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.