Monday, June 05, 2006

Like putting lipstick on a pig, as it were...

I never (or statistically never) wear makeup. I never got the knack for it, don't know what I'm doing with it, have better luck with finger paints anyway. I just don't understand it all...what's the difference between "Bashful Plum" and "Plum Bashful?" what is "lip primer"? (I imagine a teeny tiny spray can full of that perfect flat grey like they use on cars...)the last time I put eye makeup on I wound up at the end of the day with a raging eye infection that made me look like a prizewinning purebred basset hound - are we sure this is what the fine young patriarchs at Max Factor had in mind? All in all, I have about as much use for that stuff as tits on a bull. That said, I have nothing but awestruck respect for the patience and artistry required to properly put one's face on, and no small bit of envy.

So, with that out of the way, I feel it's important to chime in on the origins of cosmetics. I've been hunting high and low for a solid citation, and so far come up empty, but I think I read somewhere that men and women in ancient desert cultures used kohl around their eyes to cut glare, and those individuals as could afford it used all manner of more colorful and expensive dusts and pastes ground from precious and semi-precious stones.

Throughout recorded history (and earlier, I imagine) cosmetics and lotions and unguents and hair waxes and all manner of skin dyes and paints were used by clergypeople (priests and priestesses) as part of purification rituals preceding religious rites. I think (though I'm no fashion scholar) that the function of cosmetics as class markers came first, as they were reserved for those who could afford them and those for whom their use signified a religious function.

Consider what any individual needs to successfully complete "beauty rituals" - you need money, with which to purchase your lapis-lazuli dust or cochineal-beetle paste or modern concoction of wax and water, and you need time, time set aside in which you are totally devoted to the preparation of the materials, preparation of the tools, cleansing, applying, combing, brushing, painting, etc. So, going out in public with this stuff on your face meant that a) you have enough money to spend on something you can't eat and b) you do not devote your every waking hour to labor, but instead have the luxury to spend at least some of your time grooming.

Of course, if you are of the opinion that gender created class, we're right back to blaming the patriarchy. But I am not completely convinced that gender creates class, or created it in the first place, at any rate.

So, I think that cosmetics are a relic of one particular visual representation of class issues, at the base, even though nowadays every teeniebopper with even the most pathetic pittance of an allowance can afford that pink-and-green tube of Maybelline and a strawberry lipgloss.

As for miniskirts - well, compared with sixteen petticoats underneath your ankle length shortgown and pinafore (daily wear in antebellum America), the cage crinoline (or hoop skirt - think Scarlett O'Hara) was considered truly liberating. Yes, I can absolutely see where the short skirt can be seen as a welcome relief from the foot-tangling, unsanitary, mud-dragging fire hazard of the ankle-length day dress - to say nothing of bustles and other undergarment contraptions.

The one thing I can't really speak to, historically, is shaving. I don't know how that came to be de riguer. I can say, however, that after a year or so of totally ignoring the leg fur, there have been absolutely no consequences that I can discern - no job loss, no decrease in income, no divorces, no public shaming, no arrests, no refusals of service at the local lunch counter, no earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, rips in the space-time continuum or plagues of locusts.

I did notice a decrease in the amount of money spent on band-aids, I must admit.

So make of that what y'all will.

I have always loved makeup, although I rarely if ever wear the stuff, not on a daily basis at least. To me it's part of dress-up, *glamour,* you know. The original meaning of which not being a corporate magazine but "magic spell." The beautiful illusion, you know; the power of transformation. It's part of what attracted me to theatre, and later to paganism and other ways of creating magic.

I get why some people don't like it; i think there's a way in which one can divorce it from the gendered-ness and still find an aesthetic/sensual appeal (or not). Personally I like the sensuality of it; the soft brushes, the silky and sticky textures of the paints; and I like the deliberately artificial look, sometimes. Again, though, not for everyday, for me (I am a low, low femme). I totally get how what's sort of fun and playful for an hour or so just feels oppressive and ghastly-uncomfortable if you have to wear it all the time, both in terms of the compulsoriness and the length of time. (I feel the same way about high heels and corsets, for the record. and stockings. pantyhose I loathe unreservedly)

And I know people who just plain don't get it; one butch gay guy who's also a carpenter once compared it to putting carpet on a nice hardwood floor...whatever he said, it was more evocative than that. He likes it unfinished and natural, was the gist. Hey, horses for courses.

Anyway, lipstick primer is I believe something you're meant to put on before (over?) the lipstick, to "set" it, i.e. keep it from bleeding or wearing off as quickly as it might otherwise.
My wife does make up on occasion, she also shaves her legs, though I've told her repeatedly that I don't care. That said, I have an enormous amount of respect for the crap some women go through to get "dolled up." Once, for a Samhain costume party in college, my wife gave me the full drag workup. Hour and a half on my makeup, hair, nails, "tits" etc. I looked great, but man, that sucked. Plus the bra tugged painfully on my chest hair.

I find it interesting, this separation you create between gender and class. I'm reminded of the Masaai tribes, where interestingly enough, it's the MEN who wear makeup, dye their hair with cattle-blood mixed with red clay dust, and engage in other beauty rituals we usually associate with women.

Also, it's important to note here, that according to many anthropologists, hunter-gatherer societies are the original "affluent" culture, in terms of resource availability vs. required labor per week. Mortality rates and environment keep the populations at a level where there's always enough to go around, and plenty of free time.
interestingly- last night I saw a documentary titled "Venus Boyz" about the drag king movement in New York City. One person was using eyeliner to carefully draw these perfectly shaped spaces on which to glue a mustache and chin whiskers.

eyeliner is a cosmetic, the use of which equals oppression - but used to mimic the privileged class?
i think my friend johnny kat was in that movie! was he, anti-p? the woman who plays johnny is an AMAZING drag king.

how were the first few months of leg fur for you? when i first started growing out mine, it was difficult not to see the hair as masculine. then as time went on, i started to really like the hair on my legs: it's all soft and such.

course, being an actor-type, i've got to shave. blech. also being an actor-type, i don't wear make-up on a regular basis. i have to wear enough of it onstage or at auditions, so i avoid it in my off time.
wow - you know Johnny? I am impressed. that whole documentary was riveting.

the leg fur is weird - it's not like it all grows evenly in a gloriously lustrous pelt - it comes in in patches, leaving bare spots and hairy spots. the bare spots juxtaposed next to the hairy spots fascinate me. why here and not there?

but it is what it is. It seemed a little pointless to me to keep shaving it off and shaving it off when all it did was grow right back. seriously - how does shaving the hair off solve anything?

Finally I just gave up and let it do its own thing. And as far as I know, ignoring the whole shaving issue has not brought down civilization as we know it or attracted evil space aliens.

twenty years from now, it's totally not going to matter whether or not I shaved my legs.
freeman - I wish I could find more authoritative sources on the subject. it's all conjecture so far, and dim recollections. I seem to remember (somewhere in the vast National Geographic of memory) reading about a Bedouin tribe where, like the Maasai, the men wore colorful cosmetics and jewelry and ornate tattoos, and the women were significantly less ornamented.
I shave pits during the summer; I don't like the way the hair traps sweat. Legs I do every once in a blue moon; one of those dressup occasions where I do decide to wear a fetishy-outfit involving skirt and/or fishnets or suchlike; don't aesthetically care for the look of hair poking out through the holes. Other than that...meh. Don't bother.
I've been through 4 of 5 sessions to have my armpit hair completely removed via laser hair removal. Does that make me a hapless tool of the patriarchy? Am I not allowed to be a feminist anymore?

the crazy thing is that I'm just as fearful of leaving the house with makeup on as some women are of leaving the house without it. I'm afraid people will laugh at me.

more than normal.
amber - not to get too personal, but did it hurt? did you get good results? are you happy with the procedure?
That's interesting. Why, do you suppose?

any people in particular?

I'm wondering something; feel free not to answer. Is/was Mom heavy on the criticism and judgment?

'cause, you know, mine is, and I am aware that that colors a fair bit of my emotional investment in certain of these internecine fights.
Seriously, go find Flapper: a madcap story of sex, style, celebrity, and the women who made America modern by Joshua Zeitz
I recently finished reading it and blogged this review and this look at how it relates to modern feminism.

And it also addresses the makeup issue, to a certain extent.
I don't have it on-hand (it was a library book) and the publisher didn't participate in Amazon's search inside, so this comes from memory (and my impressions from other books I've read which touch on daily life or court life in the 16th and 17th centuries).

The major changes in dress in the 1920s led to a blurring of visible class differences.

A quote (from the NYTimes review): "In a study published in 1929, an Indiana businessman complained, 'I used to be able to tell something about the background of a girl applying for a job as stenographer by her clothes . . . but today I often have to wait till she speaks, shows a gold tooth, or otherwise gives me a second clue.'"

At any rate, cosmetics existed for a long time, though (with a few notable exceptions, like Queen Elizabeth I, or particular affectations like beauty spots) was generally considered a low-class common thing to do (at least in the West). Well-bred ladies didn't wear makeup, and that sentiment has been portrayed in popular media from Jane Austen to Gone With the Wind.

HOWEVER, the flappers began to wear makeup as a way of flouting the old social order and flaunting their beauty. [Remember, flappers were the daughters of Victorians -- there was a lot to rebel against!] Flappers (so the book claims) wore makeup because they didn't have to. It was portrayed as being daring or fun or whatever.

Now, I'll point out that (still from Zeitz) this was also the timeperiod when advertising really took off (after WWI, all the propogandists had to go somewhere) and played up social insecurities. Keep in mind Listerine invented halitosis, and imagine similar campaigns about all kinds of ordinary skin conditions. So that probably played into it as well.

[And don't forget, this was also the early years of Hollywood glamor. Acting was one of the professions long associated with makeup, although until the 1800s, it was considered a low-class profession, barely better than prostitute.]

Anyway, if you actually want to look into the history of cosmetics, hopefully this gives you a place to start -- at least as they're used and perceived nowadays.
Belledame - my mom had this to say to me on the subject of "beauty rituals" and such, when I was ten years old and starting to obsess about Miss America and lipstick and razor blades and all:

"it's a good thing you have a nice personality."

Mom was raised by her grandparents on a farm in the 40s and 50s, and I was told (later, after Mom died) that down on the farm, interest in cosmetics and stuff was considered evidence of excess vanity, wayward delinquency, oversexed profanity, communist tendencies and other character defects.

When I was a teenager I lived with my dad and stepmother. They were judge, jury and executioner -"you're not going out with that crap on your face, are you?" "wipe that lipstick off, you slut!" etc.

my (much) younger sister (my dad & stepmother's daughter) got none of that, although she's as lipstick-positive as they come, leading me to believe that my mother's observation was correct, and it is indeed a good thing I have a nice personality.
One interesting thing Zeitz points out is how the culture completely flipped as far as external appearances are concerned.

Pre-roaring-twenties, American ethic was heavy on the notion that beauty is only skin deep, and better to focus on improving one's insides than wasting it on external appearances.

A nice personality was the point of personal development, not a consolation prize.
I'm sorry.
Did I kill the discussion?

I didn't mean to.
nonsense, Lis!

perish the thought! (shoo, thought! shoo shoo shoo! begone!)

I was just chasing down your links and reading your reviews and trying to calculate how long I'd have to wait until next payday when I have enough money to pay off my overdues so I can get Flapper from the library, if you must know, Dr. Smartyboots. :) (nine days, that's how long. NINE DAYS!!)

guess my class analysis of cosmetics really blew the big one. d'oh!

If late fees are a regular problem for you, does your library have a web-accessible catalog? There have been nights when I've gone "sh!t, that book's due today", hopped onto the library website and renewed it. Also, is useful for staying ontop of when books are due.

Back to your argument, you *are* correct about short skirts. Not only were they more liberating than older forms of dress, but they were cheaper (much less fabric), more mass-producible (since they weren't made to spec), and offering increased safety and the ability to be more athletic.
Resolved: short skirts are liberating!

glad we got that all figured out. :)

Lis - I will have to check out the library's web access and do that online renewal thing. My slack ass will probably wonder how I lived without it.
Web catalogs are INCREDIBLY handy. I certainly wonder how I did without them.

BTW, to make it up to you for wrecking your theory, I went looking for other books on the history of cosmetics. Surprisingly not many, but if you're interested in the subject, maybe one of them will have more of what you're looking for.

I am actually intrigued as to why there's so little information. Fashion history is huge - why not cosmetics history?
I don't know.
It's entirely possible I was looking in the wrong place, in the wrong subjects.
Maybe the cosmetics history is just part of the general fashion history. Or maybe it's just dealt with in histories of different places/periods without stringing it together [ancient Egypt, pre-revolutionary France, etc.]

It is also possible that I'm getting it wrong, and you're right, because I am getting my information from different discrete histories on different timeperiods (mostly Elizabethan/Stuart England, with smatterings of later timeperiods).

Although 20th century industrialized mass production bringing the price down combined with increased advertising budgets does seem a likely tipping point.

I'll keep looking; you've intrigued me.
BTW, one thing that may interest you. Relevant Library of Congress subject headings include "Cosmetics", "Beauty, personal" and "Beauty culture".
oh, I have a terrific coffee-table type book (full illustrations) called "The Quest For Human Beauty," by Julian Robinson. I'll see if there's anything about the Masai in there. there are some awesome photos, as I recall.

(note to self: get new printer with scanner already.)
Oops, antip, just saw your question:

amber - not to get too personal, but did it hurt? did you get good results? are you happy with the procedure?

It hurts but it isn't unbearable - especially if you take an ibuprofen about an hour before the procedure. I forgot to do that 1 time out of 4, and let me tell you, that time was hellish! I was yelling, with tears streaming down my face. Not to deter you, of course... :) If you pop a couple pills, it's fine. Sure, it's uncomfortable, and it's not something you'd want to do just for shits and giggles, but it only lasts about 5 minutes. Also, I have a very low threshold for pain, so other people might do better than me.

So far I am very happy w/ the results. I have one treatment left. As it is now, I only have to shave maybe once a month, and the hair grows in only in certain spots. It's very nice! I hated shaving, I was always nicking myself. But I also hated the way armpit hair felt; it annoyed me.
FYI, I blogged a followup to this post with some of the other info I gleaned about makeup history.

It's funny, like you, "I never (or statistically never) wear makeup."
But this week, I've blogged two posts about it, and have at least one more entry in me about girly bath products from LUSH...
what's LUSH?
is the "cynthia sylvia stout" shampoo a reference to the Shel Silverstein poem?

'Cuz if it is, it's made for me.
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