The Vogue Body and Beauty Book, Or: 'How to Hate Yourself in 200 Needlessly Complicated Steps

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After the enlightening experience which was reading Lessons in Loveliness, I was excited to discover another old, instructional beauty book in my childhood bedroom. No idea how this came into my possession, but the "Vogue Body and Beauty Book", published in 1977, contains a multitude of questionable advices, from hairstyles to holistic healing. With a target audience of women, rather than teenage girls, and a 30 year jump from Lessons in Loveliness, it piqued my interest to see what fun, ruthless, didactic commands they could shove down my throat.

From the inner sleeve blurb, I could tell that this wasn't going to be as fun as L.I.L. I guess because Vogue are talking to women, as opposed to impressionable and sensitive girls, they took it as a free reign to be more overtly negative and even mean. "All women have bones, flesh, fat, skin and hair -- all these present problems in varying degrees." What a horrible way to live your life -- looking for what needs to be fixed and maintained, your beauty regimen become an ever growing source of anxiety. My philosophy (and thus, the only correct philosophy) is that everyone in their natural state is fine and fully formed and acceptable. Everything else you do is just extra.

There is a whole side of beauty which I don't yet feel properly qualified to explore in my writing, and that is beauty as being about health, yoga, electrolytes, detoxing and all of that stuff. I like to think I have a pretty sensible head on my shoulders (one with great eyebrows, too), and I believe that being a healthy person probably will be beneficial to your "looks," but I don't think that's the sole reason to try to be healthy. Also, the side of beauty which excites me more is the one about neon lipsticks, ugly and unflattering things and embodying your inner "cool girl."

Vogue says: "Beauty, today, is not a perfect face or a certain look -- we have left those attitudes behind. Beauty is now seen in the way a woman protects, reflects and projects her body power and mental energy." Maybe they were a bit too pleased with the rhyme here and lost focus on what they were actually trying to say. Because that first sentence I totally agree with, and it seems mightily forward thinking of a 1970s tome to disregard the idea of perfection in this way. I think everyone has pretty much realized that perfection is such a subjective idea that it can't objectively exist -- one version of perfection doesn't exist for everybody. But you lose me (and, doubtless, others too) when you start to try and connect makeup wearing to holistic, hippie language. I think wearing makeup for the right reasons and in the right way is probably good for what they term "mental energy" but let's please not waste too much of our mental energy and body power stressing out about our thighs and chin and eyelashes and hairline and whatever else is causing a "problem," OK?

Also, for a book which is supposed to be about beauty with a focus on health there is a lot of advice which sounds like it would kill you, or at the very least give you the farts. There is an extensive six page section dedicated to what Vogue calls "crash diets," or what I call "eating disorders." For example, the "6 Bananas, 3 Glasses of Skimmed Milk" diet, where you can consume only the aforementioned every day. Or, if you're into a more rustic feel, the "wine and steak" diet -- involving 12 oz of grilled steak and two glasses of red wine split up over the course of the day. And, not for the fainthearted, it the quite simply amazing "Drinkers' Diet" -- where lunch is 150g white fish, 1 small green salad, and 2 drinks -- whiskey, gin, vodka or white wine, and dinner is (you guessed it) 150g lean beef or chicken, 1 small green salad and 2 drinks -- whiskey, gin, vodka or white wine. The drinks are presumably to help you numb the pain of only being allowed 300g of food a day.

The book also contains a multitude of what they call "Natural Aids" -- the kind of kitchen cupboard face masks that I thought were relegated to pre-teen magazines. However, some of these remedies seem to be a hard sell even to an impressionable young girl. For example, the instruction to "rub skin with a slice of raw potato" with no explanation as to why that would be a good idea. And "for extremely dry skin, melt a teaspoon of butter and beat in two tablespoons of milk; apply liberally and leave for a few hours." The whole book seems to have an obsession with putting milk on your body, which strikes me as a one way ticket to smelling like a cheese shop. Pages and pages of suspicious sounding skincare recipes -- personal un-favorites are the "mayonnaise facial masque" (just unfathomably gross) and a "sun protection lotion" made simply of a crushed cucumber and some rosewater, probably (although I'm just guessing here) not actually proven to prevent skin cancer at all.

One thing I can't criticize this book for is thoroughness. It doesn't discriminate on where it needs to be so detailed: there are comprehensive (read: boring) descriptions of all the different minerals in a glass of water (if that doesn't entice you, I don't know what will). And the attention to detail doesn't end there -- EVERYTHING is explained in minutiae: such contentious issues as "how to brush your hair" spanning many pages.

A quote at the end -- unattributed, but presumably from some Vogue back-issue -- summed up why this book was more depressing than L.I.L. could ever hope for. "A woman who is a beauty has no need - and no time - to be anything else. Success in her chosen career brings everything that is most dear to the heart of woman - a jealous husband, envious women friends and admiring great-great-grandchildren." I don't really have anything funny to say about this because it has made me so sad. If that is the point of being interested in beauty then I'm so far off the mark in my thinking. But I, of course, think I'm right, and you should all ignore the Vogue Body and Beauty Book -- for your health.