For my birthday last week, my wonderful husband presented me with The Beautiful People’s Beauty Book—a vintage how-to guide on everything from how to stave off aging skin to keeping one’s boobs firm—and, ever since, it’s been the gift that keeps on giving. It’s also a gift I feel the need to share, if only to remind all of us that beauty standards were once much worse than what we deal with today—more isolating, more sexist, more high-maintenance, more complicated and, seemingly, out of reach.
The Beautiful People’s Beauty Book was written by Princess Luciana Pignatelli, a sort of aging Paris Hilton-type. She’d been the wife of Prince Nicolo Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, but at the time of the book’s publication (1970), is married to a man named Burt S. Avedon. Beyond her royal title, Princess Luciana’s bio states that she has been a fashion designer, has two children, and “her picture appears often in the leading fashion magazines.” Awesome.
Throughout this lofty 122-page tome, the author enlists some of her closest friends, including, but not limited to: Princesses I’ve never heard of, countesses I’ve never heard of, models I’ve never heard of, and Sophia Loren. Each of these women contributes her own beauty advice and the reader discovers that many of these “elegant and charming women were not born with the radiant good looks they have today.” (I am imagining the entire book read aloud with the deep, serious, Old Hollywood baritone of Robert Goulet. I think you should too.)
PLP’s beauty tricks are shocking, hilarious and almost beyond-words haughty. She fundamentally believes that to hold on to one’s looks, a woman must rely on the following: Private bedrooms, self-discipline (a euphemism we later learn is starving one’s self), cosmetic surgery, facial exercises, repose, having late babies, the right kinds of husbands and lovers, and physical exercise that includes walking.
Some of my favorite bits of wisdom include:
“When you have to watch calories, it is much easier to eat alone. This does not mean you have to give up men’s company, but ideally, you should have a man who is not always around.”
“An excellent astringent mask, the rage a few years ago with Paris homosexuals, is this: Take the white of one egg, a teaspoon of the best olive oil, beat, apply for 20 minutes. Remove with a hot face towel, lace trim optional.”
On disguising your imperfections:
“Not all irregularities result in striking beauty. Many women have defects they prefer to camouflage or eliminate rather than emphasize. When the choice is between looking like a character study or being as pretty and attractive to men as possible, I am for women who opt for the latter.”
On lifestyle and beauty:
“If your lifestyle is casual, add a few eyelashes and maybe a hairpiece and forget exotic endeavors.”
On creams and aging:
“As for the woman with a droopy eyelid who wants to know whether there might be a cream for it, I tell her no, a cream will help only after you’ve had the plastic surgery.”
Um, yeah. Fascinating, right? We haven’t even touched on her section on exercise which is illustrated with various pictures of the princess in a bikini “working out.”
To be continued….