of social responsibility? Let's turn to Bea Danville, author of 1956's Dress Well on $1 a Day:

"If you are on the plump side, you will be amazed to find what a Scheherezade world is opened to you when you lose weight."

How rude, Bea! We're not talking about the Don't-Kid-Yourself Diet today, though we often do. Enough out of you. What we need are solid tips on how to stretch our wardrobe further. The 1935 tome How to Attain and Retain Beauty suggests easy ways to make one good dress do for multiple occasions:

"Deatchable sleeves are a good ruse for converting an afternoon frock into a dinner dress. The sleeves, which are kept in place by elastic run through the and slipped over the shoulder, are puled off as easily as a glove.
Another good dress transformation is a garden party frock that is also an evening gown... The over-dress is of net chiffon or organdie, and when this is removed a perfectly cut slip of heavy silk faille is revealed."

Very practical. Perhaps the best advice comes from Eve Nelson who wrote Take it From Eve in 1968.

"To me a good way to shop is to ask yourself two questions:
Do I really need it?
Do I really love it?
If you can answer 'Yes' to both, go to it, baby!"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Now You Can Wake Up Prettier

I'm exhausted, craving a nap and considering canceling my plans for this evening. Before I curl up, I should do a bit of prep work to ensure I wake not merely rested, but prettier:

"Heavy cream applied at night with a light, brisk, tapping of the finger ends will so tone the tissue of the face that light wrinkles evaporate. A round and round motion is likely to push the flesh upward toward the eyes, causing turkey tracks. While the cream remains n the skin, iron with ice. Say prayers and go to bed."
--Helen Follet Jameson, The Beauty Box (1931)

If I meet resistance to cancelling tonight, I can still squeeze in a disco nap, fully made-up, of course:

"Here is the big secret: take your foundation to bed for ten minutes. The move does more than refresh your bones. What happens is this-- the epidermis, or outer layer of skin, absorbs the foundation, causing a slight expansion of the skin and subsequently a temporary disappearance of tiny lines and wrinkles. For a long lasting finish, apply a second coat upon arising."
--John Robert Powers and Mary Sue Miller, Secrets of Charm (1954)

Perhaps I can continue to stay up through the wee hours writing, if I just establish a better routine to look fresher:

"The dark circles under the eyes are usually caused by an impairment of the chemical constitution of the blood or an impoverishment of the system by prolonged study, lack of sleep, or dissipation of any kind. External treatment is sometimes effective, but not permanent while the cause exists. Bathe frequently with cold water and use friction. A little turpentine liniment may be rubbed into the skin daily, or weak ammonia-- one part to four parts water-- care being taken to let neither get into the eyes."
--William A. Woodbury, Beauty Culture (1910)

But honestly, it's hard to get proper beauty sleep on my bed linens. They're of a lovely shade of lavender and decent thread count, but not as restorative as they could be:

"A very ancient and wonderful French manual, written some time during the seventeenth century asserts than linen bed sheets are pernicious to beauty, and recommends most urgently the use of chamois leather ones. Now, chamois leather has been used for many purposes, from a shoe to a card case, but it is only lately that it has been once more called into requisition for sheets. The idea originated with a lady whose skin was of marvelous delicacy, and who had made a careful study of the book in question. Chamois leather sheets are now becoming quite popular and women who use them travel about carrying with them their own sheets, smartly trimmed with colorful ribbons."
--The Marquise de Fontenoy, Eve's Gloassary (1897)

I'm surprised these sheets didn't experience popularity in the 1970's. Can't you imagine them on a round bed, perhaps a round water bed, in a bachelor pad with a disco ball and a wet bar that pops out when you pull the right book out of the faux bookcase?

In other bed-related news, I saw Bob and Ted and Carol and Alice last weekend for the fourth or fifth time and have things to say about the clothes and makeup. I will do that soon, but for now: the pajamas were incredible! Natalie Wood greets her husband after a business trip in pink-flowered babydoll pajamas. I love those, and distinctly remember going in the car for watermelon sherbet in a thunderstorm in my own pink pair when I was six. Oddly, wearing them made me feel grown-up. Guess that makes sense since I was, at the time, planning a future adulthood that included hot pink satin sheets.
For a different look, pay attention to Dyan Canon's pre-bedtime tantrum in the film. In this scene, she wears the most incredible confection of a nightgown. I'm trying to find a photo. The robe looks like about forty layers of chiffon and opens to reveal a matching white silk nightgown. But what really makes the outfit is the white Alice-in-Wonderland bow she puts in her hair merely for the trip from vanity to bed. With an ensemble like that, who'd notice if your face was not properly iced and ironed?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

China and That Extra Tenth of an Inch

You've got to read about the Olympic hostesses who are chosen on basis of their measurements, down to the width of their pupils.  They hone that perfect posture by standing, in heels, holding sheets of paper between their thighs.

Click to enlarge this fascinating measurement chart from 1923.  It is utterly devoid of leeway.  At my height, my upper arm had better be precisely ten and nine tenths of an inch or I've got some work to do.  Victoria Beckham's half inch seems downright lackadaisical.
When I first came across this chart  a few years ago, my friend Molly and I spent a hilarious hour with the tape measure.  We did it all: heads, necks, wrists, shins.  I had quite a few charts to work with from the past century.  
The past few decades have seen a big leap in laxity.  By today's charts, a person of my height is free to weigh between 119 and 149 pounds, depending on frame size.  But on the chart above, I should weigh 128 pounds, full stop. 
At the time of our measuring bonanza, I was quite thin.  I weighed substantially less than the dictated for my height but some of my measurements were larger.  "I don't understand," I said to Molly.  "How could I get smaller but be the same weight?"
We looked at each other blankly for a moment, then, "Oh.  Right.  Exercise."

via [Jezebel]


Zero Days Since

I've been re-reading the entire works of Helen Gurley Brown. God, I love this woman and her kooky brilliance. Last night's selection was 1964's Sex and the Office, in which she implies that you can get away with lots at work if you just try to be good most of the time:
"Here is the witching-costume of one Deborah Kerr type I know: fragile grey wool with wide bertha collar and deep V-neck. Nothing happens as long as she stands up. When she leans over, a man thinks he's won the Irish Sweepstakes, died and gone to heaven. Have a "joy dress" in your wardrobe but remember, you can only get away with it if you've been a lady for about 150 days running."

I can just imagine one of those tear off signs from factory scenes in movies (and perhaps in real factories?): 149 days since last trampy dress episode. Then Helen's friend come in and bends over. The office foreman sighs deeply and puts the sign back to "0 Days Since..."

One also gets some leeway when it comes to grooming:

"When you arrive at work in the morning, it's nice to be fully put together. In an emergency, however (you've washed your hair at six a.m. and need the extra thirty minutes of bus-time to help you get dried) you can arrive in curlers if they're under a big chiffon scarf so the effect is like that of a 1919 lady in a duster. The way you get away with this occasional casualness is by being an efficient, hard-working, dedicated girl worker who usually looks chic. That makes up for everything."

About seven years ago, I came in early to my new job in public radio and found my coworker, A, wearing nothing but a towel, her hair so soaked that water streamed down her face. She gestured frantically toward the phone. Something about clients. Something about the printers. I snapped out of my daze and sorted the emergency then returned to A for an explanation. She'd said she'd stayed the night before because of repairs at her own place. I had noticed the shower in the bathroom but where exactly she had slept? Oh, hadn't anyone told me? Our boss's ex-wife lived in the other half of the loft where we worked. She shared the kitchen and bathroom. She was out of town and A had borrowed her bed.
Unusual situation to be sure, but I got used to it. The ex-wife sometimes wandered from her side of the loft and deposited a small plate of blueberry pancakes on my desk. A head of rollers wouldn't have raised an eyebrow in that place.

Mimsy, Tuppence, Dandelion: Not the Jabberwocky

  • "They were lowering their cameras like speculums."  Kate Beckinsale makes fame sound like a horror movie.  No wonder she stays so fit.  It's George Masters' naked with forty cameras theory in action.  
  • Just read about the Botox breast lift, which works by paralyzing the pectorals so that the back muscles pull the shoulders and breasts back, and therefore up.  Sounds like it takes a lot more poison than eyebrows require.  But I'm sure it will all work out fine, la-la-la.
  • If you'd rather save your share of the $7 billion, just go back to basics.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Strangers of Note: Southern Belles on the Subway

Earlier this evening, four women with shopping bags got on the N train.  The two blondes were clearly mother and daughter, one in her twenties, one in her fifties.  The other two ladies were the mother's age.  As soon as they were seated, somebody said, "Ok, let's hear it: day one!"

The daughter launched into a head-to-toe outfit description.  I guess another trip is coming up.  Each took a turn running down outfits for days one through three.  Every single item listed had a label attached.  And these ladies knew each other well.  When one started, "the sleeveless knit..."  Another broke in with, "the white or the steel gray?"  

When that was settled, conversation turned to gossip.  Seems an aquaintance had been quoted in Atlanta Life Magazine saying, "I don't keep up with the Joneses; I am the Joneses." Eyebrows were raised.

Then the redhead ventured, "I might get my hair... touched up before we go."   A look passed around the group as she continued, "I did it myself this time.  I don't know if you noticed.  I used Miss Clairol-- can you believe it?"  She forged on, a bit defensive.  "I've just been so tired since...  I was too tired, even to go in and get my hair done. Does it look....?"

One friend finally answered, "It's just.. brighter."

Makeover Power

I've told you before that I love stories of makeovers triggering life change.  Beyond the confidence that comes from getting in shape, finding your colors, or trying a new look, beauty industry jobs are often a way into the economy for women who don't have access to education.  
Here is a wrenching story in the LA Times about Masarrat Misbah, a Pakastani salon owner who hired and trained abuse victims, and then started a foundation to help them get reconstructive surgery.  
Do you know about Kiva?  It's a site that hooks up micro-lenders with poor, working entrepreneurs.  A lot of women on the site, in many countries, are seeking tiny loans to get beauty-based businesses off the ground.  
This is Mary Christopher, from Tanzania.  She started a hair salon four months ago and has been working her butt off.  I just made a loan of $25 through PayPal, toward the total amount of $275 that she is seeking to purchase more supplies. Would any of you like to join me in supporting Mary?  It's very easy to do, and when we are repaid, we can choose someone new to help.  I am going to put Mary in my sidebar and keep you guys updated on her progress.  If just seven more people lend $25, Mary will have her full loan amount.  If you do decide to join in, please let me know.  

In addition to her carrer on stage and screen, my muse, Edna was also a beauty entrepreneur.  Click the picture at right for some more makeover power.

Here are a couple other famous beauty entrepreneurs we'll talk more about later:


  • Another Lohan hits puberty, and again the nation reacts with shock and accusations.  Jeez people.  Sometimes they just come on quick.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More Tips From the Don't-Kid-Yourself Diet

In case we spent this weekend kidding ourselves:

"You have only to look at one of the most beautiful women in the world-- Elizabeth Taylor-- when she is twenty pounds overweight (as she occasionally is) and compare her to the goddess she is when she is sleeked down to a size ten. Even her beauty can't survive runaway fat."
--Helen Gurley Brown, Sex and the Single Girl (1962)

Now before you jump to Ms. Taylor's defense, I'd argue she'd agree with HGB. I've written here before about her weight-loss auto-beauty-ography, Elizabeth Takes Off. She had a very firm opinion about her ideal weight (123 pounds to be exact). She may slip up, she may try to distract the eye with a few diamonds, but I don't believe she kids herself.

HGB continues:
"The glandular dodge is out. Doctors find that behind nearly every fat person lies a history of compulsive, secretive eating. A dear friend of mine who was supposedly 'glandular' was actually bolting a quart of chocolate ice cream every day after work before dinner.
Even women fresh from childbirth have proved they can be slim again quick.
Where can you hide?
Take it off and you won't have to."

Why do I love this stuff so? It's a tougher breed of self-love. Have you really accepted those extra pounds or are you-- say it with me-- kidding yourself? Take yourself in hand, HGB and these other voices from the past command.

Here are two modern gals that don't kid themselves. Debra lost 25 pounds in a month by refusing to kid herself, and Mary knows you know, but thinks you may need to hear it again.

In a later chapter, on dating, HGB further clarifies the point:

"... you must at least create the illusion of beauty by acting beautiful.
You don't have to lie your head off and say I am, I am, I am when you know damn well you aren't-- a stunner. But you must love yourself enough to employ every device... voice, words, clothes, figure, make-up... to become one."

I guess now is when I should tell you not to take it to extremes, etc. But I tire of modern moderation. So, tell me ladies, do you feel inspired or abused?


Friday, August 15, 2008

Evelyn Nesbit: the Mark of a Beauty

"Plain girls are the happiest."
--Evelyn Nesbit

I am reading Paula Uruburu's spectacular biography, American Eve Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century. Evelyn began posing for artists and photographers when she was a child, before going on stage as a Florodora girl (just like my muse, Edna). She then found herself at the center of one of this country's most infamous murder trials. Joan Collins played Evelyn in a film about the events, Girl on a Red Velvet Swing.

The book is saturated with quotes from Evelyn's memoirs, letters and testimony, and she comes off as modern and savvy, brilliant in her observations of her surroundings and (many) suitors. I love biographies that strike the right balance of history and juicy personal anecdote. This one is so scandalous: velvet-covered, hidden lairs with mirrored ceilings for under-aged mistresses, clandestine surgeries in boarding school classrooms, and perhaps best of all, little beauty stories.

When Evelyn is yanked from her life as a chorus girl and sent briefly to a girls' school, she helps her new classmates concoct cosmetics using whatever they can find. In another passage, a young suitor vividly demonstrates the beauty of Evelyn's lips by floating two rose petals in a glass of milk at a restaurant. There are countless careful descriptions of her silk dresses, done up with tiny pearl buttons, and this:

"She wrote to him every day from her hotel room and kept his responses in a silk-lined tufted pink jewelry box, already stuffed with expensive hatpins from Tiffany, a small hand-painted compact full of fashionable faux beauty marks, and theatrical baubles bought on lower Broadway."

I've been meaning to tell you about faux beauty marks. But I'll let Mrs. H.R. Haweis do it. She was a beauty authority and the genius responsible for the quote you find at the bottom of each page on this blog, "A Woman is most beautiful when she is most herself and least aware of it." The following is from her 1878 book, The Art of Beauty:

"The patch, as it first came it, was one of the most harmless and effective aids to beauty ever invented. t was but a tiny, mole-like black spot of black velvet or silk, which was used to draw attention to some particular feature, as well as to enhance, by contrast, the fairness of the cheek. Thus, if a girl was conscious of a pretty dimple on her chin, or of long eyebrows; or if her forehead formed the best part of her face, or her mouth-- she cunningly placed the little patch near it, and consequently every time you looked at her your eye was insensibly drawn by the patch to the best feature, so that you partly forgot any less handsome detail. To an accustomed eye, the patch gives a singular finish to the toilet; it is like a the seal on a letter or the frame to a picture. You see the grey powdered curls and the bright eyes, and the low luxurious bodice, and the ribbon necklet around the throat-- ad if the patch is absent, it is instantly missed, and the whole toilet seems incomplete. This craft little piece of vanity was afterwards vulgarized of course... the tiny round spot was transformed into a star or a crescent, that increased in size and multiplied in number-- blind vanity forgot that in trying to draw attention to all her features at once, she drew attention to non; and, later on, it ran to such absurd extremes that ships, chariots, and horses, and other devices in black paper, began to disfigure the female visage, and at last the whole face was bespatted with vulgar shapes, having no meaning, unless sometimes a political one, and of being of no value to beauty whatever."
--Mrs. H. R. Haweis

Evelyn would had her little box of patches about fifteen years after the fad Mrs. Haweis describes. Gray-powdered curls would have been terribly out of date by then. I believe that cartoon-shape madness took place more in London than in New York. By Evelyn's time they were used more sparingly, and I imagine they were more popular with actress types. Faux beauty marks were probably one of the beauty tricks that dazzled her schoolmates.

I'm only about two-thirds through the book, and I'll be sad when it's over.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

10 Weirdest Vintage Workout Videos

Recently I decided to get in shape and immediately injured my knee running. Now I am doing Pilates DVDs at home but they really lack the flair of these vintage clips. The only one missing is what was never recorded on video: my elderly middle school gym teacher, Elvira Lynch, leading us in freestyle aerobics to Laura Branigan's Gloria.

1. It's Simple, Darling with Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa comes just short of begging her ham-armed trainer for a Happy Ending with lines such as, "I've never been on my knees for a man before!"

2. Heather Locklear Your Personal Workout
Heather sports a fuchsia mock-turtleneck leotard and devastating haircut. God, the crotches on leotards of this era just look so...pointy.

3. Warm Up With Traci Lords
Traci leads a workout targeted to a very specific muscle group, while hypnotically chanting transition, transition. But what caught my eye were the wee banana-colored slippers she wears to match her Lycra. She went on to put out a second video, Advanced Jazzthetics.

4. Bodyflex
This nice lady and all her hair offer a workout of maniacal deep breathing that is clearly based on the movements involved in snorting lines of cocaine off of a leopard's back.

5. Alyssa Milano's Teen Steam
There's a palpable feeling of animosity between Alyssa and her "friends" as they work out in her "bedroom" together, but the highpoint is mid toe-raise when the girls break into a rap about calf muscles.

6. Jazzercise: Arthur's Theme
If you liked Move Your Boogie Body, you'll love this under-appreciated monstrosity. The sad, lonely song is an unexpected backdrop for shrieking Judi Sheppard Missett, who at one point (3:33), begins to speak in tongues. The climax occurs as she leads her minions to flap their arms like rabid geese, and screams "We're never gonna get caught between the moon and New York City, we can fly anywhere we want!"

7. Cher Fitness Body Confidence
In this infomercial for Cher's workout video, people are paid to rave "Cher is marvelous!" "Cher was making people laugh!" The exercises are done with some sort of colorful resistance band but never mind that, just enjoy this showcase of Cher in workout wear that ranges from Goth to light bondage.

8. Barbie Dance Workout
Barbie's attorneys worked overtime; the endless scrolled disclaimers and warnings that start this clip left me incredulous but are well worth watching. You'll be duly rewarded by the creepy animontronic Barbie intro. The second the live kids begin hopping about, yet another warning pipes in by voice over demanding the fitness-minded children hydrate themselves.

9. Get in Shape Girl Workout Bar
Get in shape girl, you love the feeling! Get in shape girl, it's so appealing! I think I went to high school with one of the girls in this. It's awesome for the edgy 80's attitude the girls try their best to show, and for the pink, plastic, purchasable American Girlhood displayed. The bar comes with tutu, leg warmers, head and wrist bands, cassette tape and instruction posters!

And finally, in requiem:

10. Estee Getty's Young at Heart
"One day I said to myself, 'Estelle, you're dumpy, you're out of condition, and you're also ridiculously short.'" Estelle and friends take themselves in hand using walls and fake mantles as props in this retirement community living room. Aw, even aerobics won't ensure eternal life. Or make you any taller.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Welcome New Readers and Who Wants a Present? You?

If Gretchen Rubin sent you from The Happiness Project, welcome! And I just realized (I'm new at this) that I have a bunch of new subscribers, so welcome to all of you, too. If you would like to subscribe, here you go. You should be able to use any reader you like. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I love it when you write to me and introduce yourselves or ask for beauty advice.

I often refer to my adored collection of beauty books as auto-beauty-ographies. The authors tell highly personal stories in the guise of how-to. Reading Gretchen's blog, I realized that one of many things I love about the books is that often, the authors tell of how they rebuilt themselves and their lives from the outside in; makeovers are their Happiness Projects. Here are a few quotes on beauty for happiness:

"We have all heard women who declared that, 'The sense of being well dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.' Courage and clothes have so much to do with one another. A well-ordered dress helps to put one at leisure from one's own self. The ease of it, the sense of fitness it induces, prepare the mind for the right attitude of courtesy to others."
--Francis Mary Steel and Elizabeth Livingston Steele Adams, Beauty of Form and Grace of Vesture (1892)

"A beautiful mind irradiates and gives loveliness. You can cultivate it. Wipe out from your mind all thoughts and ideas not in keeping with true beauty, for on the face are often written the thoughts and ideas that run through you, and if they are ugly and undesirable you can be pretty sure you are not conveying to the world a happy, kind and lovely face."
--How to Attain and Retain Beauty (1935)

"Yellow has always been a happy color for me and I wear a lot of it."
-- Barbara Walden, Easy Glamour 1981

And remember, it goes both ways.

Something happened yesterday that made me very happy. A new reader offered to mail me a special vintage pamphlet she has lying around that "needs a good home." I'll save the topic and surprise you later, but needless to say, I will give that pamphlet the very best home. Now I want to make one of you happy with a present! I have a duplicate of a beauty book, by one of the world's most famous beauties, that I'm doing a piece on soon. The very first one of you to pipe up in comments gets the book mailed to you. So come on, who wants a present?

Go For the Complete Finished Look

This is Megan. She modeled for Carole Jackson's 1987 follow-up, Color Me Beautiful MakeUp Book. She is featured here just in case her loved ones haven't been giving her enough crap about this for the past twenty-one years. Megan is a perfectly lovely woman under the hair and all, but if she was my friend, I'd dress up like that every Halloween to lovingly torment her.
The makeovers in this book seem to run on the theory that one should use every color of their personal seasonal palette on their face every day.

"I urge you to go for the complete finished look. A dash of hurriedly applied blush and lipstick is OK for the tennis court, but for the rest of life, it's not enough. Whether at the office, a party, or among friends and family, you're cheating yourself from looking your beautiful best if you don't take the few minutes it requires each morning to achieve a natural but but "complete" look. You'll look more polished, more elegant, more professional, and you'll feel better about yourself too. You deserve all the compliments that come your way!"

At left, Nancy has gone overboard with under-eye concealer, but displays stunning hair and earring geometry.

The eighties were astounding in the sheer amount of makeup applied. Soon, I'll do a post on cheekbone contouring alone. 

If you do take Ms. Jackson's advice, like Doreen here, you'll need to acquire a big load of products. The book recommends getting a clear plastic "cosmetic organizer." Remember those? But to maintain your Complete Look while traveling, here's a tip from Julia Allison, in an interview on Beauty Blogging Junkie:

"Julia 'can't operate out of a bag,' so she always packs a frisbee in her luggage to use as a makeup tray on which to place her cosmetics. Genius!"

This is not to imply that Julia's look resembles those above.

Breaking: I just tried to access Carole Jackson's site for more research and received the following error message: Your page is blocked due to a security policy that prohibits access to category Glamour & Intimate Apparel. I'm using the wireless at a cafe, but clearly I can never write here again. Approximately 60% of the sites I visit probably fall under that category. You know how often I write about underwear.

A Sigh for Lovely Little Yang Peiyi

You know the story. And you know the story:

" Many plain, unattractive, homely girls had been closely observed by my Mother. Many had told her of the bitterness and heartaches that were theirs-- of the envy of the beautiful girls who were given, without seeking, all the favors they so vainly craved."
--Edna Wallace Hopper, My Secrets of Beauty and Health (1925)

"A girl's appearance can often mean the difference between success and failure in life's many roles."
--Wendy Ward Charm Book (1972)

"The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people."
-- Chen Qigang, musical director of the Olympics opening ceremony (2008)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Color Me This

"Before I had my colors, I spent five years trying to buy a wool pantsuit."
--Carole Jackson, Color Me Beautiful (1984)

Most colors look odd on me. I'm happiest in dark neutrals: black, chocolate, navy, or in white. Over time I've learned that the two most flattering colors on me are deep purple and bright turquoise, colors I am not naturally inclined towards. There's always been a certain type of woman who wears a lot of purple. Perhaps she's deeply into astrology and batik. She wears what I like to call coffee-table jewelry: over-sized, colorful, heavy. But so be it. Purple, I thought, is best used sparingly. I slowly acquired a handful of purple items, and the color grew on me.

And now this. Purple has become The It Color. I hate wearing The It Color, but more than that I hate, hate when something I consider a signature becomes a trend. My sister and I have huge, matching red wool ponchos that we both adore and plan to wear for the rest of our lives. They are very Little Red Riding Hood, and not for wearing often, but perfect in the country or for the movies (like a big cozy blanket). They are also good for a few select days in the city each year with boots. Late in October, one of us calls the other one and announces (in a fake Scottish accent, but that's another story) It's time!
We were very disgruntled a few years ago when poncho-mania hit. Do you remember? Every second girl on the street wore a shaggy crocheted throw. I put mine in storage. When something is an It item for a season or two, it leaves a bad aftertaste for another couple years. Instead of looking like a unique or daring choice, it just looks dated.
So what to do about the purple? I still hold that it is not a color that should ever be done head-to-toe. But I'm not going to be able to give up my lavender glass ring.

When I was a child, my best friend and I poured over Color Me Beautiful like it was a religious text. Her mother was a Mary Kay lady and had redone her basement into a venue for hosting makeover parties. We spent about 90% of our free time meddling in the cosmetics, and asking each other questions prescribed by Carole Jackson such as:

Am I really terrific in ivory, camel and golden browns (Spring) or am I better in navy, pure white, and dark colors (Winter)?

We thought I was probably a spring, but inside I suspected that I was the dreaded Autumn, doomed to wear the shades of forest and rust seldom admired in my fourth grade classroom.

As a courtesy to me, and to Carole Jackson, please ignore that in the above photo, the seasonal models seem to be wearing the same colors, with adjusted lighting. Just believe.

I bought I copy of Color Me Beautiful on E-bay a few years ago when I was doing research for my book. On the second of January that year, I went to meet a friend for coffee and leafed through my newly received book while I waited. She found me there, in public, with my hair in two ponytails, wearing an old waffle-knit top and no makeup, reading Color Me Beautiful. She pointed out that since the year had just begun I looked like I was fulfilling a New Year's resolution to find my colors and make myself over. Just research, I tell you. This started a game that we play every time we are in a bookstore together called The Most Embarrassing Book to Read on the Subway. For example.

But finding ones colors is no laughing matter. Carole Jackson's childhood was rendered Dickensian by the wrong pastel:

While the powder blue uniform required at my school made some of the girls look great, it did nothing for me. It in fact made me look gray, dull, and lifeless. The color of that daily uniform robbed me of some potentially good feelings about myself well into adult life.

Back in my childhood, I remember listening intently to a conversation between a couple of the Mary Kay ladies. One of their own had become confused and was teaching customers to wear colors that contrasted with their natural coloring, rather than enhance it. She must be stopped, was the consensus, but how to approach it with tact?

Her mistake does not surprise me. The system is baffling and I do not fit one clean type. Apparently Carole Jackson has become somewhat more open-minded with her approach. Turns out she and the Color Me Beautiful System are still going strong, and the four seasonal types have been expanded and divided with with helpful subtypes such as Soft and Clear. There is also a line of cosmetics.

Perhaps after I invite the ladies over for that Bible Beauty party, we should have our colors done. Who's with me?