Inventing Beauty

Monday, May 4, 2009

I woke up this morning and, for the first time in a week, I had no idea what I was going to read - and I felt sort of disoriented. It took about an hour for me to decide what to read. After reading all the books for Men of the Blog week I decided it was time to read something ridiculously girly. I also wanted something that was shorter than the books I have been reading since the last three books were each about 350 pages. Today's book is almost 300 pages, but it has a lot of picture so it felt more like 200. I also wanted today's book to be lighter than the previous books, both in subject, and more importantly in weight, so no hardback books. Reading three really long books in a row was such a bad idea. By Sunday afternoon I was starting to have shooting pains in my wrist from holding up the books. Is it possible to develop carpal tunnel syndrome from reading too heavy of books? I experimented all afternoon with various ways of propping the book up so that I wouldn't have to hold it as much - but nothing I tried seemed to work. So, from now on, all long/heavy books will be followed by a nice lightweight book the next day.

Today's book: "Teresa Riordan explores that strange intersection of science, fashion, and business where beauty is engineered and finds that, for generations, social trends and technological innovations have fueled a non-stop assembly line of potions and contraptions that women have put to use in the quest for feminine flawlessness."

Today's book was really interesting, but there were parts of it that I would have happily skipped over if I hadn't been reading the book for this blog. In fact, I would have skipped over the entire fourth chapter which graphically described hair-removal products gone wrong - horribly, hideously wrong. I believe there were about ten different points in that chapter where I gasped and then quickly tried to think of something else, anything else to remove the unpleasant images from my mind.

My favorite line from the book was a quote from art historian James Laver, "Anyone who has ever visited a nudist camp will certainly agree that clothes can sometimes be a help." - (I've never been to a nudist camp but I think I can still safely say I agree with Laver on that.)

There was another quote in the book that caught my eye. The quote itself wasn't all that interesting, but underneath the quote is says it was taken from a beauty book written in 1890 called Homely Girls. I figured the book would have gone out of print, but I tried to look it up anyway - no luck. Then I looked up the author, because I really want to know more about the woman who would name her book Homely Girls and expect it to still sell. Isn't rule number one of writing a book: Don't insult your audience - and if you ignore this sound piece of advice then perhaps you should hold off on insulting them until after they've already bought the book. Perhaps the phrase "Homely Girls" should be saved at least until page 100.

But I think my favorite parts of the book were the pictures of old advertisements from the 30's and 40's - and I do realize as I'm typing this that it's really pathetic that the pictures were my favorite part. Sometimes I buy old women's magazine from the 30's-50's off of Ebay just because I like looking at the advertisements so much. It's always interesting, although not entirely surprising, to see the difference between beauty ads from 60 or 70 years ago and the ones from now. Beauty ads in the present day all convey one message: Use our product and you'll have a wonderful life and everyone will like you. Beauty ads from the past convey the message: Use our product and someone will marry you - or at the very least he'll propose (and apparently when he does it won't be an attractive engagement ring, and the diamond won't be big either). So I guess the message in the ads hasn't changed completely, it's just gotten a little bit less narrow. Here's the text from one of the beauty ads, in this case a lotion ad; "The day I met Dick, my hands were so dreadfully rough and chapped I didn't dare let him take my hand. Later I asked about my hands at a beauty shop. The manicurist told me a fact about the skin that I never knew before . . . Hand skin is different . . . instead of oil such as your face has, hands have a peculiar non-oily moisture that dries out easily. To make hands smooth, you have to put this moisture back. Jergens lotion does this! A few days later while we were playing blind-man's bluff at a party, Dick said. . . "I know those darling hands." - I don't mind confessing to you dear readers that when I was reading that ad I was not thinking clean thoughts. I keep thinking Is blind-man's bluff code for something? Why don't I know what that means - have I just been living too sheltered of a life here in the Midwest? But then I looked at the pictures that went along with the ad, and apparently they really were talking about a children's game. So then my second thought was, I am so glad I don't go to the kind of parties where dorky crap like that happens. Do people still do that kind of stuff at parties? Did they ever? Tell me dear readers, have you ever thrown a party where you forced your guests to play the kind of games that would normally happen at a 5 year old's birthday party? And if so, I want more details - or to quote Blanche from The Golden Girls, "Set the scene. Have we been drinking?"