Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back At The Fat Farm, In High Heels

You know how charmed I am by the exercisers of yore doing it in street clothes instead of spandex, but this just makes my day.  Pushups in heels! 

I'm still knee deep in the LIFE archives and I found these photos, taken in 1938 by Alfred Eisenstaedt, of Rose Dor Farms, a "reducing school for women."

You know how everyone always wonders why old insurance height/weight charts allowed for two-inch heels?  This is why: nobody ever took their heels off!

Another view.  Of the shoes, people.  Look at the shoes.

Here's a "student" at the farm.  Click to enlarge and check out the gal's t-shirt graphics, zippered corduroy shorts, and pin curls. I bet her image is tattooed on some sailor's bicep.

This epically flattering shot was captioned thusly, "Women doing exercises to reduce of their hips and 'widow's humps' (which form at back of neck)..."

Personally, I prefer the more PC term, Dowager's Humps.

Lipstick, 1945: A Triptych

I'm rooting around in LIFE magazine's newly available photo archive.  I suggest you do the same.

Nina Leen was one of LIFE's first female photographers and became well-known for her photos of animals, especially bats.  

I love these pictures from 1945.  This was apparently an innovative way to try on lipstick colors, and I think it would have worked out better if the paper had been transparent.  

I love the size and shape difference here, but it's the very serious looks that really make these shots.

To conclude, I'll show you the photographer herself.  Here is Nina Leen applying lipstick to a model before photographing her. There's something sinister about this image.  It could almost be a spooky film still.  Doesn't the model look like a corpse, and Nina a mortician preparing her for viewing?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grace Kelly at the Fat Farm

So, continuing with Princess Luciana Avedon's The Beautiful People's Diet Book. Today I came across a passage that just begs to be blogged, considering my recent post. From the chapter, Weighing In at the Fat Farm:

"Vera Maxwell keeps a small painting done by Prince Rainier in the living room of her New York apartment. Three fat ladies walk toward a green house in the middle of the painting. On the other side of the house the same three ladies, nude, light as air, are flying on angel wings. The prince gave it to the designer as a souvenir of the two-week cure she took with Princess Grace and her sister at Neiman-Marcus's Greenhouse in Dallas, Texas.
"I think we both lost more inches than pounds-- I lost only four pounds," says Mrs. Maxwell. "I remember Fleur Cowles was there, and the first night Grace and I were so starved we ate the parsley off her plate. We still had hunger pains the second night, not realizing that you could call down and have skimmed milk sent up."
"You soon get used to it. We were on neither maintenance nor minimum diet; we had 1,000 calories per day, and the food-- what there was of it-- was marvelous. We had fish and meat only twice a week, but there were endless, beautiful souffles (made with broccoli or lobster or apricot and using one yolk to three egg whites)...
"The only thing we really didn't like was that we couldn't find a place to take a walk. Despite all the exercise, you long to get out for a quiet stroll. In Texas they've got nothing but roads with cars coming at you. Grace and I gave up--the closest we came to nature was getting stuck on the sandy 'soft shoulders' on the side of the road."

I cannot tell you how much I relished this story. Commemorative art work of Princess Grace's fat farm visit? In which she and friends are depicted as fat ladies? If you can find me that painting, I will marry you, even if you are not the prince of Monaco.

And that last image haunts me: the glamorous American princess, stranded beside a road in Texas, sustained only by a sliver of apricot souffle, unrecognized as traffic rushes past.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Exit Fat City Quick, Before You Marbelize Like a Steak!

"The five-pound limit turns out to be less fanatic than it seems. There is a physiological reason why it is easier to lose weight as soon as it is gained.
Any medical student knows this. The explanation goes that when you first put on weight, the fat is still 'soft' and high in water content. That is the time to lose it, before the body gets a chance to assimilate it. If you keep ten to fifteen pounds overweight on you for a year, it becomes part of the muscle structure. In other words, it marbelizes, as in fat steak, and is much harder to lose."

This is, of course, another brilliant quote from Luciana Avedon's The Beautiful People's Diet Book. But I prefer to picture it as something she proclaimed while wearing the outfit pictured at left. She proclaimed it, and then she reclined back against that sculpture to show off her best side, her spectacular hair, her bangles, and her excellent white pants.

As I told you, the Princess' thoughts on obesity, though written in the early 1970's, seem awful timely. No, not the one above, that one just feels true. In this selection from the chapter entitled, Exit Fat City, we see what has changed since she wrote, and that she seemed to sense the coming epidemic:

"There is no social stigma attached to overeating. No coroner ever writes that the cause of death was obesity. Your favorite poison is available without prescription at the local grocer's, where, as long as you can pay, no one will ever refuse to serve you.

... Even the airlines, while insisting their flight personnel keep trim, do not dare weigh passengers with their baggage, though I think that would be a lovely idea. Why should I pay for thirty pounds of excess baggage when the man sitting next to me does not pay a cent for his fifty pounds of excess flesh...
Mind you concern about the threat of obesity to health and performance is growing. .. First and foremost, the insurance companies give the obese a hard time. They have been doing it for decades, though I cannot say, looking around me in public, that their strictures have cut much lard.

... Obesity curtails the pleasure, fun, and adventure of life itself. While awaiting all those dreadful, often fatal diseases to which obesity makes you prone, you huff and puff, ... creak at the joints, hate to undress for sex, and are the brunt of even your closest friends' jokes and supposed jollities, which make you shrivel inside-- but not on the surface where shrinking is needed."

I know, I know. Now you're angry with the Princess. But please consider that she fought the battle against fat everyday, fully believing she'd turn hippo if she relaxed for a moment. And also consider that just recently, the very thin and vigilant Princess exited our Fat City and (fat) world forever.

Like it or not, more from the Princess soon. She turns out to be surprisingly reasonable in her suggestions for those with true weight problems. She recognizes that a severe struggle with weight takes a lot to overcome, unlike a ten-pound fluctuation. That is to be dealt with, as you know by now, by dancing and yogurting.

*scanned photo, courtesy of the adored Donna Lethal*

Peculiar Beauty on Oprah

No, not me.
Alert reader Sheila wrote to say that Oprah did a show today about unusual beauty standards and practices around the world.  Go here for a bunch of great clips (I of course just watched them all).

The lady at left is wearing a hejab that reminds me of pediatric-ward scrubs.  She hails from Mauritania, a country in Africa, where young girls are force-fed to achieve the national standard of big, plump womanly beauty.  When Oprah heard this, she broke into There's a Place For Us, from West Side Story.  That is me reporting what happened, not me making a lame joke.

 The segment on Japanese women featured two things I have heard a lot about this year: nightingale-poop facials and collagen-based foods (like cow-neck tendon) for lovely skin.  A restaurant devoted to that cause opened recently in NYC.  Lots of pigs feet.

I learned several things I did not know from these clips:

1.  Indonesian women wrap their midsections tightly in 20 meters of fabric to regain their shapes after giving birth.  This makes so much sense to me that I can't believe most other women don't do it.

2.  Iran is the "nose job capital of the world."  Really?

3.  The most desired hair for extensions comes from temples in India.  Worshippers shave their heads as part of a ritual offering to please the gods.  The temples earn 18 million a year selling the hair.  Apparently Chris Rock is in India doing a documentary on this "Temple Hair."  What?

I can now say with confidence that not just me but all humans are utterly obsessed with weird beauty stuff.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rare Bird


I wrote about an enchanting twelve year-old style blogger.  A lot of other people wrote about her too, and then I read on her blog that she was overwhelmed by the unwanted attention.  So I've taken down the link.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Digital Love Affairs Continue

Two of my favorite bloggers have posts today that I feel came from my own brain:

Tramp On a Friday Night: Tips from The Beautiful People's Diet Book

There are the cheetahs of the world and the hippopotami. Much to my chagrin, I was built for the herd-- one year of negligence and you would find me by the riverbank, shifting my bulk in a vast hippopotamus sprawl!

I've been re-reading the late princess' second book. You'll notice her name here is Luciana Avedon (there were marital changes between books), but to me she will always be royalty.

Diligently anti-hippo, Luciana is eager to share wisdom from all her glamorous and skinny friends:

"I'm a happier person when I'm thinner," says bright, pretty Jori Pepper... I'm surer of myself. When you wake up heavy, all you want to do is roll over and go back to sleep."

Regular readers know I love this kind of frank talk. Nowadays Ms. Pepper would probably have claimed that her goal was to feel great about herself at any weight. Here another beautiful pal chimes in with her routine for staying slim. I love the end of this passage:

As much as possible, I go to a dance studio where one does a half hour's exercises to jazz; the teacher then improvises and one tries to follow the steps without knocking too many people down. It's a hangout for all sorts of types-- a fabulous, scruffy, huge, and well-lit studio. And there's Tramp on a Friday night: jeans and easy shoes. You dance solidly for three hours and you lose four or five pounds.

Luciana was nothing if not thorough, and she was no snob. She went wherever she needed to go to get the dieting truth:

"When I was last in Paris, I went backstage at the Crazy Horse Saloon to see what the strippers thought about dieting. The four girls I talked with, Bonita, Capsula Pop, Franca Torpedo, and Madlena, were all in their twenties, an age when on tends to take the body beautiful for granted. "

Turns out the strippers existed mainly on fruit, protein and yogurt, as did most of Luciana's friends:

"When I have a weight problem," Merle Oberon says, "rather than cut down on everything, I simply live on yoghurt, raisins, and almonds for a day or two. I add vitamins and protein powder to the yoghurt.
"I don't diet, but buying larger clothes is such a bore that when I'm a few pounds over, I prefer to eat less." says Fiona Campbell Thyssen, former cover girl. "When one day of only fruit, one day of only meat, and one of salads doesn't do the trick, I get by on honey and yoghurt. Or if I'm desperate, I just stop eating and lose those extra pounds that are making my clothes hang wrong."

I have to say it again! If a diet book writer asked a current cover girl about her eating habits, the girl could be walking around with an IV drip and she's still claim three meals plus healthy snacks and thrice weekly desserts. A few years back, beautiful people were proud to announce their adherence to the The Don't-Kid-Yourself Diet.

Tomorrow, I'll let Luciana tell you what she thinks of the current obesity epidemic. Yes, she wrote about it decades before it actually happened but I think you'll find her thoughts quite timely.

"Buying larger clothes is such a bore."

This is Fiona Campbell (Walter) Thyssen, the "cover girl" quoted in the last post.  Cecil Beaton took the portrait and we are going to have to talk about him more very soon.  
I don't know much about Fiona, but she appears to have been a Baroness at some point.  The norm in Luciana's crowd.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Story of My Bitter Defeat

I told someone this story recently and thought maybe you'd like it too:

In fourth grade, my teacher announced that we'd be putting on a show about Famous American Historical Figures.  She had us turn to the back page in our history textbook for a list from which to choose our roles in the production.  

My eye fell upon the name Grace Kelly.  The most glamorous option by a mile.  The teacher made her way around the room, noting everyone's choice on the clipboard.  I saw it would be a while before she got to me but I wasn't worried; I was fairly certain that none of my other female classmates were Hitchcock fans.  They probably didn't even know who she was!  I'd watched Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief over and over with my grandmother, late at night on holidays.

By the time the teacher came around, I was already thinking of my mother's vintage 1950s prom dresses.  I'd pair one with my white Easter gloves.  It would be glorious!

"Oh," said my teacher.  "I didn't realize that name was on the list.  She isn't an appropriate choice.  This play is about American History."

"She was American,"  I said.  "She only moved to Monaco later, to marry a prince."

"No," said the teacher.  "Not her."

"But she was on the list!"

  "No."  It was her final answer.  "You can be...  let me see who is left...  George Washington.  You'll be George Washington."  

 I stayed home sick from school the next week and I wasn't even faking.  The role ahead literally sickened me.  But the illness did not last quite long enough.  Eventually, my mother and I lopped off a pair of gray Sassoon pants at the knee and hemmed them to make historic knickers.  Then we pinned cotton balls into my hair for a white wig.  And then, I stepped miserably into the spotlight and spoke, as a Founding Father.

If any elementary school classmates are reading and have pictures of this performance, know that I am coming for you in the night.  And I will take you down like a cherry tree.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Last Picture Show

I just looked at this spooky list of last photographs taken of people before they died.  Take a look if you have a taste for the dark, the sad, and the historical.  I do.  

This is said to be the last photo of Marilyn Monroe, but take that with a grain of salt.  I've previously heard that Lawrence Schiller took the last picture and the shoot I referred to here is also often named as her last.  I like them all.  The black turtleneck and pale stilettos here just kill me.  And Sadie, look at those pants!

On My Favorite Color, and Threesomes

My sister and I spent years of our childhood obsessed with the 1982 movie Summer Lovers
in which Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher frolic  around the Greek Isles with a French girlfriend.  I guess we thought it would reveal the secrets of our debaucherous futures: naked sunbathing, olive oil fights, tangled sheets everywhere.  You know, everyday adulthood.
I recently watched the film again and found it delightful.  While I've lost all interest in polyamory, I do want to stay in a carved white house on a cliff by the sea.

But all of this is really a preamble to tell you about my favorite color which I refuse to call merely pink.  My favorite color is faded red.  The above frame, taken right before Daryl and Peter extend the confines of their relationship, demonstrates two versions of the color I love.  And of course the digital photo of my television screen barely does it justice.  When perfectly executed, the color is deeply fleshy.  Kind of lip-colored.  Nantucket red is also good, but usually only available as a canvas tote bag or pair of men's pants.
In other films of the 70s through the early 80s, I've often noticed people wearing just the perfect t-shirts in various faded reds.  The only good thing about the faux-retro tee thing that went around for a few years was that red t-shirts were available, pseudo-faded.
I have even bought red articles of clothing thinking, this will be really good in about five years.  Sometimes the affect is achieved by weaving red and white threads together in a fabric.  My living room curtains are like that.  When guests call them pink, I correct, pale red.
I should start experimenting with bleach.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Beauty exists, and it’s unevenly distributed."

Last year I read an article in the Atlantic by Virginia Postrel about the current push of we are all beautiful, just as we are.  The author protested that beauty is actually a mathematical thing, measurable by science, recognizable even by infants.  
And yesterday I read about this "beauty machine," which morphs photographed facial features to closer approximate those mathematical ideals.

I often think about how nowadays we seem to describe all woman as beautiful, almost by default.  How do I look?  Beautiful.  May I set you up with my friend?  She's beautiful!  
Yes, there is a lot of image-related pressure around, and no I don't want anyone to feel bad about themselves, but honestly I think we're going in the wrong direction.  In my vintage-beauty library, true beauty was seen as a rare gift until recently.  Words like attractive and nice-looking were as good as it was going to get for most.  Pretty was doled out economically in fact.  It was common knowledge that most people were more gifted in areas other than looks.  

Feathers often ruffle at the thought of beauty not as a shift in attitude but as cold fact.  But maybe it could relieve pressure.  Because right now it seems like if a woman does not find herself and all other women physically beautiful, something must be wrong with her self-image.  
I was just talking to an anonymous friend about her struggle to accept a certain aspect of her appearance.  She said she wanted to get to a place where she could walk around thinking, "I'm_______ and that's great!" I asked her if there is not something beyond that.  What if the goal was not to see ourselves as beautiful, but to stop constantly describing ourselves?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Princess Luciana Pignatelli: I Believe in Dazzle

"I believe in dazzle and in learning all the tricks and flourishes that can make a woman glamorous."

This week we'll be spending time with Princess Luciana Pignatelli: royalty of confusing origin, and author extraordinaire of several auto-beauty-ographies. I've been meaning to write about her for a while, and just now I read on Donna Lethal's site that the Princess recently died. But I'm not sure that is confirmed.

The Princess is popular. Donna considers her a muse (the way I feel about Edna), and an Appreciation Society has formed on Flickr. She was last seen in 2003 by Mary Tannen.

This, her first book, published in 1970, begins with the Princess's theory on looks:

"A few times every century, a great natural beauty is born. I am not one of them. But what nature skipped, I supplied-- so much so that sometimes I cannot remember what is real and what is fake. More important, neither can anyone else."

The Princess, it seems, had humble beginnings:

"I was a lump, and everyone knew it. To compound the dreariness, my parents sent me to a school run by nuns. All legs and big feet, thick at the waist and thick in the nose, with no breasts and droopy shoulders, I had only one dream-- I would grow up to be madly sexy like the movie stars of the forties with their curves and cleavage. I longed for big breasts."

After walking us through many of her own beauty routines, the Princess lets her famous friends share their own tips. These tend toward the poetic and confessional:

"If you never sleep, or smoke like crazy, or never go out into the air, it shows. But if you're not happy, that's what shows the most. Some evenings, I can spend two hours in front of the mirror and nothing fantastic happens. I'm depressed and convinced it can't but I try. Other evenings, I put a little black here and there-- put a little black on my spirit-- and I look great."

"Even the most hideous people look beautiful when they're in love. With a good man, a woman doesn't need treatments, health foods, vitamins, or anything... at first."

The princess herself is perhaps most often quoted on something she actually attributed in the book to a Roman magazine writer:

"After the age of thirty, every woman needs a homosexual in her life."

If any of you know whether she did indeed pass away, please let me know at once. Everyone else: stay tuned for the Princess's diet tips and exercise demonstrations.

Monday, November 10, 2008

If I Were a Firefly, I Would Light Up My A*s at Night

Have you seen Green Porno?  It is the very important series of short films in which regal and glamorous Isabella Rosselini, graphically demonstrates the sex life of various insects while wearing cartoon-colored costumes.  I just read that she is going to do a second season, this time about marine animals.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tape Your Face Into a Lifelike Expression

The minute tape was first patented in 1925, people started using it for instant facelifts. Like many beauty hacks, this one originated with movie stars and pageant queens. Those women are largely held together with chewing gum and toothpicks.

You might have first come across taping if you read or saw Mommy Dearest. Joan Crawford reportedly slept with a face full of tape to smooth and prevent wrinkles. (She also liked to start her day by plunging her face into a sinkful of ice water. A few decades later, Helen Gurley Brown, took that up a notch. With a snorkel.)

Women sometimes used tape to secure sections of hair, pulled tightly back to stretch the skin. Some of my beauty books recommend getting similar results by simply creating a tiny braid on either side of the face, around cheekbone level, and then tightly, tightly, fastening the braids together at the back of the head. This infrastructure was hidden with carefully combed-over hair, or often, a wig.

Frownies work in a different way; much like Botox actually. You apply them to the stern, wrinkled area every night for a month and they are said to retrain the muscle. They were actually invented before tape was patented, in 1889. Margaret Kroesen invented them to use on her daughter, a stern and serious piano player whose face was beginning to line. First sold as Wrinkle Eradicators, the little patches were so successful that profits eventually allowed Margaret to buy out the barber supply company, B & P, which stands for Beauty and Personality. Their popularity has been ebbing and flowing ever since. Right now, it's flowing.

Maybe you're the deeply crafty type, looking for a more intense project. Our old friend, George Masters has just the thing. That is, if you don't mind the inevitable, blinding headache. George, take it away:

"For older women who do not feel the need of a conventional facelift but who now and then feel the urge to look younger for special occasions, I recommend what is known as the instant facelift, a Rube Goldberg contraption of gauze, glue, and elastic bands that you can buy or do yourself. If you live in or near a big city, just go to a place that sells theatrical makeup and ask for an instant facelift.

You make it in two sections: first the eye lift, then the chin lift. For the eyes, cut two small (about one inch) pie-shaped wedges of gauze. Sew a strip of very narrow elastic tape to the narrow edge of each wedge. Glue one wedge of gauze directly in front of on ear, right under the hairline, with the narrower part of the wedge pointing upward toward the top of your head. When the two wedges with their elastic bands are well anchored, pull the bands up high and tight and tie them together at the back of your head, cutting off the excess.

Your biggest problem may be finding the kind of glue that will stick to your face. I had a special glue made for me when I was doing instant facelifts for Hedda Hopper and Marion Davies and many other Hollywood stars. If you have trouble finding a glue that works, try making your wedges with Band-Aids or other string tape recommended by your druggist or theatrical supply house.

For the chin life the gauze of tape should be attached just below and behind the ear lobe. Again, pull the elastic up tight and tie at the back of the head. You can sew hooks and eyes on the ends of the elastic if you know the exact length you need.

It's really simple once you get the knack of it-- and find the proper glue or tape that won't come unstuck.

I do not recommend wearing instant facelifts all the time, but for short periods of time they can be marvelous picker-uppers for older women."

On Beauty Hacks

I've mentioned beauty hacks here a few times lately, and I have a sudden urge to make sure you know what I mean.  I'll use the college-essay trick.  As defined by Urban Dictionary, one definition of hack is to:  "jury-rig or improvise something inelegant but effective, usually as a temporary solution to a problem."

The term pops up everywhere; tips of all kinds are now life hacks, work hacks, money hacks, health hacks and diet hacks.  Here, there are beauty hacks.

I use this term for little beauty tricks like the aspirin mask.  Often, they are shortcuts; inexpensive household items that have much the same effect as fancy, well-marketed products.  The internet is a fertile breeding ground for weird little beauty routines.  Surely you've heard of the old model trick of using Preparation H to de-puff eyes.  The latest rage is Monistat Chafing Relief Powder Gel, used in place of the pricey foundation primers that have proliferated in the past few years.  Makes sense.  The Monistat is silicone based just like primer, and about a third of the price.  And of course the hemorrhoid cream contains vasoconstrictors which would probably help with most kinds of swelling.  But it sure makes for an embarrassing makeup bag.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The History of Glamour

Glamour, stories, ghosts, and conspiracy theories are among the things that occupy my mind.
You probably read all about Theresa Duncan last year when she committed suicide. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read the story here and here.
You should watch her charming, short, animated film, The History of Glamour (2000). I find it adorable, and I think of it now and then; especially the part about the band that performs silently, by whispering lyrics in each audience member's ear.

Ms. Duncan's blog, Wit of the Staircase, is still up, and it was haunted for a little while after she died; she scheduled a posthumous entry just before last Halloween and one last New Year's Eve. Is it the only haunted blog? I like dark, spooky, and sad things, so if you happen to know of other posthumous blogs, point me toward them.
She lived, with her boyfriend, in a rectory apartment at St. Mark's Church in the east village. Every time I walk by, I wonder if their home is haunted too.
The last blog post published while she was still alive featured a quote I happen to love, from Reynolds Price:

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths."